The Occupation in East New York, Two Weeks Later


It’s been two weeks since hundreds of Occupy Wall Street organizers landed in East New York to reclaim and renovate a vacant house that will eventually become the residence of homeless mother, Tasha Glasgow, and her two children.

Now, in the wake of OWS’s three-month anniversary, organizers say they are moving forth in a effort to galvanize community support and to build a neighborhood assembly that will address the specific challenges facing East New York residents.

The initiative comes after organizers temporarily halted renovations at the 702 Vermont St. residence when police threatened to evict volunteers for working there without a permit during the first week of occupation. Many organizers say the police don’t have a legal basis for entering the home, and to date, there’s no eviction notice posted for the residence.

“The main thing that has come out of [the occupation] is community outreach,” said Karanja Gacuca, an organizer and member of the East New York Assembly.

Gacuca and other organizers are hoping to draw from the community support they have received thus far to build a long-standing community assembly. The group is taking a grassroots approach to building its assembly by relying on local churches and residents to host meetings. They say they plan to use tactics like street corner “speak-outs” and teach-ins to educate and engage the residents in the area about a range of topics including the upcoming 2012 presidential election, housing rights and the city’s ongoing “Stop and Frisk” measures that mostly target young black and Latino men.

East New York has the highest rate of foreclosures in the city. Activists say there are at least five foreclosed homes alone on the block where the occupied home is located.

While recent reports show that overall the crime in New York this year has remained flat compared to last year, the latest statistics for the 75th precinct, the area that includes the occupied home, reveal an increase in robberies, felony assaults, burglary and grand larceny cases compared to 2010. The area only showed improvements in the number of murder and rape cases compared to last year. (Historically and generally speaking, crime rates for the 75th Precinct have declined dramatically in the last two decades. In 2010, there were at least 50 percent fewer rape, murder, robbery, felony assault, and grand larceny cases, respectively, compared to 1990).

Michelle Crentsil, an organizer and a member of OWS’s People of Color Caucus, said the assembly is committed to the community and that it wants to stress permanence. She said that activists often come to low-income communities making false promises.

“It happens too much,” Crentsil said. “People get sick of it. That’s how communities die.”

Crentsil was one of about 20 activists who participated in the East New York Assembly’s first public community meeting last Thursday. The group, largely consisting of members of OWS’s People of Color Caucus, met at Revelation Pentecostal House of Prayer, a church located around the corner from the home on Vermont Street.

A multiracial mix of mostly 20- and 30-somethings, the assembly was far more diverse than the average OWS gathering. Some of its members live or work in East New York, like Bishop Dr. Raymond H. Rufen-Blanchette, the church leader who opened up his doors to organizers.

Max Berger, an organizer working at the occupied home, said the occupation in East New York and those taking place nationwide has given OWS participants hope since Mayor Bloomberg initiated a raid that saw the demise of the group’s Zuccotti Park occupation on Nov. 15.

While police maintained a strong presence in the days following the occupation at 702 Vermont St., volunteers stationed at the house to provide “eviction defense” say police presence has waned. When we visited the home two days after the Dec. 6 occupation, officers from the local precinct stood nearby, while two officers in an unmarked Red Nissan were parked a few feet away.

“We’re not totally off the hook yet,” Berger said.

Berger said a stream of squatters had used the residence as a drug house since the home went into foreclosure three years ago, causing dismay among the block’s homeowners.

“This house had been a problem in the past,” Berger said. “There’s huge excitement that there’s going to be a family in the home.”

To date, evidence of the Dec. 6 action remains. Yellow OWS signs are propped in nearby bodegas and other businesses, while the occupied house continues to stand out on the block with its posters and banners in the yard, on the porch and on the roof, along with holiday decorations.

The group has planned its second public community meeting in January.