FLATBUSH – “Cornerstore Caroline’s” stunt last week traumatized a kid, and Flatbush community isn’t having it.
Borough President Eric Adams and Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte held a community conversation outside Sahara Deli Market on Albermarle Rd. between Flatbush Avenue and East 21st Street, yesterday Oct. 15. The corner outside the deli was packed with neighbors and community leaders all showing their support for the nine-year-old kid– Jeremiah Harvey– that was falsely accused of sexually assaulting Teresa Klein, “Cornerstore Caroline,” at that location last week.
“I am a hardworking, God fearing woman. Last week was just a normal day for me,” Someko Bellille, Jeremiah’s mother said. “I said to them, let’s stop by Flatbush. This is my time I have with my kids, the time that I struggle to balance with home and work.”
“I decided to stop at this deli store, where this lady proceeded to intimidate, harass, and antagonize me and my children,” she said. “That day, this fear was placed into my children’s heart.”
Bellille said she had to explain to Jeremiah what sexual assault meant. She said she had to go home and deal with this herself and did not expect the outpour of positivity. She thanked Jason Littlejohn, the man who recorded the viral video, and said he is now family.
“Don’t just shy away from anything that’s happening to somebody on the street,” she said. “I thank God for Jason who took that time and said… ‘I’m here; I’ll help you.'”
Looking at her son, she told him, “It’s OK to be afraid. But this was not your fault, Jeremiah,” she said. “I’m your mother and I’m going to do what I can to make sure every other child doesn’t have to experience this.”
Jeremiah, still clearly traumatized over what happened, couldn’t stop crying. Adams referred to him as “our soldier.” People chanted “We love you” and “You the man, J!”
“When I used to cry as a little boy, everybody need to watch out because that’s when I’m going to be my strongest,” Adams told Jeremiah. “Look at all these people behind you. They’re here for you. We’re here for you. You’re not alone.”
Jeremiah is an academic scholar in his school, Adams said. “Think about that. An academic scholar in his school. If they could do that to our scholars, then all of our boys are in trouble.”
The early evening was an emotional one for Bichotte who began to cry. She referenced Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy who was falsely accused of whistling at a white woman in a grocery store. Till was tortured and killed in Mississippi soon after.
“1955,” Bichotte began. “We know what happened to Emmett Till. We are not going to relive this today. We are not. Over our dead bodies!”
“We are going to make sure we’re going to bring peace, we’re going to bring prayer… because that woman, she needs prayer,” Bichotte said. To Jeremiah, she said, “I’m sorry. On behalf of that woman, I’m sorry.”
Gentrification was continuously brought up in the community conversation. Bichotte referenced it by saying, “We have been in this community for a very long time. We are not going to let people come in and tell us how to live our lives.”
One community member spoke about anti-blackness in Flatbush.
“Clearly we have a major issue with anti-blackness and racism and violence projected not only on to black men, but also our children and our elders,” she said. “This is an extension of the consequences of gentrification when we put a bunch of people in a melting pot without a proper understanding of ways to relate to each other.”
One woman asked why Klein wasn’t yet arrested.
“She impersonated a police officer, in the state of New York it’s a felony to do so,” she said. “I’d like to know when she’ll be arrested.”
Adams took the microphone after and said the District Attorney’s office is investigating that right now.
The young people were speaking powerfully last night. Little kids gathered in front of the crowd, eagerly waiting for their turn to hold the microphone and speak their mind. One little boy said, “I feel bad for him because if they could do it to one boy, they could do it to every little boy out there.”
In an event filled with passion and anger, came an adorable moment when a little girl told Jeremiah, “I know you since you go to P.S.6, right? I didn’t know it was you and I thought it was somebody else, but I feel so sorry for you.”
A young boy named Jayden spoke powerfully about equality saying, “We are all human beings.”
“We shouldn’t care about no black, no white. We are all equal together. If we’re all on this earth, we should all be equal.”
Jordan, another young boy wearing his school uniform, said, “That white lady had so much hate that she could think an eight-year-old boy could sexually harass her.”
Jeremiah, standing right next to him, mouthed, “I’m nine.”
“I don’t even know why she thinks an eight-year-old could harm her,” Jordan continued. Again, Jeremiah murmured, “I’m nine,” though, in Jordan’s defense, it was way too noisy to hear him.
Jordan’s father, who went by Tony, spoke fervently about holding people accountable.
“If our children… are still subjected to this type of treatment, we have to do something about it. Equality feels like oppression to the privileged,” he said. “If I were to gyrate myself in front of a young eight-year-old white girl and pretended to be a police officer… if I were to behave like that, I would be charged with a myriad of charges.”
To that, someone shouted, “You’d be dead!”
“It’s nice to do the ‘we are the world hand holding things,’ but if you’re going to move into our neighborhoods, there has to be respect,” Tony said.
Jeremiah began to cry again before holding the microphone to speak. The crowd cheered to calm him down, which he did before giving a rather innocent, yet powerful speech.
“People should be treated equally. People should be treated the same way,” he said. “Racism should be stopped. Violence is not the answer; it’s not the key. Friendship is really the key.”
The little man then referenced Martin Luther King Jr.
“Martin Luther King Jr. brought people together. He brought whites and blacks together. He didn’t want other people to be separate: white and blacks in different schools, whites and blacks drinking from different fountains.”
“Treat people the same way you want to be treated,” he said. “Please, I’m begging you, please don’t do bad things or else you’re going to be in jail. You’re going be locked up forever like those bad guys in jail.”
Film producer Michael Skolnik created a GoFundMe to help raise money for Jeremiah’s education. Currently, $16,351 has been raised in three days. “This young boy deserves our love and support. The trauma that this woman put him through is horrific. I am hoping that we can bring some joy to his life,” Skolnik wrote.