In interviews around the neighborhood, many spoke of a (New York City) Police Department that, in its aggressive pursuit of gangs and informal criminal crews, has sown distrust, especially among young men and women, who feel that their encounters with officers have had racial overtones.
At a barbershop along Church Avenue, two men on Tuesday were discussing the recent shooting when an Asian delivery cyclist pulled onto the sidewalk across the street. “See that guy,” said Elverton Thomas, a 39-year-old black telemarketer there for a haircut. “He can ride on the sidewalk. We can’t.”
His barber, Julian Clark, also black, concurred. Two years before, he said, an officer stopped him in front of the shop for sidewalk riding, and then arrested him after the officer said his identification had expired; he spent a day in custody sorting it out, he said. “They have a hard time because there’s a lot of crime in the neighborhood,” he said of the police. “But when they play hardball, they end up going after innocent people, too.”
Anthony Murray, 15, said he was walking his girlfriend home on Snyder Avenue recently when two officers emerged from a van and searched him for weapons. When the officers grabbed Mr. Murray, his cellphone fell from his hand, he said, noting that the screen cracked on the ground.
“I showed it to him, and he said, ‘Oh, that’s not my problem,’ ” Mr. Murray said.
The seemingly constant presence of the police in the lives of many young people — both on the street and, increasingly, on social media — has left many feeling suffocated, said Shanduke McPhatter, 35, an ex-gang member who works with young men in the neighborhood. “I understand the state of mind that these youths have,” he said. “The problem is there is no relationship with the police.”
At the same time, he said, the situation on the streets has grown more complex for the law enforcement: gangs are less organized, replaced instead by informal crews for which the requirements are few and in which leadership is frequently up for grabs among increasingly young members.
“The police say, ‘Look at these kids, they’re wild,’ ” Mr. McThatter said. “And then they use that as an excuse to be wild themselves.”