Discover more from The Next York Times
The Most Influential Document on the Next York Project
“TNT: Neighborhood Effects of Street-Level Narcotics Enforcement,” from Vera in 1992, verified much I had known, and been gaslit about, as a child.
An excerpt from:
“TNT: Neighborhood Effects of Street-Level Narcotics Enforcement”
Tactical Narcotics Teams in New York
An Evaluation of TNT by the Vera Institute of Justice
When I obtained this document in 2017, at the very beginning of the Next York Project, I was not surprised that it focused on the direct area I grew up in, and was further bussed through to elementary school and my first year of junior high school.
This was a report on everything I had seen with my own eyes in my own area, down to the specific locations, which I had been consistently gaslit about by adults and authority figures, and then further gaslit about decades later by gentrifiers and their sympathizers. It also described my area tremendously more accurately than many of its residents had, in general.
After reading this document, I fully understood that I had been dealing with motivated propagandists since childhood; people whose interest was in the control and manipulation of narratives and history.
Since I was embedded in a corruption situation that I would not see a plan for how to exit until late the following year—which was reliant on the legacy of very similar false narrative creation methodology—I understood that committing to an endeavor that acknowledged this reality might serve to assist in my own empowerment and emancipation.
At the time of publication, in 1992, I had ignorant or deceptive elders to explain what was going on to me, and I was left mostly to figure it all out on my own, with some information from peers. When regional hip hop music began to explain more, I understood even more. Further research about the contemporaneous Crown Heights riots and homicide epidemics, which were also a subject of intense gaslighting from multiple angles, further reinforced some of the goals and functions of the Project.
What I also learned from deeper into the below report is that the most bustling hub of drug activity in the Flatbush part of the 70th precinct wasn’t in the parts of Flatbush everyone on my block said it was. It was much closer to us, on Foster Ave and Flatbush Ave, where I thought it was.
What I learned back then, all on my own, is a subject of real contention now: that I was in a ground zero location for anti-Black structural racism, white supremacy, and propaganda. I didn’t need that part explained to me in school. I could see the whole structure with my very own eyes.
The Next York Project has grown significantly in scope since its original conception in 2017, and the purchase of the nextyork.com domain name in January 2018. To unsettle you even more, that domain was purchased while witnessing the CryptoKitties initial NFT mania, which was impacting the general digital assets markets highly, which I was engaged in. I understood that Next York would be a real location in cyberspace, and a real digital asset, and real property.
This document was digitized through OCR. It may contain errors.
Chapter 2: The Research Areas and the Drug Markets There
A. The Flatbush Research Area
The 70th Precinct contains the widest variety of housing found anywhere in Brooklyn. A large tract of exquisite private homes, many of Victorian vintage, owned by middle class New Yorkers, lies on the western edge of the precinct. These houses are set back from the street and typically have well manicured lawns, huge shading elms or sycamores, garages, and elaborate security systems, including private security patrols. The streets here are almost always quiet. Strangers are quickly noticed by residents, who are vigilant in response to property crime in the area.
The subway bisects the 70th Precinct, providing a dramatic demarcation between blocks lined with costly houses and those to the east which contain large apartment buildings. While many apartments remain rentals, a number of buildings in this area have been converted to co-operatives and condominiums. Most of the apartment complexes are mid-rise buildings of six stories. Unlike some other relatively poor parts of Brooklyn, there are no public housing projects and few city-owned buildings.
Beginning in the early 1980s, many of the apartment buildings underwent renovation through loan programs sponsored by large banks. Observations and interviews suggest, however, that the renovations tended to deteriorate within several years of completion; some respondents claim the work was either cosmetic or done with insubstantial materials. Clearly the decay was accelerated by the overcrowding of some buildings and the sub-dividing of apartments as city migrants from other deteriorating Brooklyn neighborhoods and Caribbean immigrants continued to arrive. Whatever the reasons, many of these apartment buildings are in need of doors, elevators, fixtures, plumbing and general repair.
Residents and community leaders report that, in many instances, the renovation process of the 1980s wrested control of these buildings from their original private landlords and placed them in the hands of bank-financed corporations. According to long-time community members, this changed the nature of the economic relationship between the renters and their landlords. The demands for timely payment of rent became more impersonal as landlord-tenant relationships became more formal and rigid. This pressure is likely to have contributed to the displacement of some residents to poorer neighborhoods, especially those on marginal or fixed incomes and public assistance who could no longer "cut a deal" with the landlord to pay when they had the money.
The vacancies created by the movement of poorer tenants from apartment buildings in the 70th Precinct during this period was accompanied by two parallel and related trends. First was a dramatic turnover in population: A high level of immigration, especially from West Indies and other Caribbean areas, is obvious to anyone living in or observing these neighborhoods over the last decade. The quickening turnover of apartment residents discouraged the formation of stable tenant or block associations, a phenomenon discussed in more detail below. Most apartment buildings do not have tenant associations; those that do exist tend to serve primarily ceremonial functions (appearing at Community Board meetings, for example) but have little influence in the building or in the neighborhood. The second trend was the conversion of rental units to condominiums. This process continued to cause conflict in the neighborhood into the research period, as evidenced by the saliency of "gentrification" issues in the questions and comments of Flatbush residents at a November 1989 meeting, where the new Anti-Drug Abuse Council's Community Demonstration Project was being introduced.
By 1988, many buildings on Ocean Avenue (a main thoroughfare lined by large apartment buildings) sported red, white and blue bunting announcing their conversion from rental to condominium. Although this process was meant, at least in part, to help stabilize the neighborhood, it reduced the pool of available rental housing in the area. As the city's real estate market began to stagnate in the late 1980s, many of these buildings had empty apartments while families elsewhere in Flatbush, including many of the new immigrants, doubled- and tripled-up to escape homelessness.
Many of the remaining rental buildings experiencing this doubling- and tripling-up of families began to deteriorate. As street-level drug markets expanded, these buildings had the most trouble with lobbies and stairwells becoming havens for crack sellers and consumers. While some abandoned buildings in the area harbored these activities, most had been bought and boarded up, making them inaccessible to the drug traffickers and the homeless. As a result, much of the street-level drug use and distribution in the precinct, and the quality of life problems associated with such markets, were found in and around the occupied residential buildings.
The 70th Precinct is the most commercially well-developed of the three study precincts. Flatbush Avenue is lined with large and small storefronts, including branches of Macy's and Woolworth's. Some of the smaller but established stores along Flatbush Avenue have been owned by the same people for decades, but there are many new owners as well. The newer stores sell furniture, appliances, household items, and the like, and are owned by recent immigrants from Israel, Syria, Lebanon, states of the former Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe who work, but do not live, in the area. As elsewhere in the city, the produce markets are dominated by Koreans. While the conflicts between the Korean owners of the produce markets located on Church Avenue in the 70th Precinct and members of other ethnic groups in the area have been well documented in the press, the produce markets in this precinct are generally noted for the wide variety of foods they have available, including many West Indian fruits and vegetables which are difficult to find elsewhere.
The variety of fast food restaurants along the 70th Precinct's main commercial avenues (Flatbush and Church) also reflects the area's ethnic diversity. Along with the usual assortment of fast food chains, a wide assortment of restaurants cater to specific tastes and nationalities, including "roti shops" which cater to Trinidadians or Guyanese, and fast food restaurants featuring Jamaican "Jerk Chicken." Some area residents reported that drug distribution takes place in these establishments and that they are nothing more than a cover for drug dealing. Vera staff observation and interviews revealed that local drug sellers spend a considerable amount of time inside a few of these restaurants, but that most of these establishments are not directly used for drug trafficking.
Before crack appeared in the mid-1980s, marijuana was the primary drug sold in this neighborhood, and most of the traffic occurred in the commercial areas. For years, there was a multitude of thinly disguised shops (known locally as "gates") which did a booming business selling small amounts of marijuana. The failure to disguise the marijuana trade inside these shops made them targets for repeated visits from local police. By the early 1980s, many of the owners of these retail outlets began to invest in legitimate covers for their operations - clothing boutiques, African art stores, music shops, bodegas. Since then, many stores which sell marijuana (but not cocaine or crack) have been able to conduct business successfully with a minimum of trouble from community residents or the police. (Commercial marijuana locations are found in all three research sites and have generally been unaffected by the changes in the street-level drug markets during the last several years.)
Although several stores along commercial strips sold crack from behind the counter, for the most part crack distribution took place in the residential sections of the 70th Precinct - a pattern found in each of the three study precincts. But in each precinct, although there was some curbside crack distribution in commercial sections, it was unusual because curbside distribution was generally made more difficult there. For example, merchants along Flatbush Avenue hired a private security firm to patrol the sidewalks in front of their stores to discourage precisely this type of activity. As a result, most of the curbside distribution near Flatbush Avenue took place on residential side streets. While drug distribution in or around schoolyards has recently commanded a great deal of media attention, there seemed to be very little drug distribution or consumption at these locations in the three study precincts. And although the 70th Precinct abuts Prospect Park, there appeared to be very little drug distribution taking place inside or along the perimeter of the park. Some drug use could be observed, however, on benches outside the park, especially near the Parade Grounds’ numerous playing fields.
B. The East Flatbush Research Area
The second research area, in the 67th Precinct, lies directly to the east of the 70th Precinct. It was selected from the full 67th Precinct TNT target zone, because such a concentration of drug "hot spots" had been identified there by precinct and TNT personnel. The research area has large apartment buildings (similar to those in the 70th Precinct) along main thoroughfares in its western sections. Many of these large buildings have gone through the same processes of renovation and conversion found in the 70th Precinct and have experienced the same problems. Patterns of drug distribution and use are very similar to those found in the 70th Precinct.
Other areas in the 67th Precinct are, however, quite different. At the southern end of the precinct stands a unique private apartment complex [editor’s note: this was called Vanderveer Estates then, now known as Flatbush Gardens, where Barbra Streisand and then a prominent member of the Wu-Tang Clan resided], covering several blocks, whose apartments are rented primarily to working class minority residents, many of whom are of West Indian origin. As late as 1970, the residents of this complex were almost exclusively white, but by the early 1970s, they were almost entirely black. Many residents are working-class people still, but drug distribution and consumption on the premises plague the entire complex. The buildings are six-story structures with elevators; each block is bounded by an iron fence so that access is potentially controlled by a private security force. While the fence was originally erected to protect residents from outsiders, in recent years it has also served to protect drug distributors who work within the fences. Since access is restricted to only a few gates, distributors can see the police long before they come near. Security officers have been confounded by their inability, and that of the NYPD, to have substantial impact on drug distribution and use within the complex.
The central part of the 67th Precinct, which partially overlaps the research area, is for the most part composed of well-kept one- and two-family houses owned by members of various minority groups, many of whom are of West Indian origin including English, Spanish, French and Creole speaking people. Most of these structures are two-story brick buildings. This portion of the 67th Precinct is quite stable. Many residents have occupied their homes for 20 or 30 years and claim to know everyone on their relatively small blocks. Yet there is surprisingly little formal organization among neighborhood residents. As discussed below, some block associations are active, but, for the most part, informal relations are the norm.
While some residents use the same illegal drugs that are blatantly trafficked in other sectors of the precinct, they are neither sold nor used in as visible a manner in this residential area as in other areas of the precinct.
Nostrand Avenue is the main commercial strip in the core research area of the 67th Precinct. While there was some curbside crack distribution along the Avenue (as there was along Flatbush Avenue in the 70th Precinct), most drug trafficking took place on the side streets, except for several storefronts on Nostrand selling marijuana.
The two other main commercial strips in the 67th Precinct, outside the initially defined research area, are Utica Avenue and Church Avenue, running perpendicular to each other. Small food stores, clothing boutiques, hairdressers and hardware stores comprise the majority of businesses on both, though Utica, south of Church, is also known for its many auto repair shops. These avenues are the site of substantial street-level drug distribution. Many sellers work in front of busy places such as the local OTB (Off-Track Betting), pizza shops and music stores, where they can reach customers while avoiding easy detection by the police.
The 67th Precinct is not well served by public transportation. The only subway line through the area runs under Nostrand Avenue, on the western edge of the precinct. The lack of easy access to Manhattan-bound subways has given rise to a thriving gypsy cab business along Church Avenue. Many are driven by Haitians or newly arrived English-speaking West Indians. For a dollar or a subway token, riders can take one of these waiting livery cars rather than wait for a bus to the nearest subway line. As a result, Church Avenue is always crowded with jitneys, and the crush of traffic makes it and the surrounding streets extremely difficult to navigate during peak hours.
C. South Crown Heights - The Comparison Research Area
The 71st Precinct lies directly north of East Flatbush and northeast of the 70th Precinct. The southern portion of the precinct contains the same type of one- and two-family houses that are found in the center of the 67th Precinct. Some blocks are lined with fine limestone houses inhabited by middle-class, often minority, professionals. This portion of the precinct is very stable, with little turnover in population, relatively low crime, and an absence of visible drug activity on the streets. The southeastern section of the precinct houses several large hospitals, including Kings County, Downstate Medical Center, and Brooklyn State Hospital.
North of Empire Boulevard, the 71st Precinct changes significantly. The Western end of the precinct is bounded by the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Adjacent to the Botanical Gardens is the Ebbetts Field Houses, a 25-story housing complex with about 5,000 residents.
The western portion of the 71st Precinct is unique because of the abundance of schools in the immediate vicinity, including Prospect Heights High School and Medgar Evers College. The streets of this section of the precinct are very busy at times, obscuring on-going street-level drug distribution. Yet the major, large scale drug markets serving this area are not in the precinct itself, but are across Eastern Parkway in Bedford Stuyvesant.
The northeastern part of the 71st Precinct contains some of the finest houses in Brooklyn, rivaling the Victorian homes in the western part of Flatbush. While many residents are Hasidic Jews, others are upwardly mobile West Indians who have purchased houses here. This area is also home to the international headquarters of the Lubavitch Hassidim. Several blocks surrounding their headquarters are almost entirely occupied by members of the sect. They have their own security patrol and are considered by other members of neighboring communities to be confrontational toward strangers.
The precinct has very little commercial activity. Even near the Ebbets Field Houses, there is only one supermarket to serve a large residential population. There are some stores on Nostrand Avenue; generally speaking, however, many people who live here do their shopping elsewhere.
There is much less curbside distribution of crack in the 71st Precinct than in the other two study precincts. Most street-level distribution falls within the research area - near large housing projects in the western end of the precinct. Because many crack users in this area buy their drugs in Bedford Stuyvesant, the potential for the expansion of drug markets in the 71st Precinct appears limited. Yet, there seemed to be more locations for indoor distribution and consumption in the 71st Precinct than in the other study precincts. For example, on one block in the 71st Precinct research area, where several groups of curbside distributors were identified, Vera's ethnographic team identified at least four "freakhouses" where people would go to smoke crack and engage in sex with multiple partners. Several of these "freakhouses" were served by distributors who maintained adjacent apartments.
D. Crack Markets in the Three Research Areas: A Brief Description
The primary target of TNT has been the street-level distribution of crack and, to a lesser degree, heroin and marijuana. In addition to street-level drug markets, a great deal of drug distribution and consumption in target areas takes place off the street. This section briefly describes the variety of drug markets found in the research areas of the 70th, 71st, and 67th Precincts. To construct an overview of these markets, the ethnographic team developed contacts with street-level distributors and users, and their associates (some of whom operated in other locations).
Each of the markets described below is associated with a different pattern of distribution and consumption. Some participants were involved in more than one type of distribution. Some of the patterns described below did change, as law enforcement activity intensified during TNT's initial 90-day period.
The most prevalent and widespread form of distribution in all three precincts, but especially the 70th, is the Freelance Nickels (five dollar vials) Market.
Freelance nickels distributors are prototypical street-level sellers. They work on their own (although they occasionally have some form of assistance). They are not usually tied to a territorial base (although they sometimes become possessive of their working turf). They are almost always consumers of the drugs they sell, are almost always short of capital to purchase larger quantities of drugs and, thus, are often unreliable with respect to the quality and availability of their supply. They must sell the drug to consumers quickly, before they consume it themselves and, therefore, they hawk their product aggressively. They are frequently homeless and without significant support networks of family or friends, are frequently either the victims or perpetrators of the violence associated with drug distribution, and are frequently involved in other crimes to acquire money (e.g., zooming [selling fake drugs], robbery, theft).
Freelance nickels markets are distinguished by the rapid pace both of distribution and of consumption. These markets cater to users whose consumption patterns are unregulated and frenzied. These users typically buy only one or two vials in each transaction, and must make repeated visits to the curbside distributors.
Such consumers are frequently intent "on a mission" to get high. Many of them have been socialized into consumption patterns where small purchases are the norm: fast food, "loosies" (single cigarettes sold for a dime) and the 40-ounce Midnight Dragon Malt Liquor.
Another form of street-level distribution found in all three precincts is the Business Nickels Market. Business nickels distributors differ from freelancers in several significant respects: (1) They represent an established organization of distributors who have well-defined roles (e.g., runner, steerer, lookout, seller, security guard, and so on); (2) they tend to be territorially based, frequently combining street-level distribution with some form of indoor operation; (3) many either do not consume their own product or consume it in circumscribed ways (e.g., smoking "wulla" jointsor going to other neighborhoods to smoke secretly);
(4) their supplies are bought in bulk, ensuring consistency in both supply and quality; (5) they are less aggressive in pushing the product to consumers; and (6) they frequently have other support networks to insulate themselves from the dangers of street-level distribution.
Although business nickels markets also tend to rely on fast-paced transactions and may even have freelance nickels markets operating alongside them, they are less frenetic than typical freelance markets and are tolerated more easily in these neighborhoods. While business nickels markets often cater to many of the same consumers who frequent freelance nickels markets, they also build distinct clienteles of their own. Generally, these consumers are not compulsive users and they prefer to avoid the risks of doing business with freelancers. In this sense, business nickels markets represent a more regulated form of distribution and consumption than freelance markets.
In addition to the two types of nickels markets, Vera's ethnographic team identified as distinctly different types of local crack and cocaine markets a Dimes/Twenties Market (ten and / or twenty dollar denominations sold in capsules or small plastic bags); a Powder Market (various small denominations of cocaine powder sold to those who wished to snort, cook up freebase, or cook to inject); an Eight-ball Market (3.5 grams of crack or powder cocaine); a Big Eight-ball Market (an eighth of a kilo of crack or powder cocaine); and a Kilo Market.
The Dimes Market and Twenties Market represent a much more regulated form of distribution and consumption than nickels markets. Although dimes and twenties (sometimes known as "jumbos") are often sold by street-level distributors, these denominations are more frequently sold by indoor distributors with relatively stable locations (primarily storefronts and apartments) and established, stable clientele. The one major exception (discussed later) is found in a private apartment complex in the 67th Precinct, where street-level distributors sell dimes of crack exclusively.
Powder Markets were found in all three precincts and cater to a fairly exclusive, but diverse clientele. The primary consumers of powder cocaine in these precincts had been initiated into freebasing before the crack era. Many of them enjoyed the various rituals of "cooking-up" the freebase themselves or did not trust the purity of crack sold on the street. (They often claimed that it was laced with impure chemicals, thought to have undesirable side effects, or was diluted with inert chemicals that made the crack less powerful than home-cooked freebase.) Other consumers of cocaine powder included snorters and cocaine injectors. Snorters, who constituted a small minority of users in both precincts, were relatively likely to be working people; powder distributors who catered to them tended to operate during late afternoon and early evening hours, often near subway stations and bus and taxi routes.
Eight-ball Markets nearly always operated in indoor locations, although one eight-ball distributor worked curbside occasionally. There were actually two types of eight-ball markets identified: (1) those that catered to binge users and controlled users, who typically made a single visit to the distributor on any given day, and (2) those that served as the immediate suppliers to street-level distributors. Generally, these two types of eight-ball operation did not intersect. Distributors who catered to a more controlled-use clientele avoided contact with street-level distributors who were likely to draw unwanted attention by making repeated nightly visits to resupply themselves. Beyond this neat dichotomy of the eight-ball market, the ethnographic team observed at least one instance of the dichotomy collapsing as a result, in part, of TNT operations. One 70th Precinct store initially sold relatively large amounts (at least $300) of crack or cocaine only to loyal, established customers.
Fluctuation in the wholesale price of cocaine during the research period, combined with the unsettling presence of INI, drove many street-level distributors in the 70th Precinct to look for new sources of supply. One street-level distributor learned about this store from a friend of a relative at an apartment where many former street-level consumers had congregated to smoke crack and avoid TNT. Following that session, introductions were made at the store. After a few visits, he became a regular customer. This blurring of the boundaries between distinct markets seems to have been, in part, a response to pressures brought on by the presence of TNT.
Even though the ethnographic team detected the existence of Big Eight-ball and Kilo Markets in all three precincts, they were extremely difficult to penetrate. It would have required much more groundwork, over a longer research period, to gain access to these circles. Since the target of the TNT was principally street-level drug distribution, the ethnographic team made little effort to collect data on these markets.
IV. Community Organization in the Research Areas
Organized community support can properly be viewed as an important component of TNT itself - the Police Department did not launch the program with the expectation that TNT alone could rid a community of heavy street-level drug dealing and the ancillary crime it generates. Rather, the Department hoped that TNT could reduce the level of fear and restore a target community's own capacity to preserve order and quality of life, so that gains from TNT's 90-day enforcement period could be preserved. Therefore, one of the key questions asked of panel interview respondents concerned the level of community organization in the three research areas.
Data from the in-depth panel interviews indicate that the three areas differed in their levels of formal community organization (neighborhood, block and tenant associations)Respondents in the 71st Precinct research area, for example, were able to identify many more active community groups than those in the 70th and 67th precincts. In the 71st Precinct TNT target area, nearly every block had an active block association.
The greater concentration of community organizations (including a neighborhood association) in the 71st Precinct research area may have been related to the greater proportion of stable homeowners there.Community organizers in the 70th and 67th precincts argued that renters, as a group, were particularly difficult to organize because, according to one long-time community organizer, "they are most often transient and thus feel they have limited interests in the condition of the community." And, as respondents in all three research areas argued, apartment dwellers are primarily concerned with issues affecting their buildings (such as timely repairs, cleanliness, security, and rent hikes) and rarely participate in block associations; while, in contrast, homeowners tend to focus their attention on broader community issues.
Unfortunately, according to the majority of respondents, most block associations had very few regularly attending members. Respondents who were active in block or tenant associations in the research areas said that only 10 to 15 members could be counted on to attend monthly meetings. For example, one respondent from the 71st Precinct, a member of a block association and an officer on the neighborhood association board, said.
This neighborhood association provided researchers with a list of block associations in the 71st Precinct research site that proved useful for purposes of both the panel interview and household survey phases of the study. It was the only reliable list of organizations obtained by Vera researchers in any of study precincts. Also, Vera researchers made five presentations to block associations, church groups and a neighborhood association, which resulted in increased response rates for the household survey and panel interviews.
Though there is lack of formal organization among the homeowners in this central section of the 67th Precinct, they do exert control over their neighborhood. Indeed, many homeowners are likely to go directly to the home of the offending party, when a problem arises, to try and solve it. As a result, the drug trafficking and use that occurs here takes place either discreetly indoors or near commercial zones where homeowners are less likely to notice these activities and attribute them to specific neighbors on their block.
Crack mixed into a marijuana cigarette.
There is apparently no reliable source of official data on the number of tenant and block associations in the TNT target areas. Requests for lists for such organizations, directed to community boards and local elected officials in the study precincts, were either denied or went unacknowledged.
One indication of the lack of organization in the research areas was provided by lists of community organizations obtained from precinct COP officers. These lists proved to be of little help because few of the listed associations were located in the research areas.
"Active" refers to neighborhood, block and tenant associations that meet on a regularly scheduled basis throughout the year and that have an identifiable leadership.
A large portion of the 71st Precinct research area, unlike the 67th and 70th Precinct areas, is served by a neighborhood association that has at least four public meetings per year. According to an executive at the neighborhood association, the organization currently has 500 members. "That's not a great number," she said, "because we have over 50,000 residents."