The Top 10 Brooklyn Stories of 2014
Dec 30, 2014 | 5326 views | 0 0 comments | 153 153 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Top10 Brooklyn Stories of 2014
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10. Prospect Park Residence Legal Battle

The saga of the elderly residents of Prospect Park Residence fighting eviction orders from Haysha Deitsch, the owner of the assisted living home, began at the start of 2014 and will continue into next year.

What started with a 90-day eviction notice served in March to over 120 seniors has turned into an all-out battle between the remaining residents, Deitsch and the State Department of Health.

As Deitsch bullied and harassed the seniors to get them to leave — serving them inadequate or rotten meals, turning off heat and hot water, firing most of the building's staff and cutting cleaning services, to start — many left and subsequently became ill or passed away.

Meanwhile, Deitsch is trying to pull a $76.5 million deal on the building, which he sold in January to a developer who plans to turn the prime real estate — located directly across from Prospect Park — into luxury apartments.

Recently, the remaining eight residents won their court case and Deitsch was told he could not evict the seniors. Now, they are in the middle of trying to negotiate a global settlement with Deitsch, the building buyers and the Department of Health.

Court hearings on the potential settlement and a contempt hearing for Deitsch will continue in the new year. A number of wrongful death suits will also be brought against him in 2015.

9. Rebuilding (Finally) After Superstorm Sandy

October marked the two-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, but while the disaster itself slips further and further into the past, plenty of New Yorkers are still struggling with destruction in the aftermath.

For 18 months following the storm, residents and entrepreneurs across the city struggled to get the aid they needed from the government to properly reconstruct their homes and businesses.

The election of Bill de Blasio as mayor came with plenty of promises about how Sandy relief would be restructured, and though there is plenty of work left to be done, 2014 showed significant steps in the right direction to get New Yorkers back on their feet after the storm.

Buildings in neighborhoods like Coney Island and Red Hook were decimated by Sandy, but are finally in the process of rebuilding, particularly after de Blasio announced his overhaul of the Build it Back program in April.

Along with an expedited application process for financial assistance, de Blasio promised 500 construction starts and 500 reimbursement checks by Labor Day, a huge step forward from the end of last year when no checks had been sent or projects started.

8. Marijuana Arrest Cutbacks

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson led the charge on easing up on marijuana possession when he announced in July that his office would stop prosecuting most low-level marijuana cases.

The D.A. made the decision, he said, in order to allocate the city’s resources where they are most needed and to prevent “young people of color” from becoming “unfairly burdened and stigmatized.”

Under the new policy, cases in which individuals are caught with a small amount of marijuana in public are mostly dismissed.

The city eventually followed suit, using Thompson’s policy as a guide and easing up on marijuana prosecutions, as well.

Both Thomson and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton assured that the new policy does not impede on the work of the city’s police officers, but instead allows them to focus on bigger crimes and take resources away from minor offenses.

7. Atlantic Yards

The large-scale Atlantic Yards project, headed up by Forest City Ratner and Empire State Developments, saw a number of big and important changes this year.

For one, the project is now called Pacific Park, and after serious scrutiny from Mayor Bill de Blasio over the speed of the development’s construction, the project had to be revamped.

Shanghai-based Greenland USA joined on as a partner in the development, and together with Forest City, promised that 2,250 affordable housing units will be ready by 2025, ten years earlier than previously scheduled.

The two broke ground on their first completely affordable building at 535 Carlton Avenue in December, which will eventually house 298 below-market-rate apartments.

Despite the changes, Pacific Park/Atlantic Yards still faces many of the same challenges that have followed the development since its conception. Local residents are unhappy with the construction noise and clutter, which will continue for at least another decade, and worry about the effects of the eventual influx of new residents in their neighborhoods.

6. Stabbing of Two Children in East New York

The community of East New York was completely shaken this summer after the stabbing of six-year-old P.J. Avitto and his friend Mikayla Capers, 7.

P.J. and Mikayla were followed into an elevator in Boulevard Houses — the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complex where they lived — by a 27-year-old recently released convict, Daniel St. Hubert, who stabbed the children repeatedly.

St. Hubert then fled the scene, leaving P.J. dead and Mikayla critically wounded, crawling out of the elevator looking for help for her friend.

Mikayla eventually recovered as P.J.’s family and the Boulevard Houses community mourned his loss.

The attack brought NYCHA under serious scrutiny, particularly after it was revealed that the agency had been sitting on $27 million that was set aside for security measures in its housing developments, which could have helped in the case of the children.

Since then, NYCHA has been audited by City Comptroller Scott Stringer and hounded for their financial practices at all of their residences.

5. Vision Zero

This year was huge for Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero initiative, which aims to decrease all traffic-related deaths and injuries on New York City streets.

His campaign promise grew into a reality in April, when the Department of Transportation announced the city's first arterial slow zone along Atlantic Avenue, lowering the avenue's speed limit to 25 mph.

Since then, slow zones have been introduced across the boroughs; the City has increased traffic safety measures, like stop signs and speed bumps, in traffic-heavy neighborhoods; and most notably, decreased the city speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph.

The bill to lower the speed limit was widely approved by the City Council and took effect on November 7, with increased enforcement from police officers and speed cameras around the boroughs.

While Vision Zero has largely been a success, with support for the safety initiative coming from almost all sides, the lowered speed limit was more contentious. Although many believed the bill to be a given, others argued that lowering the speed limit in an already congested city will only cause more traffic issues.

4. LICH Sale

After 16 months in court with hospital operator SUNY Downstate, Long Island College Hospital (LICH) was sold and closed on May 22.

Bought and now operated by NYU Langone, the hospital was a huge loss for the Cobble Hill community, who fought long and hard to keep the facility open.

As court proceedings and dealings went on, local residents wrote petitions, picketed and sent letters to elected officials to try and save the 506-bed, 117-year old hospital. But the efforts were fruitless, and community members felt shirked and ignored by the sale process.

In December, State Senator Daniel Squadron introduced the Local Input in Community Healthcare (LICH) Act, which would require the commissioner of the state Department of Health to approve any future hospital closures.

The bill, Squadron said, will help to ensure that a community’s medical needs will be taken care of in a situation like LICH’s, where a hospital’s existence is under question.

Currently, NYU Langone serves non-critical and walk-in services out of the hospital’s former ER unit.

3. Ebola in Williamsburg

As the deadly Ebola virus swept through West Africa this year, countries all over the world worried about how to prevent the disease from crossing over into their own borders.

For New York City, panic struck on October 22, when Dr. Craig Spencer returned from treating Ebola patients in Guinea through Doctors Without Borders. He traveled from his apartment in Harlem down to Williamsburg's bowling alley The Gutter, where he bowled for a few hours with friends before heading home.

He woke up the next morning with a fever and was immediately rushed to the hospital, where it was confirmed that he had contracted the disease. The Gutter subsequently shut down for two days to be disinfected, and residents across the city had reactions ranging from fear to anger at Dr. Spencer for not being more careful.

After extensive treatment and a lengthy quarantine, Dr. Spencer was cleared of the disease, the city breathed a sigh of relief and Williamsburg residents started frequenting the popular bowling alley again.

2. Shooting of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu

While it happened with less than two weeks to go in 2014, the execution-style murder of two police officers was one of the biggest stories of the year.

NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were on patrol in the 84th Precinct near Myrtle and Tompkins Avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant when they were assassinated by 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley.

The two officers were sitting in their car on a special patrol aimed at reducing crime in the neighborhood, when Brinsley approached them and shot them both in the head.

Earlier in the day, Brinsley shot and killed his 29-year-old girlfriend when she tried to stop him from killing himself. He then posted a number of anti-police statements on social media, including a post on Instagram that said he was going to “put wings on pigs.”

Following the shooting, Brinsley ran into the Myrtle-Willoughby G train subway station, followed by other police officers, and then shot himself in the head.

The attack came after the deaths of a handful of unarmed black men at the hands of officers across the country, which has led to backlash against police.

Both Officers Ramos and Liu were remembered as exemplary officers, and were both posthumously promoted to the rank of detective first grade. Officer Ramos was also made into an honorary chaplain of the 84th Precinct.

1. The deaths of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley

In 2014, the top two stories of the year are - unfortunately at this point - inextricably intertwined.

The story of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a police officer in Staten Island on July 17, was easily one of the biggest stories nationwide in 2014.

At Garner’s funeral, held at Bethel Baptist Church in Boerum Hill, Reverend Al Sharpton spoke about an issue that would haunt many in the aftermath of the killing.

“With all of these cases, you always had an excuse,” Sharpton said about the police. “You said I thought that he had a gun. Well, what did you think this time when you saw no gun, no weapon? What did you think this time?”

Garner’s death led to months of protests and unrest, particularly after a grand jury decided on December 3 not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who choked Garner.

Protestors shut down cities and major thoroughfares across the country, including the Brooklyn Bridge, which saw a number of huge protests throughout December.

Unrest in Brooklyn grew even stronger in November, when Akai Gurley was shot and killed by a police officer in a darkened stairwell in the Pink Houses in East New York. Gurley was unarmed and the shooting was declared an accident.

The deaths of the two men — along with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — has brought questions of police brutality and the relationship between police officers and the black community to the forefront of the nation’s discussions.

Subsequently, cities around the country have started testing the possibility of having all of their officers wear body cameras, and President Barack Obama requested $263 million from Congress to fund body cameras and police training.
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