A Memorial to Those Slain in Crown Heights–Is it Time to Say Goodbye?

Nostrand-mural

Over on the Brooklynian, there is an interesting thread about a mural on the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Park Place in Crown Heights. The mural, painted on the side of a bodega, documents the lives and deaths of about 50 people from the neighborhood from the 1990s to about 2006. Most were young men, most died before the age of 25 though some were decades older and some, sadly, were much younger. The writer believes that most were the victims of the violence and turf wars that accompanied the drug trade. Such murals are common throughout Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill and Crown Heights, though most celebrate the life and mourn the death of a single person or a few people. The mural is right alongside the entrance to a daycare. Though there is no indication that the mural is slated to be painted over or that the building or business is changing hands, the commenters are debating whether such a mural, documenting a far different, more violent time in the neighborhood’s history, serves a purpose anymore. Should it remain as a warning of past ills, a marker of the neighborhood’s history? Or, has its time come and gone? Would the neighborhood be better off if the mural were painted over and such past violence forgotten. What do you think? Do these murals have a place and serve a purpose in neighborhoods that are nearly a decade removed from their most crime-ridden eras? Is it disrespectful or arrogant to want to wipe out such history and the names of those who once lived and died here?

Should the Shrine at Nostrand and Park Place R.I.P.? [Brooklynian]

32 Comment

  • I lived in Crown Heights, not all that far from this building, for twelve years. Many of the names on that wall died while I lived there. I did not know any of them. I don’t know if they were Crips, Bloods, or Baptists, Church of God in Christ, or promising students, fathers, boyfriends, good kids or horrible adults, or innocent bystanders. Does it matter? They all died far too young in a place where you are supposed to grow up, and become a responsible community member, and eventually a senior citizen.

    Instead, they are memorialized on a dirty wall, where paint is peeling, and the names, like the people themselves, fade into community memory. As someone over on Brooklynian said, oftentimes, memorials like this are the only attention that person will ever receive. Sometimes there is not even enough money to bury the person with a headstone. This is their headstone.

    Are we glorifying gang culture, or preserving the names of hoodlums who are best forgotten? I don’t think so, as no one on Brooklynian, or here, knows who all of those names are. They are names of the dead. They serve to remind their friends and families that they were here, but they also serve as a reminder that no matter how many million dollar houses there are a block away from this building, there are also serious social problems in the community, and death has been a familiar friend to some members of the community, and that is NOT acceptable.

    Now I know we can’t change the world with blogs, or even with million dollar houses, but we don’t need to candy coat the world. The mural is not bothering anyone, but the images are objectionable. They are so because a death of a child, or young person, no matter what they were doing or not doing, is not right. Somewhere in Crown Heights is a mother who lost her child. There are lots of mothers who have children on that wall. That is not the natural way of things.

    I say we need such reminders to constantly nag us into knowing that the world is not yet right. That there is injustice, there is poverty, there are people who think that the only way to get ahead is to sell drugs, or defend their turf, consequences be damned. The families of these names may be pushed out by rising prices, and the bodega may be replaced by a Starbucks, and the mural will a distant memory, but that does not negate that this is a part of our history. It’s not shiny and nice, it’s ugly and painful. It is not the experience of all of us, or even most of us. But unless we stop our insane obsession with ourselves, and look to find ways to raise all boats as we sail towards our own bright futures, there will always be walls of the dead somewhere. Leave it alone.

  • Thank you Montrose……so well said…..

  • These ghetto billboards have no place in our community. I blame the landlords for not stepping up and painting them over. But we all know Tish James and Rev Al will be out here if that happened to any substantial degree.

    • They are the history of the community. They belong there- and memorials are not “ghetto.”

      • Your telling me that picture isn’t ghetto? Maybe by BX standards but Brooklyn has come a long way.

        • Whether it is “ghetto” or not, is not the point. As Wasder said, you can’t literally whitewash a community’s history and act like you discovered the neighborhood, pure and pristine and new. There is history here, people lived and died here. If this is a memorial to those who died because of the drug trade, it may not be Crown Heights’ finest hour, but they were still part of our community. For the parents of each child on that wall, there is someone who is not so blase and cavalier about “moving on.” If anything, it would be worth something to find out what their opinions are on the subject.

  • Mixed feelings on this. If its meant to serve as a reminder to others of the consequences of drug dealing, gangs, carrying guns, etc, then it doesnt go far enough, and should list how/why each person died and be updated with each sad new death. On the other hand, I’d like to think there are better ways to educate the young about the consequences, and not have a grim reminder in a neighborhood that has cleaned up a lot compared to where it was. At the end , the landlord will decide, as is their right.

  • This mural is an important piece of the history of the neighborhood. Painting it over would be such a disservice to everyone who calls Crown Heights home. Knowing where you have come from is crucial to building a better future. Those who would get rid of this are likely trying to whitewash history in the name of property values.

  • I am not sure how I feel about these memorials, I don’t ususally like seeing them. The energy around them are so sad and depressing, lives taken too soon. I also think it creates a perception of lost and devastation about a community in general. It is essentially a static form of media. It is interesting though, that Brownstoner has featured this post today. All yesterday I wondered if the execution style killings of 2 young men in Fort Greene park over the weekend would command it’s own post.

    I wondered if there would be the usual cry that the Fort Greene killings demonstrated that the park was unsafe and the brownstones too expensive. Like the memorials, this form of media ( these posts) can be thought of as contributing to the ongoing perception of the neighborhood, intentionally or unintentionally. It is just curious which sad events we chose to highlight.

    • I very much agree that I was disappointed that we (and I include myself) didn’t spend more time reflecting on the two murders in Fort Greene Park. Instead we have posts about whether or not a carriage house is worth 12,000 a month. Is it because we see those who were killed as the “other”? I don’t know their story or that of those on this memorial. Maybe I should. To the extent that they died because of drugs or the drug trade, we should not be so quick to blame them alone for poor decisions. That we allow the war on drugs to continue for so long in the face of such misery is an indictment of our society. Maybe we should have to face this memorial as some sort of hair shirt.

      • I think this is worth consideration, if we are really going to look at the culture of these neighbors, and not superficially, as you’ve described we have all participated in the talks of prices per. sqft. rather than the beauty and actual culture of these areas. Though I find it funny that many people talk about how they love the culture of some of these areas, this is something that has only been engaged from a superficial standpoint. I look forward to seeing more articles like this that actually bring up challenging issues like this in neighborhoods in transition.

    • we don’t talk about stuff like that since real estate brokers started providing the revenue for this site. what if corcoran has a 3 million dollar house on the market near a shooting?

  • In the end its up to the landlord – he/she owns the building – these murals certainly dont deserve landmarking preservation.

  • I personally have mixed feelings about this, having lived my entire life in Bedford Stuyvesant, I grew up with these types of murals. They have a history of evolving, being sometimes repainted over to make space for new deaths or sometimes more positive murals.

    https://www.google.com/maps?ll=40.688099,-73.947247&spn=0.006305,0.013937&sll=40.687964,-73.948330&layer=c&cbp=13,336.5,,0,1.42&cbll=40.688071,-73.947503&t=h&z=17&panoid=lzjTpWu9asoIbLpmn0ApcQ

    https://www.google.com/maps?ll=40.688269,-73.951153&spn=0.006305,0.013937&sll=40.687964,-73.948330&layer=c&cbp=13,142.78,,0,-8.74&cbll=40.688423,-73.950976&t=h&z=17&panoid=2I7uVv-a0TQ-1W11ciXmlA

    The victims of some of these crimes have been innocent bystanders, so I don’t believe this to be a situation where crime and gang activity is glorified necessarily, but at the same time this is also quite a sad aspect of the culture of these neighborhoods. To forget the past is to not is to not fully invest in the “culture” everyone seems to love so much. I consider these to be the scars of Bed-Stuy/ Crown Height, etc. Scars help to inform who we become in life and are very much apart of the character of these neighborhoods. Many of you may or may not have grown up here. I remember just a couple years ago regularly hearing gunshots directly outside my window and jumping out of bed onto the floor as to evade any stray bullets. Though not a pleasant experience, it is something that defines part of who I am as a person today and I would not change or erase this from my past nor would I try to eliminate this aspect of culture in these neighborhoods as a part of their cultural history.

  • Beyond the memorial, which is worthy in itself, these often represent street art by artists who are often unrecognized elsewhere. It’s wonderful they were able to express themselves within their neighborhoods when other such opportunities may be more difficult to achieve. I would hope the mural would not be covered up, but freshened up by the original artist. Concerns such as those expressed by Mr. Hancock’s are truly of little value. There are markers to in this country that commemorate the existence of people like Al Capone, John Dillinger, Jesse James and Bonnie and Clyde. I see precious little distinction.

  • MM, although it would be impossible to pick your best posts — because nearly all of them are great — for now this ones goes to the top of my “10 Best Montrose Morris Posts.” So very well said, sistuh. Thank you!

  • Maybe it’s an unconscious thing. Maybe there is a financial threshold to “Arrived”, and $3 million is that price. Once houses sell for $3 mill plus, a couple of shootings or break ins or rapes or walls to the dead no longer define the hood because everyone is so blinded by the glint of money.

    • 11216mac nice point,.
      Crown Height, Bed-Stuy, lets travel down the yellow brick road too, toward becoming just like Park Slope…YAY!
      Let’s completely loose sight of the charm everyone raves about, who care’s about culture anyway, with tons of wealthy socialites moving in we can buy culture and forgo character. Let’s gut everything!
      ….NOT!

      • Why do we want to shootings and killings and morbid walls of death to define Crown Heights? This is not charm and I would not want it to represent my culture. There are enough crime stats that “represent” the neighborhood. Eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive” At least honor the people who have helped to improve the neighborhood and /or given their lives to help others. DAMON ALLEN – a hero sanitation worker who was shot while trying to protect others from gunshots from a thug who had committed a robbery and was back to retaliate against the people who chased him down. People lie DAMON ALLEN should have a memorial. Some person who is commemorated with a beer bottle on the wall, whats the story with that? A bunch of names on a wall gives no meaning or inspiration to anyone.

        • “A bunch of names on a wall gives no meaning or inspiration to anyone.”

          That’s not true. They may give no meaning to you, or me, but they have meaning for those who took the time to put them up there. I don’t think we can march into a community and tell people their memorials have no meaning. After all, we don’t really know who’s on that wall, only that they died before their time. Everyone ASSUMEs they were all gangbangers, but we don’t know, and I doubt anyone is going to write all the names down and look them up, either.

          You are right, people like Damon Allen deserve memorials. It would be nice is someone painted a mural in his honor. Perhaps someone should suggest it. In the meantime, this wall of the dead, which is not bothering anyone, should be left along until that time the landlord of the building makes the decision what to do with it. For all we know, he ok’d the mural in the first place.

          There is so much we don’t know here. In fact, the only thing we know for sure is that everyone on that wall left this earth too soon. I’m as law and order as anyone, and do not think that the thug life or culture is in anyway positive or worthy of protection or adulation. There are plenty of murals across Central Brooklyn, most of them celebrate cultural heroes. Some of them celebrate people like Damon Allen, and many of them are like this, celebrating people known only to their family, friends and neighbors. Are we going to be the worthiness police, deciding who should be commemorated, and who should not? Really? If we really want to change things, get involved in youth programs, be a volunteer in any of the groups in Crown Heights that are working for positive change. They are out there. That’s what’s going to make a better Crown Heights, not whitewashing over names on a wall.

          • Well said again MM,
            Comments like this is why I’m so reactive to the “Gentrification” of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights. I’m tired of outsiders infiltrating thriving neighborhoods that they see as not good enough for them and call themselves making it better by white-washing everything. This annoys me quite a bit. Neighborhoods like this were doing well up until the market crash. Streets like Fulton were overwhelmed with large crowds of shoppers from both Crown-Heights and Bed-Stuy. These areas have gotten better on their own over the last few years not due to an increased police presence. Sorry for going off on a tangent….

  • Someone on Brooklynian did a little Googling and it seems that at least some of the names on the wall are victims of violent crimes. Michael Bishop died after a man who tried to rob him slashed his neck at a Times Square subway station. Gloria Mingo was trying to hail a cab when she was run over by a car. Blake Shamel Harper was at a Brooklyn nightclub when someone started shooting and hit him in the chest. Damon Allen, who was discussed here and on Brooklynian in detail was killed trying to shield two girls after they left a birthday party and walked out into a street where bullets were flying.

    None of these people were “gangbangers”, rather they were just average NYers who happened to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their community chose to honor them and while some may question whether there is value in a memorial whose purpose is unknown to current residents, unless and until the owner decides that the mural needs to come down it should remain on that wall. Just because none of you knew any of the souls lost, doesn’t mean that they aren’t deserving of remembrance.