On Friday, we shared Sheepshead Bites' entertaining video of a raucous Gerritsen Beach property owners' meeting, during which residents screamed at local blogger Daniel Cavanagh for posting photos and incriminating Facebook comments from teenagers who allegedly threw eggs, potatoes, rocks and a hammer at cars on Halloween. Cavanagh had written about the annual "bombing" incident on his site GerritsenBeach.net, and criticized the NYPD for not doing anything about it. But at the community meeting, locals tried their best to kill the messenger, with one parent suggesting that Cavanagh is a pedophile because he photographed the teens. This morning we spoke with Cavanagh about the insane backlash—on Saturday night his house was vandalized—to his reportage.
So what happened at your house yesterday? Someone threw a pumpkin at my house and cracked a couple pieces of siding.
Any idea who it was? No, I have to go to my neighbors to find out. They've got a bunch of cameras. We'll probably find out.
I watched the video from the meeting, and straight out of the gate you're being accused of being a pedophile. Is that true? No, there's no truth to that, but I've consulted a lawyer on the matter.
The woman who's center stage in the video of the property owners meeting said she'd talked with a lawyer, and that her lawyer told her it was illegal to take a minor's Facebook comments and post them on another website. Is that true? If she had a lawyer the lawyer would have told her not to say anything about her case, but as far as I know that's not true at all.
I'm guessing more than a few New Yorkers haven't even heard of this little place called Gerritsen Beach, so, all of a sudden, through this video, it's like this insular community's been rediscovered. And I guess the question is, is that meeting representative of the way people sort of close ranks there? Yes, actually. There was a Times article about a hate crime back a couple years ago, and regarding that crime, the inspector was quoted saying that never before in the history of the police department has he seen a community turn inwards to such a degree. They were trying to question the neighborhood about a hate crime and nobody was speaking to the police. There's that saying, "We take care of our own," but they're taking that the wrong way. Like, they're taking care of their kids when we should be taking care of our neighbors. We take care of our own, we take care of our neighbors, not defend or condone these actions.
One of the guys in the meeting who angrily stormed out at the end is Joe DeSimone. That name pops up in that Times article as one of the alleged attackers. That's his son, Joseph DeSimone. Yeah.
Have you encountered his father before that meeting? Yeah, I know his son and I know his father.
Have you had a good relationship with them up until now? No, actually. They took issue with another article I did about a community group, GB Cares. And that group had one of its programs suspended, because of the article. More or less, I put up an article about wood chips and dumping on parkland, and that wasn't a legit project. More or less, the community was allowing a contractor to dump on land.
Was that the more controversial post you've had on your website before this? Yes, and it was about wood chips. It sounds ridiculous. This organization allowed a contractor to just dump wood chips on the land without the knowledge of the Parks Department, because we have the keys for all the gates as a community, which is unheard of in the rest of the city. We're the only community I know of that has keys to the city gates.
Have you thought about leaving Gerritsen Beach for a while, just until the heat dies down? No. The quote that I gave you guys the other day is completely true. I love where I live, so I don't intend to leave.
Have you been threatened in any way? No direct threats. Many indirect threats. Many comments that get held for moderation, you know, because of cursing and things like that, but nothing direct. Anything direct, I would go to the cops immediately. Indirect stuff can't be proven.
Have the police at the local precinct said anything about the lack of response to the Halloween thing? At the meeting they spoke for ten minutes about Halloween, in comparison to thirty minutes, forty minutes of yelling at me. But the community group let the precinct off without explaining what happened. But the precinct did explain that they had three cars, one supervisor patrol car and three separate cars in our sector, which explained that to us, like we're supposed to know. But they said they had one car dedicated to the beach.
My reporter friend said his source told him that they were laying off enforcement this year because of an incident that happened last year. Now I know what happened last year; actually that same woman's kid may have been stomped out by an officer.
He was "perhaps maybe" assaulted by an officer on Halloween? Yeah, exactly. He may have been slightly assaulted, so basically that happened and they said, "Okay, we're going to take a little step back in enforcement." The same kid that was 11 last year—she's screaming and yelling about her 12 year-old—that's the same kid. It's really insane. I'm disappointed at everyone's response. But actually, it's more like 95% support and 5% against, because the 5% are directly affected. You know, their son, their daughter, their cousin.
Why didn't you just take down some of the photos? If I do that for one, I have to do that for all of them.
Why not take down all of them? I think that would do a disservice to everything. A disservice to the whole community. I've done it every year for the last four years.
Why do you feel compelled to do it? Well, I take pictures of all the trick or treaters, and I can see them throwing whatever they're throwing, so I take pictures of that too. Why? Because it's supposed to bring attention to a problem in my area, not to necessarily out these kids, but it's supposed to bring attention to a problem in our area. Everybody knows about the problem but nobody's doing anything about it. Either they're too scared to speak in a meeting because of crazy people yelling and screaming, or they just comment on my website; that's what they normally do. A small percentage of people are vocal, always against. Like, if you're against something you're going to be very vocal about it, but if you're for something you're not going to be very vocal. It's difficult.
Why didn't you say something at the meeting? Because if I were to have said something at that meeting—it was escalating, the meeting was escalating. There were very angry people, and I've known those two people to get physical with people. So it's better to be silent and thoughtful than to say something and remove all doubt. If I was to have said something or argued back and forth, I would have looked like an idiot, or it would have escalated.
Is there anything you want to say to the people in the community to try and settle things down a little bit? I think it is settling down. This has to end sooner or later, this Halloween mischief. And going back to what I said before, "taking care of our own" doesn't mean protecting this behavior, it should be protecting our neighbors and our neighborhood from having the rest of the city laugh at us.