Community activists denounce vandals after Spike Lee Speaks Out on gentrification

Stephen Witt
By Stephen Witt March 7, 2014 10:07

Community activists denounce vandals after Spike Lee Speaks Out on  gentrification

Pg3_SpikesHomeWith tensions rising about gentrification making national news across the country, the elected officials representing the borough’s most gentrified neighborhood were silent about last week’s incident with filmmaker Spike Lee concerning Fort Greene.

Lee, who grew up in Fort Greene, recently went on a cuss-filled rant about white gentrification and the sense of entitlement he perceived these new white residents often exhibited in trying to understand and be tolerant of existing cultures in the neighborhood.

“Why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly?” he asked, rhetorically.

Lee took particular aim at how gentrification has taken over Fort Greene Park with mainly white dog owners letting their pure-breed animals take over the park, and recalled how he was once stopped from doing a Michael Jackson tribute because worried neighbors complained of the bad elements it would draw.

“Have you seen Fort Greene Park in the morning?” Lee railed in his profane rant. “It’s like the m—–f—ing Westminster dog show!”
The day after Lee’s comments went viral criminal retribution was swift. A vandal or vandals allegedly scrawled graffiti on the brownstone and the brownstone next door from where Lee grew up.  The words “Do The Right Thing” were scrawled along with the letter A with a circle around it, often the symbol for mainly white anarchists.

While the incident made national news and was abuzz on the street, the local elected officials representing Fort Greene and Brooklyn were unreachable or refused to comment on the issue.

This includes City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, state Assemblyman Walter Mosley and state Senator Velmanette Montgomery. Public Advocate Letitia James and Borough President Eric Adams both gave a “No comment” on the incident.

But several local community activists addressed the incident including Love Yourself Stop The Violence Foundation Chair Geoffrey Davis.

“Under no circumstance do you vandalize someone’s property based on whether you agree or disagree with something they said. Whoever did this is a coward and hopefully
he, she or them are arrested and convicted,” said Davis.

Brooklyn Movement Center Executive Director Mark Winston Griffith said any vandalism is obviously unacceptable and messed up.

“Beyond that, I understood where he (Lee) was coming from and his frustration with what he sees as the face of gentrification. His analysis didn’t fully capture the complexity of race and class in gentrification but I understood his emotional response and a lot of what he said resonated with a lot of people,” said Griffith, adding any kind of organizing around longtime neighborhood people being displaced through gentrification will require a little more thought than Lee’s emotional response.

Griffith surmised the reason the elected officials haven’t spoken up on the incident is because people are scared to touch the issue of gentrification.

“It’s a hot-button issue and when you have a neighborhood like Fort Greene it’s hard to make a comment about gentrification without stepping on someone’s toes. There’s a lot of self-interest involved,” he said.

Gentrification is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents”. It derives from gentry, meaning “aristocracy”, and ultimately from the Old French word for “noble” or “highborn.”

Stephen Witt
By Stephen Witt March 7, 2014 10:07
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