“I remember a time when cops weren’t even going to 21st street, because there was so much crime and dead bodies,” says Sandra Green, a 40-year resident of Ditmas Park. “They were scared of getting shot up, too.” East 21st street, roughly between Cortelyou Road and Foster Avenue, has had the reputation of being one of the most dangerous streets in the Ditmas Park area.
The 70th Police Precinct, the precinct that covers crime on East 21st street and the Ditmas Park area reports that in 2001 alone, there were 13 homicides, 64 rape charges, 883 robbery charges, 503 felony assault charges and 914 burglary charges in the area.
Along with the violence, drugs and gangs were also prevalent on East 21st street. “There was gang presence here. If you see a group of guys hanging out, a guy may come through a block or something like that and they feel offended and there’s a confrontation really about nothing,” says David Brown, a longtime resident of East 21st Street. “They had stabbings every day and shootings every day, that was like a normal thing every day,” says a Hispanic resident of East 21st Street, who chose not to identify himself.
“The East 21st Street Crew,” an infamous organization of drug dealers that was prevalent on East 21st street in the mid to late 2000s, was responsible for orchestrating a significant part of the violence on the street as well as operating a large drug ring that stretched throughout the area. Officials reported that during a 25-month investigation of the East 21st street crew that concluded in 2009, there were reportedly 171 individual sales of drugs, (mainly involving crack cocaine). Upon conclusion of the investigation, 12 members of the crew were arrested.
Fast forward to today: On East 21st street, children can be seen casually riding their bicycles , senior citizens are hanging out on their porches and doorsteps, and there seems to be an aura of safety and peace on the street. “Totally changed, its calmer. Now you can actually at least relax outside and you not worried about hearing people shooting out, at least on this block,” says John Lopez, An East 21st Street resident.
The 70th Police Precinct reports that as of 2013, there has been a 50 percent drop in crime in the Ditmas Park area since 2001. There has also been a 39 percent drop in the murder rate, a 61 percent drop in rape incidents , a 58 percent drop in robberies, a 45 percent drop in felony assaults, and a 65 percent drop in burglaries in comparison to 2001.
Residents and local business owners located on the road split of Cortelyou Road and East 21st street, claim that this aura of peace is due at least in part to street corner police surveillance cameras, cameras that can be seen on most corners and intersections as well in the buildings on East 21st street. “I don’t notice any crime around this area anymore,” says Klara, a local hair salon owner. “It’s improved about 80 percent.” “I feel safe walking around here at night,” Lenny Adams, an East 21st street citizen tells The Brooklyn Ink.
Citizens also attribute the safety of the neighborhood to a stronger police presence in the area as well as citizens voicing their concerns to politicians and legislators. “When you got people of any community and they making complaints to the councilmen and legislators then that [violence and drugs] stops,” David Brown says. Lucy McKenzie, an East 21st Street resident who lives with her nephew and her niece, also commented on the safety of the neighborhood. “The neighbors, we look out for each other and we communicate with each other. It’s a quiet block, it’s very quiet,” she says.
Although East 21st street has improved, residents still think the street needs more improvement to see total transformation. One local citizen, Hazel McKenzie, a mother of two, acknowledges that the safety of the street has gotten better by what she estimates to be about 45 percent, but still has a long way to go. “Transformed? I don’t think is the right word. It’s transforming but it hasn’t completely transformed. It’s improved, it definitely has improved over the years. Now if the people on the block itself would come together more you would see a complete transformation, because what darkness hates is light, more than anything else,” McKenzie says.