Poster of a memorial service for Kalif “Keilo” Turner who was murdered in October. Photo: Marisa Marcellino
This story is part of a special report on “Homicide in Brooklyn”
By Nicholas Nehamas and Marisa Marcellino
It’s true that New York City’s murder rate has fallen by 80 percent since 1990. But you probably don’t want to celebrate that fact at the Tex & Weezy barbershop in Ocean Hill, on Bergen Street and Saratoga Avenue, which serves as a kind of community center for locals here. The neighborhood is still reeling from two murders in October. So far this year, the 73rd Precinct, where both men lived, has reported 13 homicides, the second highest homicide rate in the city.
On the night of Halloween, Kevin Thompson, 37, stood outside the Saratoga Deli & Grocery in nearby Brownsville. Another man, wearing a camouflage jacket and ski boots, approached Thompson from behind and, raising a handgun, shot him once in the neck. Doctors pronounced Thompson dead when he arrived at Brookdale Hospital. Police have not arrested a suspect, although a security camera captured the entire incident on tape.
Two weeks before his death, Thompson had attended a memorial service for another man, Kalif Turner, who also lived in the neighborhood. Turner was also gunned down by an unknown assailant, who wore a mask, according to police, and shot him once in the head and once in the leg. He survived for 13 days before dying of his injuries in the hospital.
Turner’s memorial service took place at Tex & Weezy. Thompson and Turner regularly stopped by the shop, sometimes for trims and cuts, sometimes just to talk.
Dwight, a barber here since 2007, knew both men. He was especially close to Kalif Turner, whom he and other friends called Keilo. (Dwight asked that we not use his last name in this story.) He remembers Turner as a devoted father to his five children and an active member in the community. He said Turner gave generous donations to a recent neighborhood fundraiser held at the barbershop to raise money for back-to-school supplies. But Turner wanted to stay anonymous. “He didn’t do it for the fame or recognition,” Dwight says. “But the street elements take their toll.”
“Why are people so violent toward each other?” he continues, shaking his head.
A customer waits outside the shop and Dwight pauses to buzz him in. Taped on the door is an NYPD poster for the neighborhood’s other victim, Kevin Thompson. It promises a $2,000 reward for a tip leading to his killer’s arrest.
The two murders, so close together in time and place, brought life in the neighborhood to a grinding halt. “People used to be out here on the streets just walking,” says Claude Henry, gesturing out the window of the barbershop he has owned for twenty years. “But you’re not going to want to be around after this.”
“How is That Safe?”
Outside the shop, this neighborhood doesn’t feel like a part of a city of more than 8 million people. The streets have few amenities, besides a scattering of laundromats or bodegas. Wages are low. In Community District 16, which includes both Brownsville and Ocean Hill, 55 percent of residents receive some form of government assistance, including welfare, Social Security, and Medicaid. One in three people receive food benefits, according to 2010 census data.
Dwight remembers seeing Mayor Michael Bloomberg make a television appearance in which he said that New York was the safest big city in the nation. But for Dwight it doesn’t feel that way. “The situation is very contradictory,” Dwight says. “Two of my friends just got gunned down back-to-back. How is that safe? We deal with the reality every day.”
It’s true, says Claude Henry, the shop’s owner, that the neighborhood is less violent than it used to be. But he’s still shocked that the shootings happened out in the open despite what he says is a heavy police presence. “I mean Keilo was killed on the corner. Kevin got shot down the street,” he says.
The problem, according to Henry, is that the police aren’t focusing on violent crime. “The only time I see police doing something,” Henry says, “is when [an officer] parks his car outside and someone runs a stop sign and he gives them a ticket and then he comes back and does it all over again. That’s all they do.” A spokesperson for the NYPD’s public information office disagreed. She said that immediately after the first shooting police raised their presence in the neighborhood and are still monitoring the area. The spokesperson confirmed that no arrests have been made in either case.
“That’s the Sad Part”
The barbers say they haven’t seen their regular customers as much since the shootings. People aren’t eager to go outside unless they have a place to be.
But Dwight says that Turner’s son still swings by to say hello and get his hair cut. Dwight asks him how he’s doing and says he tries to make sure he stays in school. “That’s the sad part,” he says. “You don’t know what kind of drastic change that will make in his kid’s life.”
Dwight believes these murders, which he calls “black-on-black,” aren’t a top priority for the police. And he thinks these crimes are hard to solve because people in the neighborhood are wary about talking to cops.“It’s not a cycle that’s going to stop with these two,” he says.