Due to the callous destruction the gentrification process is wreaking on New York City, daily life today seems like a series of mini-skirmishes against an unrestrainable, omnipotent adversary. Usually this adversary is hidden in Australia, or in NYC’s financial district, nestled away on the 45th floor of unapproachable towers that watch over us like peasants being ushered rapidly of a town. In Bushwick, Brooklyn, next to single family homes we see huge towers for the wealthy being filled; art boutiques opening next to homeless shelters; and remarkably expensive cafe’s overflowing with customers on almost every block. It is in this environment that we find ourselves and it is due to this climate that we rarely get an opportunity to directly confront the purveyors of this epidemic. Today, however, we found an adversary that needed to be confronted and, for once, not hidden in a glass tower.
The Bushwick Flea Market and its owner, Rob Abner, made a stir in the local press recently. Abner commissioned an artist to install a 15 foot crochet mural onto a house next to his flea market. However, Abner never asked the owner of the home for permission and when he was approached about taking it down from the family his response set of a local firestorm. He threatened to call the police on the family who lived there for selling food to their neighbors, bragged about how he “raised their property value,” and arrogantly claimed he “covered up nasty graffiti with nice graffiti.” As public pressure mounted he eventually capitulated and removed the crochet piece but not without making it clear that he believed he was in the right the entire time.
We, at the Brooklyn Solidarity Network, immediately took interest in this development and knew we had to act. Abner’s Facebook posts made it clear to us that this had to be aired out. His unabashed support for Donald Trump, praise for the deportation of African immigrants from Israel, applause of Mike Brown’s murder, and attacks on the queer communities were beyond the pale. On Saturday, Sept 26, we visited his flea market. We called for a boycott of the flea market and distributed dozens of fliers outlining his arrogance.
Abner, as we expected, was proud, boastful, and ignorant. While he repeatedly exclaimed how nice of a guy he was, he also publicly called for the deportation of immigrants and the reversal of marriage equality. He didn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation and continuously derided the family he attempted to intimidate. His disdain for the family should be seen as representative of his larger political views about immigration and the community he chose to operate his business in. Most passersby were either shocked to learn about his views and behavior or pleased that somebody had stood up against this business that in a small way embodies one of the larger social problems confronting NYC today.
As people continuously piled out of his market Abner decided to call the police. Reminiscent of New York in the 80’s or 90’s the NYPD didn’t arrive for over an hour much to our delight. Unsurprisingly though – in a gratuitous display of the collusion between state power, racism, and capitalist enterprise – the situation deteriorated into an appalling scene within a short period of time. Officer Bin-Safar threatened to arrest any of us for imaginary crimes he concocted on the spot. In the middle of the sidewalk, he got on his soapbox and preached, erroneously about policing, the law, and his enforcement of it. It was quite an ignorant, cringe-worthy display that confused onlookers and baffled even Abner’s sympathizers. Then, Bin-Safar personally dusted off Abner’s business sign, and offered his personal number to Abner, seemingly offering his service as a hired thug.
Not to exit without truly leaving his mark, he then targeted one of our members, arbitrarily and randomly arresting him, admittedly, to just make a point. This action brought out denunciations and groans by the growing crowd, and strengthened our resolve to stay longer and make sure Abner could not return to business as usual.
We don’t believe there is anything exceptional about this incident, but we want to make it clear to everyone: we will not sit back while a one-sided class war is being ferociously waged across the city. The Bushwick Flea Market is one small piece in a complicated puzzle. Developers, the police, the city government, and the wealthy are all operating in collusion in an attempt to permanently alter NYC for their greater benefit and try to further disempower the rest of us. The indifference displayed by Abner is not the exception; it’s the frightening norm. Officer Bin-Safar’s feet-kissing and brutality is not an aberration. This is the reality of life in NYC today. This is a city where the working poor walk with their heads down; where deference is common place for black people and Latin@ people; where fear is common place for queer people.
It is rapidly becoming a city where difference is removed with armed violence, and savage eviction. Where other languages, other cultures, other ways of beings are being erased with the brutality represented by this crocheted artwork and development of towers crassly named “The Colony.” Abner and Bin-Safar symbolize a city that we, at the Brooklyn Solidarity Network, will not tolerate. We are fighting for a city, and a world where those without wealth, and power can live a dignified life; a city where police frisking and evictions are a thing of the past; a city where people are free to create the lives they wish to live without these oppressive institutions crushing their humanity like ants on the pavement. We will not let people be pushed around like this without a response. We won’t stop fighting until the systemic brutality of gentrification has become all but a bad dream in the collective memories of a liberated New York City.