Racially-Charged Shouting Match at Rezoning Debate

An already heated debate over possible new development rules in Crown Heights turned into a racially charged shouting match Wednesday night.

The Community Board 9 meeting — which was supposed to give the public a chance to discuss the shaping of a City Planning Department study about how the neighborhood should be rezoned —devolved into arguments after a local rabbi urged the community to leave race out of the conversation.

Rabbi Eli Cohen of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council condemned “the rhetoric that’s gone out trying to [set] one neighbor against the other, one race against another, one religion against another,” alluding to recent brochures and emails distributed by the activist group Movement to Protect the People.

One such flier distributed at a CB9 meeting on Jan. 22 blamed “Uncle Toms,” “white developers” and the Jewish community for displacing black people in the neighborhood.

“I implore you,” Cohen added at Wednesday night’s meeting, “you may be very passionate about this issue one way or the other — don’t stick race into it.”

Cohen was immediately shouted down by Alicia Boyd, MTOPP’s leader, who was in turn told to “sit down” and “stop interrupting the meeting” by members of the audience at the St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf, where the meeting was held.

During her public remarks several minutes later, Boyd forcefully reiterated her group’s concern that land-use changes allowing for larger developments on major streets west of New York Avenue would displace those who live in the neighborhood now.

“It displaces, goddamn it! It displaces,” she said of the idea to rezone the main corridors of Crown Heights. “And we will not be displaced out of our goddamn community.”

Boyd did not directly respond to the criticism of MTOPP’s racially charged statements.

Following Boyd, community board member and local blogger Tim Thomas asked MTOPP members to “tone it down” in his remarks before being silenced by the group’s shouting.

“We’ve got people in the neighborhood who are calling people Uncle Toms, [saying] they’re race-baiting Jews, they’re also — I see you right there,” Thomas told Boyd, who was standing a few yards away jeering at him. “You’re the one who called me KKK.”

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo also joined the fray, describing the communication at recent CB9 meetings on the rezoning issue “disgusting” and “disrespectful,” before calling out Boyd directly.

“Talking over people, talking about people, the accusations that are being made…you can’t substantiate them and you cannot back them up,” she said to Boyd, who booed and shouted throughout Cumbo’s remarks.

“I want to say to you, personally, Alicia: What do you want to have happen here? You want to have fisticuffs right here?”

The community board is currently trying to redraft a letter to the City Planning Department saying what residents do and do not want included in a study of changes to land-use rules in southern Crown Heights and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. That document was originally sent to City Planning last spring by CB9, but was subsequently voted down by the board in the fall.

CB9 will hold another meeting to discuss the rezoning on Wednesday, Feb. 11, with the location to be determined. The board hopes to finalize its letter about the rezoning study and vote on it at the full board meeting on Feb. 24.

5 Comments

  • 1. Jewish dude wrote:

    I hope more people sell their home to frumme yidden.
    We need to be together i hope all people will get along. Since we must live together in this small city.

  • 2. Resident wrote:

    I hate to say but they have a point. The yoelis and other investors and our OWN fellow lubavitchers are giving over this neighberhood to the yuppies for MONEY. we are selling the neighberhood that was so dear to the rebbe all for money. Our children and our familiies are at stake. The character of the neighberhood is at stake. My friends, wake up !!!!!!! rezoning means more building that are all turning into studio apartments for yuppies . THIS IS DESTROYING OUR COMMUNITY

    • 3. Money wrote:

      Why do you hate to say it? It’s true. There are many in the real estate field that worship money and are motivated by nothing else – but it’s not racism.

  • 4. Economics in one lesson wrote:

    Supply and demand finds the price point.
    More housing equals affordable housing.

    Now about high price studios being built…… for yuppies. Thats is because, thhese projects are financed, and banks want to make sure the endeavor is maximally profitable…. more units, as apposed to bigger units, but, when there is sufficient competition, there will be a market for “family” housing, and possibly chasidish housing…..

    Zoning, restricting thr number of potential housing has gat to go…..

    What if there was a law restricting the mamimum bushels of wheat that can be produced to 300 million/ year, and left it like that regaurdless of how large the population grew.. …. ppl would eventually starve.

  • 5. montrealer wrote:

    Good thing that the meeting was held in the school for the deaf …… the yelling didn’t interrupt their classes.

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