An NYPD Lieutenant was flipping burgers while Community Affairs officers, their firearms bulging out from under their aprons, handed out hot dogs and sausages to elderly women in wide-brimmed hats. Yesterday Bedford-Stuyvesant's 81st Precinct threw an afternoon barbecue at the station house for members of the community and anyone who wanted to come. But the "young men of color" who public officials insist are disproportionately affected by violent crime did not show. Bruce Green, the vice president of the Brooklyn Anti-Violence Coalition, opened a bottle of water and glanced at the empty tables. "They're trying to save the young people, but the young people aren't here."

Crime has reached record lows citywide, and the drop can be seen in Bed-Stuy as well—compared with this time last year, murders and shootings in the 81st have declined 80% and 35% respectively [PDF]—in the neighboring 79th Precinct [PDF], the decline is 11% and 23%

Yet last month 11-year-old Tayloni Mazyck was paralyzed from the neck down by a stray bullet. After Mazyyck's injury, the mayor had to remind everyone, "You have a right to live in Bed-Stuy and not have bullets whiz past your head."

(Jessica Lehrman / Gothamist)

A few weeks later, 18-year-old Mario Lopez was killed, and three other teenagers were injured in a shooting outside the Marcy Houses. A musician lost an eye on Jefferson Avenue after his assailant attacked him with a hammer. Five days ago 29-year-old Rashawn Jackson was shot and killed along the same avenue. Four days ago 17-year-old Kamau Chandler was killed after being shot in the head and the chest on Fulton Street.

Stop-and-frisk continues to roil communities even as the police dial back its use, a landmark federal trial on whether the department's stops are unconstitutional, and city council legislation designed to check police power suggest that the public is very much concerned that Adrian Schoolcraft's 81st Precinct was not an aberration.


So there was NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly yesterday, smiling for photos at a rally outside the Eleanor Roosevelt Houses for Grandmothers Love Over Violence, a few minutes before he'd stop by the precinct barbecue that was being held in the group's honor.

"It's a show," said Durell Freeman, a Bed-Stuy resident who was watching the event from across the street. "The senior citizens aren't the ones causing the violence. You have to get the youth involved."

Freeman, who said he has lived in the neighborhood for 33 of his 37 years, pointed to a dilapidated playground. "They need to get some money down here to fix places like this. Kids need things to do. People need jobs—they keep cutting and scaling back those summer jobs, but what happens when kids sit around for 15 hours with nothing to do? You're bound to get into trouble."

Grandmothers LOV member Mary Casseus poses with her photo taken with Ray Kelly in May (Jessica Lehrman / Gothamist)

Bruce Green, the activist for Brooklyn Anti-Violence Coalition, acknowledged that the dearth of young people willing to engage with community organizations and the police was a serious issue, but noted that in many instances the criticism wasn't constructive. "We can all sit on the sidelines, but what are you doing? Why do the grandmothers have to be out in front of this?"

Green added, "A lot of the young people don't know any cops. They need to sit down and talk with the police, and the police need to listen to them without taking offense to what they say."

After appearing at the rally for nearly an hour (and taking graffiti-related questions from the media), Commissioner Kelly briefly appeared at the cookout for a few minutes. A press officer indicated that Kelly had to make a 4 p.m. meeting. Inspector Juanita Holmes, the commanding officer of the 81st, and the Chief of Housing Bureau Joanne Jaffe, made the rounds and socialized with the women who make up Grandmothers Love Over Violence.

Etta Rice (far left) and Inez Rodriguez (center) speak with another member of Grandmothers LOV (Jessica Lehrman / Gothamist)

"We come from East New York to do our part, but some people just don't do theirs," said member Inez Rodriguez after being asked why there weren't more young people around.

Might the location—in a dismal, fence-lined parking lot inside a police precinct—deter some from coming?

"You just gotta let people know that things like this are going on, and talk to them," said Etta Rice, a Brownsville resident. "I've known about this event for months but I didn't know that there was going to be food. They should have told people about it."

Balloons mark the spot of the cookout (Jessica Lehrman / Gothamist)

Novella Johnson, a 43-year-old Bed-Stuy resident who has lived in the neighborhood for 29 years, approached Commissioner Kelly on the street as he was leaving the rally, and spoke with him for nearly 10 minutes.

"I told him that they need to clean up the neighborhood so that we feel safe and comfortable again." Johnson said that she lived in the Eleanor Roosevelt Houses, and that her 87-year-old mother felt like a prisoner in her own home.

"I have a bullet hole in my window. My mother's in a wheelchair. She's left the apartment twice in three years because she's too afraid. There's too much crime around here, too much murdering and shooting."

Asked if she had confidence in Kelly and Inspector Holmes, Johnson said, "We've had people come down here before. I thought it was all basically talk. But I'm gonna put my faith in them. Something's got to give, and I pray that something does give.

"I am not even living. We're not living. We're just existing."