A Spike In Shootings Unsettles Bushwick

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Crime is down but guns are not gone, and gentrification has changed the chemistry

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Menahan St., where a man was fatally shot in the lobby of his building. (Carlett Spike/The Brooklyn Ink)

 

On any given day hundreds of people walk the two streets that intersect at the Wyckoff-Myrtle avenues L train stop. In both directions from the station, clothing stores, corner stores, laundromats, Dunkin Donuts, and other convenience stores mark it as one of Bushwick’s hub. Yet, a few weeks ago two major shootings occurred just off of Wyckoff. On Oct. 30, a stray bullet hit a bus, which caused shattered glass to strike a passenger. This incident occurred near the intersection of Wyckoff Ave. and Greene Ave. In the second case, on Nov. 4, a man was shot in the lobby of his apartment building on Menahan St., right off Wyckoff.

The New York Police Department recently announced that crime rates across the city are in decline, but that murders by guns have seen a slight rise. Bushwick is one of the communities that experienced a spike in gun violence—due to these two shootings—and residents seem to have complicated feelings about the impact such shootings ultimately have on the community.

Once an unsafe neighborhood, Bushwick has transformed into a lively community that has seen an influx of new residents and businesses. However, the neighborhood occasionally suffers from waves of crime. While police say spikes in crime do not equal a trend, residents and experts voice complicated opinions on the matter.

“Unfortunately, that’s the way the world works today,” said Neil Smith, 62, a resident who recently returned to Bushwick after living in Red Hook for the last few years. “There are too many guns and a lot of people have their hands on them. There’re no real answers.”

Since the 1990s, Bushwick has experienced a steady downward progression in crime. According to the New York City Police Department Computer Statistic Unit’s data on crime, in 1990 there was 7,416 total crimes committed in Bushwick. In 2014 that number was 1,796, a 75.8% drop from the 1990s count. Looking specifically at shootings, so far in 2015 there were 14 shooting incidents and 16 victims as a result of shootings.

Partly due to downward trends in crime, Bushwick has become an attractive area for newcomers to Brooklyn. Some experts and residents believe that part of the popularity of Bushwick is the result of the influx of residents who were considering the Williamsburg area, but who pushed further east for affordability. As prices in Williamsburg began to climb, Bushwick became a haven for cheaper rent, particularly for artists.

According to realtor.com, the average rent for an apartment in Williamsburg is $3,821 while the average rent in Bushwick is $2,658. Despite the difference in price, factors such as Bushwick’s poverty rate, which hovers around 30 percent according to census data, shows that the community still has people going through hard times.

Some residents say the attractive prices outweigh the potential dangers of crime in the community. “I think more in New York now people don’t have as much choice of where they want to live,” said Jonathan Mittiga, 27. He added, “The attraction is new housing and I think it’s gentrification ultimately. It would be a conspiracy theory to think this crime is going to force people out.”

Two major consequences of the influx of new residents are displacement of people and disruption of social networks, said Michael S. Barton, an assistant professor at Louisiana State University who has published work on the relationship between gentrification and crime. He added that there is a direct link between these two factors and crime within a community. People who end up getting pushed out of the neighborhood sometime harbor feelings of resentment and are able to commit crimes within the neighborhood because they move to a new area within close proximity. As for disruption of social networks, the combination of long time residents and new residents who do not know each other can create tensions that may result in broken communities within a neighborhood, Barton said.

“I think that a lot of the younger people who have been stigmatized through drugs, gangs, and lack of proper schooling need to be pulled in to the mainstream differently, and I don’t know how to do that because I think they are the disconnected group,” said Nadine Whitted, Bushwick’s District Manager. She says the issues Barton raises are factors in Bushwick: “We have a major problem, and it’s not just being disconnected. You don’t contribute, you feel less than, you feel inadequate, so you start doing negative things.”

While some residents voice concern, and offer possible resolutions to these issues, other residents say they were not aware of the shootings at all.

“I feel like its New York, you gotta be aware all the time no matter what part you’re in,” said Sandra Reitman, 29, who regularly jogs around the neighborhood for exercise. “I don’t believe anyone should have guns or we need to form a better relationship with them.”

Patrick Gaffney, who lives a few blocks away from the shooting that occurred on Menahan St., said the key to staying out of trouble in Bushwick is to keep to yourself and not upset anyone. He also said he found the case of the man who was shot in his lobby incredibly disturbing, and believes that it is a direct reflection of issues with gun laws within the state. However, the two shootings were not enough to cause him much concern about crime overall.

“Individual incidents don’t worry me,” said Gaffney, 26. “If it continued, I would probably become worried.”

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