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Only three people were shot during this year’s West Indian Day parade in Crown Heights yesterday, which — sadly — is an improvement from last year. However, two people also were stabbed to death during yesterday’s festivities, so don’t wave the victory flag in the war on Brooklyn violence just yet.
Last year, at least five people — including a cop — were shot at the parade.
The Crown Heights section of Brooklyn is a cultural cross section that epitomizes what makes New York New York. Caribbean islanders coexist with Orthodox Jews in a cultural (ahem) melting pot that just screams “you stay out of our way, we’ll stay out of yours.” This unspoken agreement has only produced one noteworthy riot.
As a current Crown Heights resident, I can honestly say that it’s a great place to live — assuming you’re into guns, gangs, violence, and the occasional sexual assault. Below I will submit to you a few of my favorite tales from the ‘hood.
*Cocaine And Salad: How To Bulk Up In Crown Heights:
As a recovering “skinny-ass white boy,” the first person I met after
moving to the culturally rich neighborhood was a woman we’ll call Karen,
a 70-ish-year-old Caribbean islander, who — after seeing my rather
large black lab mix, “Jim” — informed me that “Oh, hellll no! We don’t
need no cops in the building.”
That’s right, Karen assumed I was a K-9 cop sent in by the feds to do
undercover work in the neighborhood — which is exactly what she told
everyone who lives in my building. Needless to say, I was not the
building’s most popular resident.
Karen proceeded to scowl at me and say “skinny-ass white boy” under her
breath every time we passed each other in the building. This went on for
Then, a peace offering:
About 1 a.m. on a Tuesday, there was a knock on my door. It was Karen,
who took it upon herself to tell me I looked skinny and needed to eat.
She came back five minutes later with a bag of lettuce — and then
informed me that if I needed cocaine, she could get it.
Cocaine and salad might seem like an odd way to bulk up, but I
interpreted the information as a test to determine whether I was the
undercover narc she’d assumed I was. I passed the test — to her
surprise, I’m sure, she wasn’t arrested, and I had salad every day for
the next week.
Two weeks ago, Karen asked if I would lend her five bucks. I will never see that five bucks ever again.
*Weed and Hand Guns Don’t Mix:
My next door neighbor is a 20-year-old admitted member of the “Crips”
street gang, who — like everyone else in my building — was under the
impression that I was an undercover cop.
Regardless, this supposed “Crip,” whom we’ll call Kevin, smoked weed
right in front of my door — where he often sleeps when his grandmother
throws him out of his apartment — just about every day. Throwing
caution to the wind, I invited him in one day, and we became fast friends. He told me about life in the ‘hood, I told him about being a
skinny-ass white boy.
Kevin and my dog seemed to like each other, so — this time hurling
caution to the wind — I told Kevin he could stay at my apartment while
I went out of town one weekend if he would look after the pooch. My
conditions: He could have a few girls over, but none of his gangster
Upon my return, the first person I saw in the elevator was Karen, who promptly told me that she’d seen Kevin in my apartment.
“Did he have any guys over?” I asked.
“No, just a few girls,” she responded, before telling me that he took the dog outside several times while I was gone.
So while attempting to rat out Kevin, Karen inadvertently confirmed
that he did everything I asked him to do. When I got back to the
apartment, it was sparkling — Kevin had done the dishes, vacuumed, and dusted better than I ever could.
Two weeks later, I was going out of town again, and made the same deal
with Kevin. When I returned two days later — slightly earlier than
Kevin or I had anticipated — the coffee table pictured below is what I
When Kevin returned from playing basketball, I explained that — given
the amount of weed he smokes — perhaps owning a gun isn’t the best idea
and asked that he not have it on him when he’s in my apartment.
Two weeks later — while I was again not home — Kevin shot himself in
the leg while sitting on my couch. I now have a bullet hole in my
faux-leather sofa and am in desperate need of a dog-sitter.
Needless to say, I’ve been calling Kevin “Plaxico” ever since.
*Militant Marvin and the Power Of Love:
One of Crown Heights’ local treasures is a man I’ve affectionately dubbed “Militant Marvin.”
Marvin spends his days marching up and down Utica Avenue — dressed in flashy, bright clothes — screaming at cars while carrying several large flags.
About two months ago, Marvin had put himself — and his flags — in front of a police van that was trying to drive north on Utica.
“What’s the black and white password,” Marvin screamed at the officer inside the van.
Not knowing a password was required to drive down Utica Avenue, the officer yelled for Marvin to get out of the way. When he refused, the officer started preparing for what I figured was going to be some good ol’ fashioned police brutality.
Clutching his baton, the officer got out of the van and again told Marvin to move. Marvin, however, wasn’t going anywhere without the password.
As the cop appeared to reach his breaking point, a local business owner came running out of a store to give the officer the password, which is — simply — “love.”
After winning the battle by forcing the officer to repeat the password, Marvin retreated to the safety of the sidewalk.
Moral of the story: Marvin will not shake your hand, only your foot (as I learned one night while walking my dog), and if you find yourself stuck in traffic on Utica Avenue, “love” is the answer.
So for any potential new residents of Crown Heights, this is what you can expect: geriatric cocaine peddlers who think you’re a cop, in-house shootings by your dog-sitter, and traffic delays caused by a militant love machine — but that’s only when you’re not dodging bullets at the West Indian Day parade and avoiding potentially fatal stabbings.