By SARAH MASLIN NIR **Article from the NYTimes
Brooklyn Bridge Park, the 85-acre park at the edge of Brooklyn Heights, transformed an industrial shoreline into a recreational esplanade that today draws over 125,000 people on summer weekends. It has become the emerald trim of a jewel-box neighborhood of handsome brownstones.
Particularly prized are the park’s tidy basketball courts that draw players from as far as the Bronx and Queens for their million-dollar views of Lower Manhattan and other amenities not often found on more humble home turfs — like actual nets on the hoops. But a spate of courtside fights among rowdy visitors, punctuated by gunfire last year, has prompted the police, at times, to shut down Pier 2, where the courts stand.
The situation has set some residents in the well-off neighborhood, which is mostly white, on edge, some of whom portray the pier as an OK Corral for gangs and complain that their quaint streets have become overrun with teenagers. The players, many of whom are black, say that whatever problems have occurred are relatively limited and believe that they are the victims of stereotyping.
Courtside fisticuffs, they say, are just a result of teenagers being teenagers — and isn’t that what happens in parks?
The conflict between the players and the neighborhood plays out in particular at the southern end of the slim, 1.3-mile-long park, where it pours out onto Joralemon Street.
“Joralemon Street becomes like this funnel of kids who are already very agitated running down the street screaming, bouncing basketballs, taunting pedestrians, taunting cars,” said Linda DeRosa, the president of theWillowtown Association, a local civic group, referring to times when fights have caused the park to be closed by the police. “It’s just a sign that the park really needs to get control of their facility.”
The issue came to a head during a recent meeting at the local police precinct house, which was reported by Gothamist, in which residents said that the unruly crowds drawn to the courts were damaging the character of the neighborhood.
But some players believe the issue has more to do with their background than their behavior.
“Sometimes I try and avoid going on Joralemon,” said Aaliyah Johnson, 17, who is black and travels from Flatbush to play basketball. “It’s like they look at you, move their kids over like you’re going to do something, and clutch on to their purse. Your doing that — it just makes us not feel welcome. We just came here to play basketball.”
That race has become part of the discussion is inescapable, some say, given that the players coming to the park cross through an overwhelmingly white neighborhood — whites make up about 80 percent of residents in Brooklyn Heights, according to the United States census.
Some players, like Sheron Christie, 17, who lives in Ozone Park, Queens, say concerns about unruliness do have merit. A few months ago, Sheron said, he recalled players scattering in fear when a gun fell from someone’s backpack onto the blacktop. And on April 16 last year, the police arrestedtwo young men who had been involved in a shooting on the pier. No one was injured.
Since April, the police have shut Pier 2 six times, either in response to fighting or to pre-empt possible violence. As part of its effort to avoid trouble, the Police Department has started monitoring social media for mention of the park. One of the shutdowns, the police said, was meant to stop a large party planned on Facebook, and two others came after threats on social media to “shoot up the park.”
In recent weeks, the police have increased their presence with 16 officers added to park duty, bringing the total to 25, according to park officials.
Some residents have become so troubled by the situation that they have asked Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the group that runs the park, to replace the basketball courts with something else. Tennis courts are a frequent suggestion.
Park officials say that is not going to happen.
“Brooklyn Bridge Park has been built and designed as a space for everyone,” said Regina Myer, the president of the park. “The inclusion of basketball courts was a deliberate decision from the outset.’’
Ms. Myer acknowledged that there have been security issues that park officials, along with the police, are working to address. “But getting rid of some of the most popular basketball courts in the city is decidedly not the solution,” she added, “and would fly in the face of everything this park stands for.”
Jamael Lynch, who played basketball professionally overseas, offers basketball clinics at the park through his nonprofit group, Big and Little Skills Academy. “If people are trying to replace the courts, you’d create an environment that is more conducive to what you’re trying to get rid of,” he said. “An environment where kids have nothing to do.”
Park officials and volunteers are trying to come up with ways to discourage loitering on the streets outside the park, which tends to lead to conflict. They are also working with representatives from a nearby housing project, the Ingersoll Houses, where many of the players come from, to develop programs for younger residents. One idea is to host a basketball game between the police and regular players.
Another neighborhood leader who has raised concerns about the courts, Peter Bray, the executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, described the issue as “the attack on Joralemon Street.” But the problem, he said, is not with the players, it is with the park itself. The park is long and thin, bounded by water on one side and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and tall bluffs on the other. There are few access points. “The park planners have not done a good job at finding ways for people to get into the park and out of the park,” Mr. Bray said.
And one of the ways in and out, the Squibb Bridge, has been closed for years because of engineering issues.
For Aaliyah, who sat in the park on a recent afternoon practicing secret handshakes with her girlfriends as they waited their turn to play basketball, any threat to the courts weighed heavily. “This is Brooklyn culture here,” she said. “If they’re removing it, it’s like a piece of our childhood will be gone.”