The theater is no stranger to high drama, but no lame puns can do this convoluted story justice: the Slave Theater on Fulton Street and the Black Lady Theater on Nostrand Avenue are fighting to get rid of unwanted tenants. Both theaters are owned by the estate of Brooklyn Civil Court Judge John Phillips, who died in 2008, and were put up for sale, but neither has been sold because squatters have prevented it—suspected Rastafarian drug dealers at the Black Lady, and members of the Messengers For Christ Ministries World Healing Center at the Slave. "These people are extremely aggressive. They're dangerous. The community is afraid of them," said Phillips' nephew, the Rev. Samuel Boykin, referring to the Rastafarians.
Boykin, who is managing the estate, put the theaters up for sale last year after a series of court-appointed guardians allegedly looted Phillips' assets and failed to pay taxes, leaving his heirs owing the IRS more than $2 million. Cops have raided the Black Lady twice this year, making arrests for trespassing and marijuana possession, but the Rastafarians staying there have changed the locks and taken down the "For Sale" sign.
As for the Slave, Dr. Paul Lewis, president of the the Messengers For Christ Ministries World Healing Center, said he had the judge's blessing to use space rent-free as long as he took care of it. He said his church was interested in buying the building, but thought the $2.5 million asking price was too high. "If it wasn't for us, they would have shut this place down a long time ago," said Lewis. Perhaps the squatters hope they will just be handed the building by the City.
The estate will keep fighting to be able to sell the buildings, optimally to a church or community group rather than a developer, but their hands are tied until the squatters leave. "It's been a disaster for my family," Boykin said of the saga.