As denizens of New York (like us) are acutely aware, the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn has been the site of repeated clashes between the NYPD and protesters over the last few nights as residents held rallies to protest the shooting death of teenager Kimani Gray at the hands of police officers last Saturday night. There have been vigils held in East Flatbush every night since Kimani’s death, some of which have escalated into open conflicts with the police, including incidents of bricks and bottles being thrown and numerous arrests. Twitter and other social media have been alive with testimonials and camera phone footage of the unrest and in the midst of all this, rumors have been circulating online that the NYPD had cordoned off the area and declared a “frozen zone” or “media-free zone.” Those rumors have since been debunked (Animal New York did a great job of running the stories down without underplaying the very real tensions. Meanwhile, questions have been raised by the organizers of the vigils about whether the “disorderly conduct” is coming from angry residents or outside organizers. What with all the misinformation swirling around the situation, we at OKP did what’s only natural–reached out to someone we know and trust for firsthand perspective. That person happens to be Flatbush resident, multi-talented MC/artist and OKP-representer MeLo-X, who shares his experience below:
OKP: How many of the protests have you been present for?
MeLo-X: I’ve been present for two of them. There was a lot of tension in the air and a lot of young kids. Last night there was a more diverse crowd and a lot more people.
OKP: What has been your firsthand experience with the heavy police presence and the way they’ve conducted themselves?
MX: They’ve kept their cool so far. A lot of the young kids are really enraged with the police presence. It’s sad but in East Flatbush we are used to having cops on every block. Makes us feel caged and watched, like zoo animals. Two nights ago 46 people were arrested. There are horses and paddywagons everywhere.
OKP: What’s the general vibe in the neighborhood after the last few days and nights—are people tense, disillusioned…(fill in the blank) ?
MX: People are frustrated and tired of the police presence. There has been violence in the streets so their presence is needed but right now it’s overkill. The streets are filled with more police than actual residents. Every night the sounds of helicopters and sirens have been keeping us awake.
OKP: Speaking as a Flatbush/BK resident, what are your overall feelings about the case of Kimani Gray and the neighborhood’s reaction?
MX: East Flatbush is not the craziest place in the U.S but we do have a lot of crime and problems running through the veins of this section of Brooklyn. a few months ago Shantel Davis was killed by police on my street corner. And now–with another killing by a cop–eyebrows are being raised. People say that Kimani had a gun and was a gang member but what if he wasn’t a gang member? and didn’t have a gun. Me and all of my friends have been harassed by police our whole lives in East Flatbush. So I can totally understand the frustration from the youth in this situation. I hope cooler heads will prevail and justice will be served.