Russell Taylor, a FUREE member, heralds the Approaching Storm with shouts of “Save Our Neighborhood, Yo!”
A massive throng — well, let’s say a spirited assemblage — of about 100 residents of Fort Greene and surrounding neighborhoods marched through downtown Brooklyn on Saturday, protesting what they say is the demolition of a traditional African-American shopping district to make way for high-priced condos. The marchers, organized by the Brooklyn-based Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), chanted “Hell no, we won’t go!” as they followed behind East New York’s Approaching Storm marching band, which set off innumerable car alarms along Myrtle Avenue and Willoughby Street with its raucous beats.
The downtown that the marchers traversed has already seen significant changes since the Voice profiled the area in May. Many of the stores on the block of Willoughby between Duffield and Bridge Streets that was targeted by developer Al Laboz for his “Willoughby West” condo tower are now closed; Jack Fuzailov, who was pictured here fending off the forces of gentrification with an electric razor, has found a new space for his barber shop two blocks west.
The Albee Square Mall, meanwhile — the space made famous by Biz Markie and flipped by would-be Coney Island redeveloper Joe Sitt this spring for a 400% profit — is entirely depopulated, its stores empty, the doors of anchor tenant Forever 21 covered in plywood. In the now-desolate plaza outside, the Approaching Storm took a breather while Joy Chatel addressed the crowd through a bullhorn. Chatel, whose row house at 227 Duffield Street has been targeted by the city for demolition despite indications that it was a stop on the underground railroad, complained that the Bloomberg administration wants to have it both ways: “They renamed my block Abolitionist Place, but they’re taking the descendents of Frederick Douglass out of their homes. How much evidence do they want, black people in the basement?”
Chatel and her supporters at least had one victory to cheer: Last week, the city abruptly withdrew its eminent-domain claim against Chatel and several other building owners, saying it had neglected to include the results of a blight study in its official filing. (By law, eminent domain can only be used to seize “blighted” properties — though in the famous words of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, “We don’t mean ‘blight’ in the real sense of the word ‘blight.'”)
While happy enough for the breather, Candace Carponter, the attorney who had filed a lawsuit against the eminent-domain takings in part because of an inadequate blight study, notes that the city will be starting the process anew with a public hearing on October 29. “They’ve set themselves back probably 120 days,” she tells the Voice.
Trombones or no, the mood on Saturday was very much one of folks shouting into a hurricane; behind speakers’ heads rose the skeletons of apartment towers already going up on nearby Livingston Street. If downtown Brooklyn as we know it disappears, though, it won’t be for lack of, um, fury.
“We’re just going to let people take something from us,” thundered Chatel outside the shuttered mall. “Harriet Tubman would shoot you in the back for that.”
FUREE marchers pass by shuttered stores at Al Laboz’s planned Willoughby Street redevelopment site.