‘God Squad’ calls for mall boycott

The Brooklyn Paper
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Brooklyn ministers and community members announced Tuesday a planned boycott of developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Terminal mall on the busiest shopping day of the year.

The Downtown Brooklyn Leadership Coalition (DBLC), commonly referred to as the “God Squad,” is planning a community boycott of the new shopping center on Friday, Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving. The day is commonly referred to in retail circles as “Black Friday.”

The DBLC was formed to urge Ratner and his Forest City Ratner development company to solicit input from residents of the neighborhoods surrounding his planned Atlantic Yards project. Ratner plans to build apartment towers, office skyscrapers and a basketball arena on property extending into Prospect Heights from the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

Those plans call for the clearing of roughly 13 acres of property currently inhabited by residents and business owners.

The DBLC members gathered across the street from the Ratner-developed Atlantic Terminal mall and, with the backdrop of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rail yards over which a third of the project would be built, set up a podium on the sidewalk along Atlantic Avenue near Sixth Avenue.

“We want people to see where the Atlantic Yards project will be,” said Councilwoman Letitia James, whose district includes Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.

James acknowledged they were also deliberately avoiding the area in front of the mall, after the group was kicked off the property in front of the Target department store in September while passing out anti-Atlantic Yards literature.

The Target store has been one of the retail chain’s busiest since it opened in July.

A crowd of 60 people gathered Tuesday morning, some just passersby who ventured across the busy, four-lane Atlantic Avenue. Several men handed out pamphlets and glossy postcards urging the boycott and signs were passed around on pieces of cardboard with black marker, reading, “Come into the Light, Mr. Ratner,” and “Community Power! Economical Development! The community will be heard!”

“We will boycott the financial activity,” said the Rev. Patrick Perrin, pastor of the Hanson Place Central United Methodist Church in Fort Greene, to “send a message that we have severe problems with the process with which this land is being developed.”

The Rev. Anthony Truffant, pastor of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Fort Greene, drew attention to the shivering crowd.

“I think it is apropos that we are out here in the cold,” he said, making a metaphorical reference to the residents and merchants who would be displaced by the Atlantic Yards project.

Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Lupe Todd, who watched the press conference, said, “The civil rights movement was founded on boycotts [but] the reality is that 80 percent of the people who work in this terminal live in the surrounding community, and the only people this boycott is going to hurt is this community.”

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry, an Atlantic Yards supporter and pastor of the House of the Lord Church, who has been holding weekly community “Truth Forums” to provide what he calls “open discussion” of the project, said Tuesday night a boycott was “spiteful, vindictive, unfair, and I think it is counterpro­ductive.”

“Ordinarily in my 46 years, whenever anybody mentioned a boycott I got excited,” he said. “This is one boycott I think is unfair. I don’t think you have any moral ground.”

Daughtry, who headed the DBLC until quitting in August, said he thought their boycott statements were insincere.

“Next week we will do a rally. I hope these people who are planning the boycott come to the rally — let’s have a good old-fashioned debate about it,” Daughtry said.

Addressing the charges of Daughtry and others involved in negotiations with Ratner, Perrin said that any community voice should be considered.

“I am no interloper. None of the people involved in this process are interlopers,” Perrin said.

In response to charges from the pro-Atlantic Yards Prospect Heights group BUILD that much of the opposition to the arena project had its base in a largely white, affluent population of “newcomers” in the project site and neighboring areas, Councilwoman James said Tuesday, “We will march arm and arm, black and white, and again protest this project.”

Joining the boycott announcement was East New York Councilman Charles Barron, who said that while he hopes negotiating groups “get as much as they can” from a benefits agreement, he thinks many of the jobs brought in by the project will be tantamount to slavery.

Calling the project “dangerous” to the black community, he said the promised 800 jobs would not offer a living wage.

“They see our community as a plantation,” said the former Black Panther. “They brought us here for labor in the first place — they can’t enslave you again, but they can give you slave wages. This is a disgrace!”

Bill Batson, a member of Community Board 8, who stood with the ministers, said he’s frustrated that the race ticket is being used increasingly in debates in the community.

“My white counterparts feel completely uncomfortable standing up,” at community board meetings, he said. “Clearly this project’s about a diverse enough neighborho­od.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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