City tries to close Fort Greene Park ahead of protest, quickly back-tracks

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The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park.
File photo by Caleb Caldwell

The city tried to close Fort Greene Park early ahead of a planned anti-police brutality protest Wednesday night, before back-tracking and keeping the greenspace open amid social media backlash.

Local Community Board 2 sent out a notice at around 4:45 pm claiming that the Parks Department decided to shutter the lawn between Myrtle and Dekalb avenues at 7 pm in response to “civil unrest” the night before — when chaotic scenes broke out nearby between NYPD officers and protesters.

“In reaction to the civil unrest yesterday night in Boerum Hill and Downtown Brooklyn — which was preceded by a protest in Fort Greene Park — the Parks Department announced that it is closing the park this evening at 7 pm,” the board’s Oct. 28 statement read.

The move came one day after cops arrested over 30 demonstrators marching against the Oct. 26 police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia, a protest that started in Fort Greene Park earlier that evening.

The march turned chaotic near Atlantic Avenue, with some scofflaws lighting trash fires, defacing police vehicles, and smashing store windows of mostly chain stores and banks along the thoroughfare.

Footage from the night shows a heavy police presence in response to the protest, along with one incident where baton-wielding officers smashed the window of a car on Atlantic Avenue near Boerum Place, before the driver blew through a line of bike cops.

Activists planned a follow-up protest that was set to take off from Fort Greene Park on Wednesday at 8 pm, according to NYC Protest Updates 2020, a social media account that has tracked demonstrations since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May.

Former Brooklyn Paper reporter Julianne Cuba tweeted CB2’s park closure notice, drawing condemnation from many who said the city was trying to stifle protesters’ First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly — and likened the tactic to the NYPD’s summer curfews.

“Parks are the only place in the city where people can congregate en mass without a permit,” tweeted Daily News scribe Catherina Gioino. “Not only is this impinging on NYers’ 1A/right to public space, it shows just how much power an arbitrary NYPD rule has over other city agencies.”

Within two hours, the community board issued a follow-up notice saying the greenspace would not close early after all, and parks honchos soon published a tweet confirming the space would remain open for its usual hours.

Wednesday evening, cops on bikes from NYPD’s strategic response group swarmed into the neighborhood again anticipating a re-run of Tuesday night, but protesters didn’t show, according to a report by ABC 7.

When asked about the back-and-forth messaging, a spokesperson for Parks on Wednesday claimed to have not made any announcements about a closure.

“I’m confused by [the] question — Parks did not make any announcements about closure,” agency spokesperson Crystal Howard told this paper.

However, CB2’s District Manager Rob Perris confirmed that he got the notice from the Parks Department, but referred any further questions on the incident to agency reps.

Upon repeated further requests, Howard declined to provide any additional comment. 

“I have nothing for you,” the Parks rep said. “No comment.”

The Police Department’s press office did not return a request for comment whether they requested the closure.