Crime ain’t new but it hits hard

The Brooklyn Paper
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I received the phone call from a friend on Sunday afternoon. The Bait and Tackle bar — an epicenter of Red Hook drinking life where I’ve been known to down a lager or two — had been robbed.

A mutual friend was opening the Van Brunt Street watering hole at 2 pm when two men came in and asked to use the bathroom. One of the thugs shoved a gun into her mouth and the other tied her up with duct tape as they emptied the cash register, according to my friend, who had been bartending there the night before.

The whole thing took about 15 minutes.

I am not naive enough to think that the attack was something completely abnormal. Unfortunately, we all know such brutal acts happen from time to time in this city. It is more rare, however, that such a crime happens within the landscape of my own life.

The geography of class has allowed me to live mostly within a safe Red Hook, not the broken-glass–strewn area near the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway where most of the neighborhood’s crime happens, according to police.

Still, the Bait and Tackle robbery wasn’t my first brush with Red Hook’s rough side. Last year, a man who lived in the apartment above mine was stabbed to death in his living room. I was at a birthday party the night he was killed and found out only the next day from a detective investigating our building for clues.

The gumshoe told me that my upstairs neighbor been a drug dealer, his murder was likely related to that trade. My landlord told me that the man had been there for many years.

A few months later, a young couple — painters with an adorable French bulldog — moved into his apartment. Last year, I attended their wedding.

It still disturbs me that I can’t picture the face of the man who lived there before Amelie and Paul, a man who lived and died in a different world than us, though we shared the same front door.

When I moved to that apartment, my landlord Lucy was ecstatic. She saw me — a college-educated, employed person willing to pay $1,400 for a two-bedroom hole with rooms so dim and narrow they resembled airport corridors — as a sign of progress.

“We are happy things are changing here and new people are coming,” she had said, adding that the change made her feel safer.

Her comment chilled me. I felt the flash of guilt that comes with knowing you are part of a change that is inevitably about people with more money displacing people with less. This week, I remembered Lucy’s comment, and our dead neighbor, as I thought about my friend, who hasn’t returned to Van Brunt Street since her assault.

We live in a city of neighborhoods and within each neighborhood, there are multiple geographies. They are all safe and unsafe, depending on the hour and the day. Lucy may be less likely to be robbed now than she was 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean that she or I exist in a safe Red Hook. None of us does. And no one ever will, until everyone does.

Ariella Cohen is a staff reporter for The Brooklyn Paper.

The Kitchen Sink

Red Hook has lost its good name: That weirdly non-local Red Hook IPA we see all over the place has been renamed “Long Hammer IPA.” The Chicago-based brewer who makes the “hoppily drinkable IPA” declined to comment on the decision to trade in Brooklyn’s best neighborhood name for a moniker that reminds The Sink of a porn star.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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