PROSPECT LEFFERTS GARDENS — The heated gentrification fights of this neighborhood have begun to turn inward, and much of the drama has centered on wild accusations against a local blogger Tim Thomas, who authors the Q at Parkside, by the folks behind two local groups that seem to have joined forces: Movement To Protect The People (MTOPP) led by Alicia Boyd, and Equality For Flatbush (E4F) led by Imani Henry.
The two groups are aggressively anti-development and speak up for the folks living on the margins and at the edges – street vendors, undocumented immigrants, and against harassment of folks of color. They sometimes use disruptive tactics to get their points across. Community Board 9, which represents the area, at times has been completely paralyzed in its functioning as a result. They are obviously neighbors who care deeply about what is happening to their neighborhoods, not willing to sit idly by.
Yet despite their best efforts, development of the area continues. The amount of development taking place from Crown Heights to Flatbush is staggering, and the community’s inability to have a meaningful conversation about it has been a disservice to all. There will be development in Brooklyn, whether we want it or not, and not just central Brooklyn. It is taking place all over. The city needs more housing. We need more well-paying jobs that enable people to stay in their neighborhoods. We need housing that is affordable so the seniors can age in place and young families can get started. The question is – who’s at the table, getting our voices heard, making sure that the community gets the best deal? Who’s keeping track?
Tim Thomas is also neighbor, a white guy who has been documenting the goings on in his corner of the neighborhood for almost a decade. Take a look at his site, and it is obvious how much the guy cares about what is happening around Prospect Lefferts Gardens, how much he knows, and that anyone “who’s got it coming” was going to get their share from Tim. He goes after slumlords and developers alike, documenting life in the neighborhood as it is on any given day — the good and the bad, and tackling neighborhood issues head-on and vocally. He’s got a big mouth. That he did not spare MTOPP or it’s leader, Alicia Boyd, is not surprising — he does not spare anyone.
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A lot of what this boils down to is change. We dove into the underlying issues, which do not seem to have changed much, back in 2016, looking at how the development pressures are boiling over in the neighborhood, and how a Community Board that cannot discuss them in a meaningful way was not in the best interests of the community. It is not to say they did not try. And MTOPP and Boyd weren’t the only ones called out; Thomas was removed from the Transportation committee of CB9 for his “combative personality”.
The conflict between MTOPP and Q at Parkside has escalated recently, with MTOPP and E4F announcing their plans to protest against “gentrification and white supremacy,” with a rally on November 3. Titled “Racists Out Now!”, it uses a poster that puts Tim Thomas right next to Theresa Klein (of the “Cornerstore Caroline” incident), and Gavin McInnes of the Proud Boys, calling him a “Racist & Sexist blogger at The Q at Parkside”.
Lumping all the “Flatbush gentrifiers” in with Theresa Klein of the awful and inexcusable “Cornerstore Caroline” incident is on par with lumping all the white people in Brooklyn in with Gavin McInnes, an actual violent white supremacist. It is simply not true. And the only statement made about Tim Thomas here that is true is that he is a blogger at Q at Parkside.
What I hear is desperation, though. Development is accelerating, displacement is happening, and it is affecting those on the margins of our society first and hardest, and changing the fabric of our communities at an ever-increasing rate. Community activists on the ground bear witness to it on daily basis. But here’s the deal. In order to have an impact, we need all the voices that care about the community to be able to speak up without fear of retaliation or harassment, or fear of being called racist, sexist, gentrifier, nut, or plain old crazy, and least of all fear of having your livelihood taken away.
We need to be able to talk like grownups about the hurt, the injustice, the pain that accelerating change keeps inflicting. We need to be able to acknowledge that and think thoughtfully, creatively and quickly about how we can come up with solutions that help, before, as E4F likes to say “it’s gone,” before our communities of neighbors have disappeared, dissolved, been displaced. We need to be able to talk, and we need to be able to listen, respectfully.
Tim Thomas has been keeping a public record of what’s going on, and it takes a lot of work to figure out what’s really going on. He does not claim to be a reporter, he does the best he can, with the time he has. He has done that expecting nothing in return and taking a lot of heat over the years. He’s apologized when he’s made mistakes and crossed lines, something few these days are willing to do.
And he’s also continued to inform his neighbors about the daily life of their neighborhood. This community needs him. Every community needs a Tim Thomas.
The folks at MTOPP and E4F are also trying to uncover what’s going on, and speaking their truths, and standing up for people. It is important that their voices are heard, too. They are also taking quite a bit of heat. In the end, their goals are not all that different from Tim’s – trying to keep their neighborhood a neighborhood, a place where diverse people can find a welcoming home.
The city does not care about where a big new building or a new homeless shelter will go up, we do, in the neighborhood. We care about the neighbors having to depend on a food pantry, we care about horrid housing situations and slumlords, we care about neighborhood kids not getting a good education, we care. We show up. We talk. And we need to all be able to talk – on street corners, in Facebook groups, in blogs, concerned residents and reporters alike.
This latest exchange between the parties, however, seems to have brought the worst of the overall deterioration of political discourse in America to this Brooklyn community. We need to get past the point of calling everyone we disagree with names and trying to shut them out of the conversation — suggesting they move to wherever they came from though they grew up right next door — if we are ever going to sit down and talk to each other again, to paraphrase a question Tim Thomas posed two years ago. I hope we can, because our communities and our neighbors need us to be bigger than that, and they need it now.