A small group of protesters gathered at Bushwick Flea yesterday to harangue customers, vendors, and owner Rob Abner over the crocheted artwork Abner arranged to go up on a wall without the permission of the building owner—they came, in other words, to protect the property rights of the Salvadoran neighbors against what a Facebook recap of the protest described as "the brutality represented by this crocheted artwork."
The activists' group, the Brooklyn Solidarity Network, is calling for a boycott of the Flea. In the Facebook post, the group says the Wes Anderson-inspired artwork by London Kaye is emblematic of "a city where difference is removed with armed violence, and savage eviction." Bushwick native Will Giron's mid-September Facebook post decrying the knit takeover of his aunt's wall as a symptom of rude, colonial-minded gentrification drew widespread attention, and Abner has since said he will take it down.
An organizer with the Solidarity Network who asked to be referred to by the pseudonym Durruti, a nod to anarcho-syndicalist Spanish Civil War hero Buenaventura Durruti, said the rally kicked off in the early afternoon and lasted for about an hour. Protester counts range from 7 to 20, depending on whom you ask. One demonstrator stood in the entrance with a banner bearing the anarcho-syndicalist red and black colors, and the message "No Pasarán," or "They Shall Not Pass," an anarchist rallying cry from the Spanish Civil War. Others passed out flyers highlighting Abner's anti-gay-rights and anti-immigrant social media posts.
"We pulled out some of his racist and homophobic comments from Facebook and put them on a flyer to let people know that he is an asshole," the activist we spoke to said, characterizing the response of shoppers and passersby as "generally positive."
The protesters confronted Abner personally, and according to the activist:
He further demonstrated the racist person that he is. He tried to explain to us how he's not against immigration, only illegal immigration, explaining how he has many friends of color, stuff like that. Typical racial apologist stuff that someone says when confronted with evidence of racism.
(In one Facebook post, linking to a Haaretz article headlined "Israel
Israel Readies for Mass Deportation Campaign Targeting African Migrants," Abner writes, "Sounds like something we should try here." In another, describing a story on a judge's order mandating that a Colorado baker make cakes for gay couples, he writes "The end of freedom...")
Abner called the police and an Officer Bin-Safar arrived after about an hour, according to the anarchists. Durutti said Bin-Safar demanded identification and an event permit of one protester, and that when Durutti informed the officer that they didn't need a permit because they weren't blocking sidewalk traffic and couldn't be ordered to show ID without suspicion of a crime, Bin-Safar arrested him. A police spokeswoman said she had no record of an arrest at that location. Durruti said he was released with summonses for obstructing the sidewalk and failure to disperse, but, he says, not before Bin-Safar drove him to the 83rd Precinct station house and lectured him about the merits of working within the system to achieve social change.
Durruti said his group has video proving that the sidewalk was clear and no dispersal order was given. He did not immediately provide it. Founded two years ago, the Brooklyn Solidarity Network usually confronts people's landlords and bosses at their homes and offices, but the controversy over the crochet art put a face on the "unrestrainable, omnipotent adversary" waging a "one-sided class war," as its Facebook communique describes it. Durruti said his comrades plan to return to the scene of the latest skirmish, and others should join them.
"People should make more of an effort to confront these micro-aggressions by these people who use gentrification and all that as a means to just make money," he said. "We want people to step up and come together as a community to make concrete steps to step up and fight gentrification, to fight these supposedly neutral businesses that are actually just exploiting the cultural space of Brooklyn."
Reached by phone, Abner was not happy to hear from this Gothamist reporter.
"If it weren't for your rag of a fuckin' blog, none of this would be going on," he said. "[Reporter] Emma Whitford printed a bunch of lies and distortions, and I don't know you personally, but your rag of a paper can go fuck itself."
Abner then hung up. After this story's publication, he emailed the following statement:
There are a small number of misguided activists that have chosen to target our flea market. Overwhelmingly the community has welcomed us, participated in the market, and expressed their support for us. Please quote some supporters for a change.
Sorry about earlier but your blog has done a lot of unwarranted harm.