Each weekend since the Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve picked a different neighborhood to explore. On May 17th it was Brooklyn’s BedStuy.
I started my ride with a coffee at Le Paris Dakar, a bakery located one block from the corner of Nostrand Ave and Fulton Street.
A week later that intersection would be a focal point of protests against police violence. Spontaneous marches broke out after police in Minneapolis killed a black man, Floyd George.
I like to think exploring New York City gives me perspective. I see an extraordinary diversity of cultures and amazing architecture. I talk to random people and read about the history of the place.
But this trip reminded me how things change and how they don’t. How I can visit place, but not know it.
BedStuy is famous for being the setting for Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing. It came out the year before I moved to New York City. The day I moved in I was robbed as I unpacked the car.
In the movie a disagreement breaks out on a hot summer day because the pizza parlor in the African-American neighborhood refuses to include blacks on a “Wall of Fame.”
In the melee that follows a young black man is restrained by a police officer who uses a choke hold and kills him. Witnesses are screaming for the cop to stop. He doesn’t.
It’s eerily similar what happened to Floyd George in Minneapolis three decades later, underscoring how little the world has changed.
At the time, BedStuy was a scary place. Spike Lee hired Fruit of Islam members to guard the set on Stuyvesant Avenue between Quincy Street and Lexington Avenue.
In 2015 the block was renamed “Do The Right Thing Way,” to honor Lee.
Of course, BedStuy, just like every place in New York, had changed considerably as crime fell and real estate prices rose. BedStuy also changed racially. In 2000, only 3% of the neighborhood was white. Fifteen years later whites accounted for 27%.
One immediate consequence was that the protests in Brooklyn were more diverse and included more white people, many of whom were shocked by the police violence they saw during several nights of protests.
Brownstones in BedStuy:
The strong economy in the city that was fueled by a decline in crime and new businesses spawned new coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants.
The neighborhood has a cool vibe to it.
It’s also filled with lots of small churches.
There are plenty of signs of the “old” New York in the form of bodegas and cigarette shops and butchers.
There are also a lot of great murals.
According to Wikipedia, the neighborhood has “the largest collection of intact and largely untouched Victorian architecture in the country, with roughly 8,800 building built before 1900.