NEW YORK — As dawn slipped into Bedford-Stuyvesant on a cold, gray Sunday, a flood of candles, flowers, teddy bears and Bibles was beginning to inundate this busy corner in Brooklyn.
Another city sidewalk, another memorial to the dead.
The day after two New York police officers were gunned down as they sat in their cruiser at Tompkins and Myrtle avenues, politicians and residents alike expressed horror at the crime.
“Two brothers I lost by gun violence, but even this shocked me,” said Antonio Barksdale, a longtime resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant. “I mean, two officers? In broad daylight?”
Little evidence of the violence that took place here remained. An NBC news truck was parked in the spot that the police cruiser of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos occupied Saturday. And the only reminders of what happened here less than 24 hours before were reams of yellow police tape clotting a metal trash bin and the thrumming of an electric generator that still powered a towering NYPD floodlight, even though there was no more crime scene to illuminate.
Many of the residents of this historic neighborhood, including several Hasidic men, stopped by the memorial to look or leave a token of remembrance. A plastic menorah sat side by side with a wreath on which was written, “Christmas in heaven.”
Bedford-Stuyvesant is a place long familiar with both diversity and revitalization. It is home to some 9,000 houses built before 1900; was a mecca for African Americans in the 1930s leaving a crowded Harlem; and in the 1960s was America’s symbol of urban blight, with gang violence, drugs and crime causing tension between a predominantly white police force and the second-largest black community in New York City.
In the 1990s, it also became known for Notorious B.I.G. and other hip-hop artists. In the first decade of the 21st century, it underwent gentrification, with the number of white residents growing sixfold to about 15 percent and the share of African Americans shrinking from 75 to 60 percent, according to census statistics.
Affordable housing in the neighborhood’s historic brownstones and the decline of the crack epidemic contributed to the demographic shift, and it is an increasingly diverse place — racially, economically and ethnically. As a neighborhood of fewer than 700 blocks, Bed-Stuy is a place where people have had to get along with one another for a very long time. Which is perhaps why the residents here seem to more freely speak their minds than in other enclaves of New York.
One resident of this community, who moved here from the Bronx three months ago, said seeing the police parked in their cars in her neighborhood was reassuring.
“I feel safe walking here,” said Michele Digby, 49. “We used to hear shots fired and bullet shells [in the Bronx], but not here.”
But Digby also said she was not surprised by the killings Saturday, in the wake of the police shooting deaths of unarmed black men in recent months.
“I kind of figured this would happen eventually,” she said. “They let that policeman go,” referring to the officer who was not indicted in the chokehold death of Staten Islander Eric Garner on July 17.
“It saddens me this had to happen,” Digby continued. “Innocent policemen died because of that one cop.”
In the aftermath of the officers’ deaths, as New Yorkers seemed to be searching to understand what happened, some were coming to very different conclusions.
Barksdale said it was “unfortunate” that the police officer accused of accidentally choking Garner to death could do so with impunity “just because of his job,” but that it was also unfortunate that the two officers who were killed Saturday lost their lives “just because of their jobs.”
The Bed-Stuy resident was also critical of Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, who accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of having “blood on his hands” because of his perceived lack of support for city law enforcement.
“Lynch is exploiting [the deaths of the two officers] and doesn’t realize his rhetoric is damaging and inciteful,” Barksdale said. “He’s encouraging people to feel distrustful of the cops. It’s inhuman, his utilization of human loss to divide this city.”
Eric Adams, Brooklyn borough president, also said Lynch was out of line. “Blood is not on the hands of the mayor but on the sick person who took those lives,” Adams said as he stood in front of TV cameras just feet from where the two officers were killed. “We’re better than that.”
Adams, a former police officer, said he “wore a bulletproof vest protecting this community” for 22 years and that “this is not about one voice but about a community crying out. . . . That assassination was not an attack on two policemen but on our system of public safety.”
Victor Parker, 49, who said he has lived in this neighborhood all his life, nodded slowly when asked about how much tension exists between police and residents.
“A lot of it,” he said, especially lately. “When people see the cops, they go, ‘Uh-oh.’ They feel they’re here to harass them.”
Barksdale agreed. “It’s part of my DNA, the acceptance of being harassed,” he said. “I just have to deal with it — it’s something I was born into.”
Curtis Smith, 48, was less accepting. Smith lives on Tompkins Avenue and said relationships with the police are “pretty strained,” but he said the tension is less about race than about a system of laws that is skewed in favor of the police.
“We’ve got laws, and sometimes they don’t protect us,” he said. “But we’ve got to live by the laws of the land. What can we do? It’s a system issue. The system has to change.”
Rooney Harley, 28, is a lifelong resident of the Tompkins Houses who lives in the public housing complex with his grandmother.
“It scares me,” the aspiring rapper said as he stood across from the memorial Sunday. “The cops have been sitting out here, across the street, for years. This has never happened. I don’t know how the cops will take it. They already talk down to us around here. Will they crack down on the projects harder? You can’t blame anybody for the last man’s mistake, man.”
Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president, stopped by Tompkins Avenue on Sunday morning and expressed his frustration with the protesters in the past few weeks, pointing to “the rhetoric, the tone, the signs . . . the hatred being spewed at the NYPD.”
“It must stop,” he added. “The overwhelming majority of 35,000 men and women in uniform are out there protecting us. No matter where you stand on the debate . . . what happened here was wrong. What happened here was an assassination on all of us. . . . This should not and must not be tolerated.”
Twenty-four hours after Ramos and Liu were killed by suspected gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley, law enforcement was taking a decidedly low profile in this section of Bedford-Stuyvesant. The only police presence was basically a single cruiser, its lights flashing, that created a small island all its own by backing up on the sidewalk opposite the corner where people continued to visit the memorial. Two officers sat inside the car, occasionally getting out to talk to someone. White police tape had been attached to a side-view mirror of the car, the other end to a traffic light. On the other side of the car, another piece of police tape stretched from a street sign in front of the car to a tired-looking oak tree several feet away.
Directly behind the car, an electronic sign for the New Testament Church of God played a continual loop of messages for anyone passing by, including an announcement regarding the subject of the sermon for a special New Year’s Eve service:
“I bring you tidings of great joy.”
Danielle Paquette in New York contributed to this report.