Wait! Don’t call 911! Residents tell gentrifiers hanging up the phone could save a life

A meeting held to discuss alternatives to calling 911 in an effort to save black people’s lives from police shootings was attended by a mostly white crowd.
Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Not making that call could save a life!

Newcomers gentrifying Brooklyn’s mostly black and hispanic neighbrohoods are risking the lives of long-time residents every time they call 911 for incidents involving black people, anti-police-brutality advocates told a group of a few dozen mostly young, white residents Wednesday night.

Imani Henry, head of Equality for Flatbush, which bills itself as “fighting police brutality and gentrifica­tion,” blamed the latter for rising rates of 911 calls by nervous newcomers who call the cops at the site of a black person.

“In 2016 there was a statistic around Oakland. There have been over 800 calls in one month of literally black people washing their cars, or black people walking down the block,” he claimed, citing West Coast statistics on calls to the emergency number, along with the 311 complaint line.

And those calls can lead to a black person’s death, Henry told the crowd seated in a circle inside the Mount Zion Church of God on E. 37th Street between Linden Boulevard and Church Avenue.

A case in point was the killing of Crown Heights resident Saheed Vassell, who police shot and killed when responding to emergency reports of a gun-toting man threatening pedestrians in April. Vassell, it turned out, was a well liked and known mentally ill man wielding a pipe as if it were a pistol in a game that turned deadly due to a lack of training among police in mental health issues, Henry told the crowd.

Logs of calls to the city’s 911 system are not available to the public without first filing a freedom of information request, according to Det. Denise Moroney at the NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information. But calls to 311 in gentrifying Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens have gone from 11,515 in 2010 to 37,039 in 2017. In Flatbush, calls rose from 18,480 in 2010 to a high of 83,398 in 2014 before dropping to 52,021 in 2017.

Henry kicked off the meeting by detailing what he called the oppressive roots of police culture in America, which he said could be traced back to groups of men charged with recapturing fugitive slaves.

“This armed body of men have always been about oppression,” Henry said. “There’s a clear understanding that for people, particularly people of color, systems like 911, systems like the police, were not really created for us.”

In lieu of phoning police, Henry and other members of Equality for Flatbush urged the crowd to consider alternatives, like contacting a mental health or medical care worker at Thrive NYC at (888) 692–9355 to assess if an emergency response is necessary. Such a call could result in a trained mental health counselor intervening instead of police.

If police are definitely required, 911 callers can also contact a Cop Watch team, community members trained to monitor police as a way of ensuring good conduct.

The Equality for Flatbush team also urged its audience to integrate themselves into the community, and rely more on their neighbors in emergency situations and less on police.

Caucasian members of the audience at Mount Zion were keenly aware of their whiteness according to one Flatbush newcomer who said she is concerned about the effect her settling in the black community would have.

“I’m afraid of how my presence and how more and more white people would affect the culture and the community,” said Sarah Schluep, who moved to Flatbush in March from Queens.

Schluep said her big take away from the meeting was the importance of getting to know other people in her building and local community, saying she’ll be less afraid to knock on her neighbors door in the future.

“It’s the importance of building community, that I know,” said Schleup. “I think relationships between people are what we’re here to do. To love is what we’re here to do.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:43 pm, July 9, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Tomwanda from Flatbush says:
What a hypocrite - she has called 911 herself on at least 6 occasions!
How many people had to die because she used the emergency services number?!
Also, does she know the difference between 911 and 311?!
May 31, 2018, 4:07 am
NN from Boerum Hill says:
As I've learned more about NYPD's brutality and corruption, I no longer feel comfortable calling 911 in most cases.
May 31, 2018, 5:26 am
Boris from Borough Park says:
What a moronic article.
May 31, 2018, 5:38 am
Tomwanda from Flatbush says:
NN - when you have an emergency the last thing on your mind is "feeling comfortable". Maybe you were calling them too much?
May 31, 2018, 5:39 am
Son of Baron from Crown Heights says:
Black folk need to turn the tables on these white devils and call 911 every time they do something like buy organic food our walk down one of our blocks.
May 31, 2018, 6:20 am
Homey from Crooklyn says:
These advocates are crazier than a rabid bedbug
May 31, 2018, 7:48 am
Perry from Washington Heights says:
Son of Baron - that’s a great way to ensure that people with actual emergencies are ignored while 911 deals with even more nonsense calls!
People should use the emergency number for true emergencies and nothing else. No one should be encouraged or discouraged from using it - but everyone should use judgement and remember that it’s for people who need help acutely.
May 31, 2018, 8:04 am
Addie from East New York says:
So let me get this straight...when these young and well-meaning white folks move into non white neighborhoods...believing "intergration" is good...they are criticized because they have the nerve to trust the Police and try to stop the bad guys? It's sad maybe the number of black on black violent deaths in these areas would stop if more folks, no matter the color, would take a stand against the bad guys...which in MOST cases is NOT the Police. Guess gentrification is the new word for integration in reverse...whites moving into non white areas! Refusing to admit the real problem will only result in more deaths. Gentrification seems to be the buzz word used to disguise THEIR racism.
May 31, 2018, 10:09 am
SCR from Realityville says:
Hey,progressive Whites,if you DO NOT want to be seen as total hypocrites;just stop moving into Black/Hispanic neighborhoods. And twenty-something hipsters,go back home to Syosset or Edison,or for that matter,Fort Worth;or suburban Chicago. Wherever,you came from? As for the total imbicile,who gave out the 1-888-number,I phoned,it twice. It's a toll-free number for a"special promotion",number. It's probably for a non-existent,five-star hotel stay,or luxury-cruise. Should,I call,this number;for a fire-too? When are we going to stop getting so pathetically collectively dumber,by the day?
May 31, 2018, 10:23 am
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
You actually expect soulless gentrifiers to stop using the police to attack and drive the locals out of the lands that they decided to claim as their own and actually interact with said locals? Lolololololol.
May 31, 2018, 11:05 am
Law and Disorder from Formally of Brooklyn now N C says:
This is the most moronic thing I have ever herd.
Get out of NY now
The Law is the Law if some one is breaking the law Black White or what ever Call for Help. If you break the law get caught and fight back and get injured don't say Police Brutality.
When the Police start ignoring your calls see what happens.
May 31, 2018, 11:54 am
SCR from Realityville says:
I just checked the 1-888-692-9355,again. Apparently,I was one(1) digit off. Still,it's hardly acceptable,to listen to many push-button;I and strong suggestions-that your complaint,be resolved,on-line. You have to do a HELL of a lot better,as an alternative to 911!! Especially so,in any possible dire emergency situation?
May 31, 2018, 12:14 pm
Are you kidding me from the real world says:
A few years ago a middle age man and a bunch of school kids started using our building vestibule as a party spot. Grown man drinking and smoking weed with kids as young as 11, but mostly in the 15-18 range. Many people in the building tried to reason with the man and the kids for a few weeks to get them to stop, but guess what it only stopped after someone called the police. Or the time our downstairs neighbor's baby daddy was drunk, screaming & banging on her door late at night. My roommate decided to go talk to the guy instead of calling the cops. Where he then threatened to assault/rape her and rob our apartment. Their statistics of showing 311 calls are a false equivalency to 911 calls. In the instance of the Mr. Vassell, 911 records showed that one of the calls was placed from someone who worked at laundromat. I don't think Becky or Brad are working there. Maybe the folks who attended this meeting should do something real, like tutoring school kids to address inequality and its domino effects. Oh wait that would require real work, would cut into brunch or happy hour, and you can't post about it on social media for validation.
May 31, 2018, 12:41 pm
Shaniqua Rabinowitz from Gracie Square says:
Crazy Leftists! Bunch of Marxists! They love chaos and crime!!
May 31, 2018, 6:37 pm
Jerome from Bed-Stuy says:
I'm pretty sure that no one "owns" their neighborhood. You should do your best, make the best life of it and if it doesn't work for you anymore then you move on. Neighborhoods that are black were once Jewish or German- neighborhoods once Italian are now Chinese, etc. If you're think any neighborhood is going to stay the same you would be wrong. And I know that in NYC at any time in the past people complained about the rent being too high, and about undesirable people moving in, whether they be Irish, Italians, Puerto Ricans, Blacks or Hassids.

Change is hard, it sucks when it seems to threaten the established culture of your neighborhood, and the new people don't seem to have the same values, etc. But it's not right to discriminate and have racist attitudes against anyone- even annoying white people.
May 31, 2018, 7:57 pm
Vinny from Bensonhurst says:
Spot on Jerome.
May 31, 2018, 8:25 pm
Lunatica Rodriquez-Chiquita from The nice part of Park Slope says:
Imani Henry is simply the black version of the leader of the KKK
June 1, 2018, 6:04 pm
Harry Haller from Bushwick says:
Just a point of fact for those who don't know.
Take a look at the police men and women of this city. They look like the neighborhoods they police.

These types of "well-intentioned" talks are only a way of condoning a tolerance for criminality.
Those of you who lived through the 70's and 80s in NYC know what I'm talking about.
We became a safe city because criminality was dealt with as a plague, from the small time vandal breaking windows to the murderous gang bangers who have no regard for life.
That's why it's called the "broken window theory" of police policy. The same people committing the larger crimes are often the same ones committing petty crimes on a daily basis.
June 2, 2018, 10:10 pm

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: