At 2:45 in Downtown Brooklyn on weekdays, the streets are devoid of young people. By 3:00, the sidewalks are crammed with high school students on every corner. For store managers and local authorities, this daily rush has been intense but manageable, and probably still is. But the level of tension that comes with the daily influx escalated after October 26th, when a 16-year-old student was shot and killed.
Downtown Brooklyn is an ideal hangout spot for high school students. There are four high schools in the immediate area—Freedom Academy, George Westinghouse, Brooklyn International and Science Skills Center—and a half dozen just outside of the neighborhood. “Its about the time of day with unique factors,” said Robert Perris, Community Board 2 Manager. “There’s a dynamic downtown They [students] get out of school and are localized geographically where they can interact with people from other schools before they go home.” All of the local high schools have the same dismissal time.
On October 26th, an argument on the corner of Flatbush and DeKalb Avenues turned fatal in the shadows of an Applebee’s Restaurant and the campus of Long Island University. Armani Hopkins, 16, was shot and killed after hanging out at a local McDonald’s. Witnesses said the victim was involved in a “fake fight” moments before the shooting. Four days later Malik Peters, 17, was arrested and charged with the murder.
Murders are up compared to last year in the 88th Precinct, which includes western portions of downtown Brooklyn. But the other incidents took place late at night near public housing projects. “We don’t have pure anarchy,” said Perris.
Business owners agree that students tend to leave adults alone. The biggest issue is occasional shoplifting. “It’s safe here despite the murder,” Dr. Jay’s Manager Tony Row said. “There are a few kids who are a part of criminal organizations but most are just following each other around and showing off.”
The only recent incident involving an adult and students occurred when an older man confronted a group of students. “We had beatdown at McDonalds when an adult tried to break up a fight and then became the target of the violence,” Perris said.
Students tend to hang out in fast food shops like McDonalds and Two Brothers Pizza, which sit on Flatbush Avenue right up the street from the murder scene. “Students leave us alone,” said Alan Rosen, the owner of Junior’s Restaurant. “If they want to come here for a slice of cheesecake they are more than welcome.”
The police and security officers keep close watch over students and frequently encourage them to head for the subways.
On a recent afternoon, nearly 50 students gathered in front of the Duane Reade at Fulton and Smith streets. While commuters passed by, a commotion broke out. After a few seconds of shouting and shoving, the corner suddenly became vacant. Six police officers and security guards emerged. A police van with its lights on roamed Fulton Street but no one was arrested. Students broke off into small groups.
“Some kids are coming in and buying things while others come in with the intention to thieve,” said John Rodriguez, manager of the Duane Reade on Fulton and Smith streets. “The security presence helps.”
The three police precincts in the area put additional officers on the street during the afterschool hours. Downtown Brooklyn also hires private security officers to keep an eye on students. The recent shooting occurred at 6:30pm, right after the police presence in the area returns to normal.
Local community organizations want to provide an afterschool hangout, but realize that confined spaces aren’t attractive to students who want to see friends. “Some young people won’t latch onto services we offer,” said Samantha Johnson, Ingersoll Community Center Manager. Perris also believes that afterschool programs won’t be effective in keeping kids off the streets. Putting extra security on the streets is the best solution in his opinion, it deters crime while allowing students to see their friends. “An afterschool program would be seen as square,” Perris said.
Students, too have some complaints. “Security doesn’t do their jobs,” said one student, Destiny Dobson. “I had a misunderstanding by Shake Shack. I was standing outside and she [a security guard] said we couldn’t be there, even though one of us bought something.”
On a recent afternoon, students congregated outside the Shake Shack on Fulton Street. The area outside the restaurant is filled with tables and open to the public. When a security guard approached the students and encouraged them to leave, they became defensive.
“I’m charging my phone! Tell that white person over there to get up!” a student shouted. The group of students became larger and intermittently argued with the security guard. Eventually, the guard stood right in the middle of the students as they flirted and shouted with one another.
“Cops be OD’ing around here,” student Jamal Johnson said. “Fights happen often but shootings don’t.”
Johnson and Dobson were mingling outside of a smoke shop on Willoughby Avenue. After complaining about the police they went back to hanging out with their friends. A security guard stood watch across the street, staring intently but leaving them alone.