A string of armed robberies has Flatbush residents freaking out.
Five stick-ups have hit neighborhood businesses in the past month, including at least two at eateries in which the bandits targeted customers in scenes pulled straight out of “Pulp Fiction.” Locals packed a Nov. 20 meeting on the rash of robberies, and offered sharply divergent views on how to address the problem. Local pols and police reps called for unity and vigilance on the area’s bustling commercial streets.
“If we want safe streets, the NYPD can’t do it on their own,” Borough President Adams said. “We will not stand for crimes like this. Not while I’m Borough President.”
The trouble began in late October when a lone gunman held up the Israeli dinner spot Mimi’s Hummus on Cortelyou Road, the neighborhood’s increasingly upscale restaurant row, bagging $100 from the register, an employee said at the meeting.
And on the evening of Nov. 13, a single raider stormed into Lark Cafe on Church Avenue between E. 10th Street and Stratford Road and forced members of a writers group to fork over three MacBooks and an iPad Mini, then took off running down Coney Island Avenue towards Prospect Park, per police and reports.
Robbers also struck a T-Mobile cellphone shop and a deli in that time period, but the three heists targeting upscale businesses that opened in the last five years are connected, police said. And the brazen quality of the heists is eerily reminiscent of crime-ridden decades past, one victim said.
“I’d like to know what has emboldened criminals to go back to the crime that we haven’t seen since the ’90s,” said Anya Shiferson, who was working the register the night Mimi’s Hummus was robbed.
Police have deployed foot patrols to the affected commercial strips, and sent in undercover cops as well, an officer from the neighborhood’s 70th Precinct said.
“We flooded the streets. We’re doing everything we can to assist the community,” said Lt. Jacqueline Bourne. “Unmarked officers are out there. You may not see them, but they’re out there.”
The pledge did not set Shiferson or her colleagues at ease.
“All of our employees feel extremely unsafe,” she said.
The back-to-back stickups have sparked fears that the crooks are honing in on pockets of affluence in the predominately Caribbean and African-American neighborhood where the median income is $40,146, below Brooklyn’s median of $45,215. Racial and class tensions have flared up there during the past year, with a dedicated vandal repeatedly scrawling anti-white-gentrification messages at the Church Avenue subway station. And, according to a New York Daily News report, two women robbed three tenants of an Ocean Avenue apartment, then forced them out at gunpoint and squatted their place. The crooks said they didn’t like “that white people were moving into the area,” per the News.
Members of a housing-activist group at the community meeting said the crimes should not be used as an excuse to ramp up what they called “racist policing.”
“Increased police presence puts pressure on black and brown people, increases harassment, and makes people uncomfortable in their own communities,” said Uliya Yshtaal, of Equality for Flatbush. “We want to work together to find ways to keep the community safe without more police.”
Several commentators who criticized impulse to throw more police at the problem were met with applause, but others demanded more cops on the streets, now.
Despite the high-profile string of holdups, the rate of robberies in Flatbush’s 70th Precinct is actually down substantially, from 324 this time last year to 274 so far this year, according to NYPD data.
Adams, a veteran cop before he went into politics, said there is often an uptick in robberies and thefts around the holidays.
“Some people believe it’s faster to take from people than to earn it like the rest of us,” he said.