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Alonzo Davis

Oral history interview conducted by Mark Winston Griffith

March 24, 2017

Call number: 2016.027.2.01

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DAVIS: I was able to kind of speak first-hand about that experience to people that I had just met in my new school, because I -- I had left pretty much about, like, two months into the year.


DAVIS: So, they were studying the Crown Heights riots as if it was, like, a lab experiment, and I just came from it.

GRIFFITH: Okay. All right. I don't want to go too much into it. Because I want you to talk about that. All right. So that -- that's cool. So, if you could just say, for the record --

DAVIS: Yeah, sure.

GRIFFITH: -- your -- your name, your age, and where do you -- where do you live, and where do you work?

DAVIS: Sure. My name is Alonzo Davis. I live in Crown Heights, on St. Charles, between Lincoln and St. John's. I work for a nonprofit organization based in Brooklyn, focused on preventative health screenings and education, and trying to develop a system that keeps people engaged and incentivized to be more 1:00proactive about their health. Born in Brookdale Hospital. Lived in Crown Heights pretty much all my life, except for a little bit of a stint after college; where I lived in Bed-Stuy, and then Carroll Gardens, and ended up back in Crown Heights.

GRIFFITH: Great. So, why don't you tell me a little bit about -- not a little. But let me -- if you could tell me about your life in Crown Heights. You know, what -- what -- what was it like, growing up here?

DAVIS: So, growing up -- I guess it may be easy for me to just kind of break it down into kind of, like, time periods. Probably from as early as I can remember until about maybe high school probably makes the most sense. I remember -- I remember it being kind of like a family-oriented neighborhood that had -- you know, there were tons of kids around. I mean, the -- the movie Crooklyn makes a lot of sense to me. And I feel as like it's very descriptive of kind of my 2:00neighborhood. I remember Crown Heights being pretty violent. I remember there being -- I remember there being violence, and I remember that it -- it -- I -- I remember feeling a little bit kind of sectioned off. So, there were -- there were neighborhoods in Crown Heights where the Hasidic Jews primarily resided. And I just remember always knowing where that divide was when I walked along Eastern Parkway for whatever reason. I remember it being a fun place. I remember it being predominantly people of color; a lot of people from Jamaica, a lot of people from Trinidad. I just remember it feeling, I don't know, like real -- what's the word? I mean, it's home, right? It was just kind of like home to me. So nothing felt different until I went to -- probably actually, if we -- if we -- if I take a step back, probably till I went to junior high 3:00school, which was based in Coney Island. So that was probably my first interaction with a little bit of culture shock, because most of the kids there weren't of color. A lot of people were Jewish, Russian, a lot of Asian. And so, I do remember feeling like I'm not at home, even though I was in Brooklyn, because so many of the students didn't look like me. What also stands out -- I don't know why this stands out, but I -- I remember, like, a passionate Jehovah's Witness across the street from me, that would absolutely raise hell whenever we crossed her front yard, and would lecture us and would threaten us from, you know, some spirit that was going to punish us for whatever we weren't doing at eight years old, or nine years old. And then I remember, down the 4:00block, there being -- across the street from her and down the block, there being, like, a notorious crack house. And just a bit of background, my father was in law enforcement. So it was always a little bit just kind of -- kind of weird to see that, because I was always thinking in my head, like, "Why doesn't he just go ahead and do something about that?" [laughter] But for whatever reason, I just remember that being Rick's house, and it just having, like, the red -- the red brick in the front. And so, needless to say, there was always like a lot going on, and on my block, specifically. But I don't -- I -- I -- I don't have any -- you know, I never felt -- I don't know, even though I do remember being surrounded by that element, I didn't feel -- I probably didn't start to feel unsafe until I went to high school, to be honest with you. I probably was oblivious to a ton of it. You know, just because I was a kid, you know, playing in the streets, and, you know, just enjoying my friends, and then, you know -- and just enjoying being a kid, I guess. But in retrospect, I would 5:00look back at it, and because I -- I live there now, and I can see the difference, you know, I notice, you know -- I notice so many -- so many things. And I'm thinking, man, this wasn't here, you know, 15 years ago, 20 years ago. People didn't look the way they did. People didn't talk the way they did. The interests in the neighborhood were definitely the same. You know, I -- I don't remember any -- I don't -- I don't remember as much consumer-ship around me, as I -- as I see now. I just remember it being, you know, primarily residential, there being a barbershop, a few places to get food; kind of the typical food, Chinese food, fried chicken, things such as that. So, yeah. I don't know. Was that helpful at all? Okay.

GRIFFITH: It's all good.

DAVIS: Yeah, okay.

GRIFFITH: Tell me a little bit about your -- your school. You lived in Crown Heights. Tell me about what -- what it was like going to school? What was your 6:00life like in school; whether it be elementary, middle, [inaudible]?

DAVIS: My life, like, in school -- I went to P.S. 161 -- my mother was a teacher there -- from grade one until grade five.

GRIFFITH: And P.S. 161 is -- is where?

DAVIS: P.S. 161 is on Crown Street. Three -- I want to say 330 Crown Street. That sounds familiar, for whatever reason. Uniform, so, it was -- it was one of the better public schools, I guess, in Crown Heights. My mother was a teacher there. I remember there was a principal by the name of Mr. Kurz, and he was always getting patted on the back for doing a great job of running a school. And then I remember -- I mean, I -- I don't remember -- I don't remember much about the classroom, ironically. It's weird, now that I'm thinking about it. I 7:00don't remember much -- too much about the classroom. I just remember it being a very structured place, a very structured public school, like, you know. And I don't know if I felt so structured, because my mom was a teacher; she was two floors away. But I just remember just there being a lot of, like, you know, a lot of discipline, within the -- within -- I do remember that. I do remember there was a ton of discipline within classrooms. So, I know my mom spec-- was specifically -- when she -- when she was trying to get me into certain classrooms, because those teachers were big on discipline, and I don't think she wanted classrooms to be unruly because she knew that that would take away from me getting an education. And my mother was huge on discipline, so -- that was her thing. But growing up, I just, you know -- tons of discipline within the classrooms, tons of structure. I do remember our school kind of being targeted by other school-- other, like, junior high schools in the area. So we were from, I guess kindergarten or first to, like, fifth grade. And this was around the time -- [laughter] this was around the time when, like, Starter caps were 8:00really, really big. And JanSport bags were really big. And I always remember just being a little -- a little -- a little afraid, to be honest with you, about hanging out after school in front of the school, because you know, whoever was around with the latest Starter cap was, you know, probably going to be targeted. I -- I -- I remember getting targeted. I remember Georgetown Hoyas Starter cap. That was taken from me. [laughter] I remember my JanSport almost being taken from me. So, I remember feeling super safe in the school. Not so much when I left school. And -- yeah. That's about it.

GRIFFITH: What -- could you talk about what kind of student you were?

DAVIS: Yeah.

GRIFFITH: You had talked about the fact that it was very disciplined. How did you feel within that discipline, and you know, how were you seen as -- how good of a student were you, and how did people sort of perceive your behavior? How 9:00did you -- how did you flow through the school?

DAVIS: Because my mother was a teacher, I think all the teachers looked at me as, you know, that's Mrs. Davis's son. And because I -- I was aware of that, I felt like I had to really be on my best behavior, because they were just going to go back and report to her, and I would just have to deal with it, you know, later that evening. I definitely was -- I was -- I was a strong student. My mother made sure of that. I do remember -- I do remember getting a few -- I want to say I was valedictorian -- yeah. I was valedictorian in fifth grade. That rings a bell a little bit. I remember being super popular. I wasn't -- I wasn't an athlete. I was active, but I wouldn't say I was athletic. Definitely a good student. Definitely kind of on my best behavior. I don't know if that was because of me. I -- I want to say it had more to do with my mother just being two floors away again. No special treatment; I know my mother made sure 10:00of that, that I wasn't, like, given any sort of privileges that other students wouldn't get because she was a parent -- she was my parent. And I remember -- I remember there being a focus on -- so the way P.S. 161 worked was, like, there were -- there were levels to each grade. There was, like, 4-1, 4-2, 4-3. And so I guess the bottom was, like, 4-6 -- 4-7 or 4-8, right? The kids who were -- needed a little bit more help to kind of get up -- get up the curve. And the more gifted kids were, like, 4-1 or 4-2. And my mother was purposeful in keeping me, I think, within the 4-2 and 4-3, because those tend to be the better teachers. As long as she's not going to be on record, I guess I can say all this, because -- [laughter] so people may feel a way about that. But essentially, the teachers that kind of had that, like, middle rung of students 11:00were known to be better skilled in getting them to where they needed to be, and kind of pulling those who were starting to slip, up the curve. And so my mother was focused on doing work after school and on weekends with me, and then she wanted me kind of like in that 4-3, 4-4 range, because those students were -- those teachers, rather, were -- as she would say, were giving you the meat and potatoes. So I do remember that. I do remember me placing well enough to be in 4-1 and 4-2, but, you know, she thought those teachers were kind of like coasting. You know, they already had students that weren't, you know, discipline problems, or they already had students that were getting a lot of help on the weekends and off -- outside of school, so they'd have -- they didn't have to work so hard within the classroom, and she didn't want that. So -- yeah. I think that wraps up what kind of student I was.

GRIFFITH: And how did you -- you were talking before about -- you've mentioned a couple of times being safe or feeling safe or not feeling safe. Could you talk about what -- what the neighborhood was like in terms of public safety? As 12:00far as you're concerned, as far as other people were concerned. What was your level of safety outside of the classroom, walking the streets of -- of Crown Heights?

DAVIS: I felt safe even on -- even on the block that I was on. So the block that I was on was right adjacent to -- to Lincoln. And Lincoln had a lot of just, kind of, drug activity. And like -- as I mentioned, there was an in-and-out house on my block -- Rick's house, as they used to call it. And I -- I -- I never felt -- I never felt unsafe walking in these areas, to be -- to be honest with you. I was always walking them at appropriate times, right, during the day. I was never out at night. I never was one of those kids. I was actually kind of envious of those kids, because I get -- I felt like they got to just experience more. But my parents were big on, you know, being inside at a 13:00certain time and things such as that. So, you know, during the day I felt fine. And then it kind of changed, I want to say, when I -- more or less when I got to maybe, like, maybe junior high school, maybe like seventh grade. I felt -- I just -- I started to realize there were a lot more, I guess, were they -- plainclothes cops that were, kind of, patrolling -- patrolling the neighborhood. I -- I was -- I'd be hard-pressed to see, like, a police officer dressed in his uniform walking through the neighborhood. I'd never see that, actually. The only time I feel like I ever saw the police is if they were -- or any form of safety -- was if they were, like, in plaincro-- plainclothes and trying to, like, arrest someone. So I saw -- I saw a lot of that, now that you make me think about it. I saw a lot of kind of like dramatic entrances of, like, plainclothes cops where they were, like, you know, pulling to the sidewalk to try to stop someone. And, you know, I -- I don't know if I felt -- I -- at 14:00those times, I definitely felt like, oh, you know, something could happen. We definitely lived in a neighborhood that was known for just, kind of, violent crime. But not throughout. Like, you know, it would happen, you know, maybe like once a month, you know. There would be a shooting a couple blocks away or there'd be a -- someone would get stabbed a couple blocks away or muggings or something like that. And that's what I can remember. There were probably more going on that I -- that I didn't -- I didn't pay attention to. But as far as safety is concerned, I think around the -- the time that it was, like, really starting to get out of control was probably when I was leaving, or going to high school, again. So my interactions with the pol-- you know, with -- with, I guess, authori-- you know, figures of safety, they would just, kind of, be, you 15:00know, I guess, scenes from, like, the show Cops. Like, they would just be on pursuit of someone or stopping someone in the train. But never in their uniform. It was always -- it was always plainclothes. It was always, you know, just, you know, sort of random. And so I -- I -- I know I did, and I know my parents made sure that I did a good job of not putting myself in -- in -- in dangerous situations, and, you know, kind of keeping me, you know, [laughter] lack of a better statement -- kind of keeping me in the house, for -- for the most part, but yeah.

GRIFFITH: And so how do you -- how safe do you feel other people felt around you? How do -- how do you think the -- how do you think the neighborhood responded to what you just described, as well as how did the neighborhood react to you?

DAVIS: So one of the reasons why I probably felt more -- like I said, why I -- why -- why I felt safer, even amidst all this kind of madness going around is 16:00because I grew up there. So people just -- you know, they knew me more than I knew them. They also knew what my father did. And I think that that -- I feel like that helps, to be honest with you, because he was in law enforcement. I've -- I've never felt like I was -- someone felt threatened by my presence growing up. Which is ironic, because I don't feel that way now. I was talking to a friend about that not too long ago. So growing up I was -- I just -- I always felt like I was a part of a neighborhood, a part of a community, you know. Stuff that I can -- I can explain now, but back then it just seemed like the norm, right? If I was -- if I was singled out, it wasn't because of how I looked. Probably it was probably more because I was -- of how I was dressed. Like, if someone was going to harass me, it's because I maybe had something new on or something flashy on -- which was very rare. I had -- I had buddies of 17:00mine that I don't know if they can say the same thing. I think that they felt like they were harassed a little bit more by -- by neighbors because, you know, you know, we're talking about Crown Heights then. You know, standing on the corner was just what everyone did. So, you know, I do remember neighbors kind of complaining about noise a lot, you know, now that you're kind of making me think more about it. Car stereos, kind of, blaring out at random times very late at night, very early in the morning, people washing their cars on Saturdays; and I -- I feel like that became, I don't know -- became kind of a normal thing to do, but I know it kind of brought this activity that was negative, right? Because it got people congregating; it got people, you know, drinking; it got people smoking and stuff like that. Man, you're really making me think. That's -- that doesn't happen anymore. Wow, I didn't even realize 18:00that. And now that was one of my issues when I went to boarding school; how quiet it was. I was just like, "There's no noise, there's no music. Like, what's wrong with you guys?" But anyway. Your question about how people perceived me. Yeah. I -- I don't think people were threatened by me at -- at all. I definitely know that people were threatened by some of the -- you know, some of the kids I grew up with. And they probably had good reason, to be honest with you, just because they were a little bit more -- a little bit more out there, I guess. Yeah. That's all I got on that one.

GRIFFITH: So you went to boarding school. And throughout school, did you -- did you ever get into any kind of trouble or anything like that?

DAVIS: I didn't -- I got into a little bit of a -- I had a -- I had a -- a roommate that I didn't agree with [laughter] a lot in my first year. And so we -- we got into a couple of fights. I had a -- there was -- there was a shouting 19:00match that I had, I remember, my junior year, over something that was -- it was, like, a racial incident on campus that happened in one of the boys' dorms, and everyone was intense about it. So I remember just being -- they used to give us demerits or -- I for-- I think that's what it was, that's what they were called. Yeah, we were, like, on a demerit system or something like that in high school. And so my behavior warranted a demerit at the time for getting into a shouting match over a -- a racial-charged incident in, like, junior high, and then a couple of fights with my roommate that just refused to clean his room. I lived in a one-room triple. That was tough. So, [laughter] you know, outside of that; no.

GRIFFITH: So -- and how was it -- talk about what it was like coming back to Crown Heights when you were in boarding school, and how you would perceive the neighborhood, particularly in terms of safety and the contrast you felt between 20:00being in boarding school and being back in Crown Heights.

DAVIS: The transition; so -- I mean, being at boarding school you're pretty much on campus. And, you know, obviously there's very, very strict rules and regulations of where you can be and where you can't be throughout the -- throughout the day, as you well know. When I got back to -- when I -- when I would come back home, I do remember feeling like -- like, free, in a -- in a weird way, like I wasn't in jail. Although boarding school wasn't jail, but the restrictions were tight, let's just be honest. But I do remember feeling like, "Oh, I can stay up past ten o'clock, I can go outside, I can go outside of my room, I can go speak to--" Like, I do remember feeling, like, just a little more liberated, for whatever reason. I remember my friends or the buddies I 21:00used to grow up with, I don't know if they knew how to receive me. I feel like they felt like I -- maybe thought I was better than them or, you know, I don't know. It was -- it was weird for, like, the first couple years just kind of maintaining some of these friendships. And only a handful of them, like, would ask me about what was going on out there -- even though I felt like everyone was interested. As far as safety is concerned, though, I just think it was part of me just maturing. I didn't feel -- I was -- I was always aware. My awareness was probably heightened when I got -- when I would come back home from breaks or come back home for the summer. And -- just because the neighborhood you grow up in just becomes just a normal place and it becomes home, I didn't -- I don't -- you know, I -- I didn't feel -- I don't know, I didn't feel completely unsafe, 22:00to be honest with you. I didn't feel unsafe at all. I remember feeling like, this is just very -- you know, this is -- this is very different. I felt more in control, probably because I was older and I had more -- more -- more freedoms just being, you know, 13 as opposed to 10, or 14 as opposed to 9. You know, just being able to walk around and go to the store. Like, that was, like, a big thing. I just wanted to be able to go to the corner store, and my parents were like, "Oh, you can't go to the corner store, because the corner stores are all on Franklin. You can't be on Franklin." "Why can't I be on Franklin?" "Well, you know why you can't be on Franklin, right? Because it goes down on Franklin." And they were right. And so it got to the point now, I'm 13, 14, I can go on Franklin, so I felt great, right? And so -- yeah, as far as safety is concerned, I don't feel like -- I don't feel any -- I didn't feel any less safe when I would return back to -- return back to Brooklyn for, like, breaks or for the summer.

GRIFFITH: Sure. I'm not looking for anything. I just want to -- I just want 23:00to hear you describe it. Could you tell me about the Crown Heights "riots," quotation mark --

DAVIS: Yeah.

GRIFFITH: -- because people called it different things? Tell me where you were, what happened, how you experienced it, how it had impacted you and your -- your sense of Crown Heights.

DAVIS: Right, so I think I was on Lincoln -- I think I was on -- I wasn't supposed to be. I was on Lincoln and Franklin when it happened. I definitely wasn't supposed to be. And we were playing manhunt. And I remember -- we were playing manhunt, and then next thing you know, we saw these big floodlights from helicopters come above us, and we were like, "Man! This is a real good game of manhunt going on right now." And I didn't know what was going on at the time, and then I -- I -- oh, man, I can't think of this woman's name. But she -- she yelled out, "I can't believe they did that! They get away with everything. I 24:00can't believe they did that." I didn't know what was happening. And then I got the story about the kid who got hit, and then I remember seeing the lights again and -- oh, man. I'm just trying to get the sequence right. I remember seeing the lights again. I remember my mom coming out and being like, "Is everything okay? Like, what's going on with these lights?" I think she was late to the story too. And then we saw on the news that people were, like, taking stuff and going through stores and stuff like that. And I -- [laughter] I remember one -- [laughter] I remember one of my buddies was like -- because it was -- everyone was like -- stayed up that whole night. I remember I was out, my father was out; my mom and I were just, kind of, on the stoop. And he was saying about how -- he was like, "Man, we should -- we should take advantage of this, right?" And I didn't really know what that meant. I just felt like, you know, [laughter] I knew it wasn't the right thing to do, and my father being outside, 25:00I knew I wasn't going to be involved. But I knew people were, like, looking for something to latch onto in the-- when they didn't have any good reason to, in my mind. It was a little scary. I mean, the -- the -- it probably doesn't seem as dramatic, but the lights kind of shining down on St. Charles and St. Francis and Lincoln, like, let you know that there was, like -- it was a big deal. And I don't -- truly I don't really think I understood how big of a deal it was until I went to -- to boarding school, when they were talking about -- at the time we were studying intolerance and intolerance behavior. And, you know, we were going into different-- just kind of, you know-- wars or, you know, I guess, uprisings over race throughout, you know, American history. And the recent -- the most recent one was in Cro-- was in Crown Heights. And everyone, you know, was -- was -- was asking my questions about it. And I -- so -- were asking me questions about it, rather. So the day after the riots, my parents talked to me 26:00about what happened. I saw on the news about what happened. I remember feeling like this isn't -- you know, this -- this isn't fair, but I -- I don't know if I came to that decision by myself. I feel like I was -- all the talk around me was that this isn't fair, and sometimes you're just kind of, like, "Yeah! It's not fair," right? I mean, if everyone just kind of is -- is -- is shouting that --


DAVIS: -- at the dinner table.

GRIFFITH: -- what wasn't fair?

DAVIS: The fact that -- now I'm trying to remember the details of what wasn't -- so -- the fact that someone died, first and foremost, was -- was not fair. And I think that that kind of got lost in, kind of, all the hoopla; that someone actually had lost a life. More of the focus was on the fact that there was, you know, a Caribbean involved and a Hasidic Jew involved. And to be honest with you, like the -- what -- what's not fair? I mean, I can't even answer that, 27:00thinking it back, why people were saying it like that.

GRIFFITH: That's okay. I don't want -- I don't want to take --

DAVIS: Yeah.

GRIFFITH: -- you off.

DAVIS: I can't even remember why people were saying it wasn't fair so much then. You know, I remember feeling like someone had died, and then the focus being on the fact that the people involved were, you know, someone of a different, you know, race, ethnicity, creed, religion, all the above. I do remember -- oh, I do remember some looting going on at Fisher. People were looting Fisher's. Fisher's is on Lincoln and Franklin, right at the corner, and him kind of, you know, shooing people away. I remember seeing that. [laughter] That was a funny night. When I went to -- when I went to boarding school, people were more interested to understand the dynamic between, like, 28:00Afro-Americans and Caribbeans and Hasidic Jews, and how can people who live so close to each other be at odds? And I didn't really -- I couldn't really explain that. I was -- you know, I had went to school with -- with Jewish kids and -- for junior high school. You know, I went -- there was a handful of Jewish kids that went to P.S. 161. So I -- I -- I couldn't really explain it at the time. I remember being on the hot seat for all the Crown Heights news when I went to Westtown, but I probably didn't do a good job of articulating, you know, what the real issues were, now that I think about it. I may have lost track of your question. I feel bad.

GRIFFITH: No. It's just -- you're just talking to me about that whole experience. You don't have to focus on any particular thing.

DAVIS: Okay. I do want to talk about my safety today, though.

GRIFFITH: [laughter] Okay. We're going to get to that.

DAVIS: All right.

GRIFFITH: [laughter] Well, let's -- let's -- let's get to that now. Because you have talked about how things are different. So how do you feel in terms of 29:00safety? How do you -- how do you regard police presence in Crown Heights now? And yeah, is it any different -- how is it or not different than it was --

DAVIS: Yeah.

GRIFFITH: -- growing up?

DAVIS: So, as I said, I never saw uniformed officers at a time when Crown Heights was probably the most violent. I see them now at the Franklin Avenue train station all the time. And it's a little confusing to me because I -- I -- I was -- I was just -- I would wonder why we just didn't have more of a visible police presence back then, and we have more of it now when things are relatively, you know, way more calm, way more, quote-unquote, "safe." Another thing that is different is I feel just because of all -- everything that's happened with -- in the news within -- about police brutality and people getting 30:00singled out and, you know, police taking action first before asking questions, or shooting first and then asking questions second, I feel like in the neighborhood that I grew up in, I could be more of a target in some -- in some scenarios, right? If I get into -- you know, if I get into a dispute with someone, a light one, a medium one, whatever it is, and an officer arrives to the location, that I may be singled out just because of the climate that we're in today and the climate that Brooklyn, New York, is in today, for being in the wrong and I don't know what kind of day that officer had, so, you know, it could be -- it could be fatal. Maybe because so many -- the -- so many people that I -- when I -- when I grew up, everyone looked -- I identified with them because they looked like me; we talked alike -- maybe that's why I felt more safe? Because, you know, now that there's so much, I guess, quote-unquote, "diversity" in the neighborhood, and so many people that I used to know are no longer there, for whatever reason, you know, I -- it feels a little bit less like -- less like 31:00a place like I grew up in and less like home, in -- in -- in a lot of ways. On one token, I -- I do feel appre-- you know, I'm -- I'm -- I'm glad to see uniformed police officers on trains and kind of, you know, walking around. I don't see them walking around too much. I always kind of see them stationed at trains. And I'm glad to see cars doing a little bit more of a -- you know, a loop around blocks. But I just had a question, like, you know, is -- like, why are they here now? Like, why -- you know, where were they before, in a way? And, you know, you make up a bunch of scenarios as to, you know, what the answer to that question is. And I'm an optimist, so I like to not think that it's because, you know, people who are not of color are not in the neighborhood. I just can't help to -- to think that that's the reason why. And so -- you know, 32:00I feel because I'm in the same neighborhood that I grew up in, I feel like I should -- what's the word when you -- I feel like I earned my place in the neighborhood, and I feel like the people in the neighborhood now don't even know that I've earned that place, [laughter] in a weird way. Maybe I don't deserve that, but I -- you know, I -- I feel like I do. Like, you know, enough people in the neighborhood still kind of know who I am. They've known me since I was five, you know, five or so. And these -- the -- the new crop of people who have moved into Crown Heights or into Brooklyn, they don't have that same -- they don't have that same recognition amongst the -- the traditional residents of my neighborhood, specifically Crown Heights. Yet, you know, sometimes I feel like they get more -- I don't know, they get preferential treatment when it comes to -- to safety. Because I -- I -- I'm just imagining [laughter] that they're the reason why there's a more of a police presence in the neighborhood that I grew 33:00up in. And so it's a little frustrating. But I'm not sure what it is I can do. That's part of your question.

GRIFFITH: That's a big part of my question.

DAVIS: Yeah. The target is what really stresses me out the most, though. You know. Target -- being -- feeling like I could be a target, home, is really what stresses me out the most. And it's funny, I shouldn't -- I don't -- I really feel bad feeling this way.

GRIFFITH: Say some more about that. What do you mean by being a target?

DAVIS: Being a target? So I stand out more at certain times of the day in Crown Heights as an African American male. So I feel like -- I feel like I'm almost an outsider in Crown Heights. And I'm looked at like, "Oh, you know, 34:00like, where are you -- you know, where are you from? Because you can't be from here." Because so many people from Crown Heights are not from Crown Heights, right? They came from all over the -- all over the map. And I get that question, you know, all the time. You know, "Where'd you move from?" You know, when you're out at some of these social spots within Crown Heights. It's like, "I didn't -- I did not move from anywhere. This is where I'm from. This is where I live." And I think because so many of the people don't -- you know, I don't identify, you know, with them on the race front, I do feel like more -- I do feel like I'm more of a target. And like I said, just what's going on throughout New York City on the police -- police brutality front, I don't feel like someone is going to take my side first or be objective in a situation if I'm engaging someone who's not of color. Where-- in the past, in '96-- if I was 35:00in a dispute with someone of color, you know, and the officer showed up, they may be more inclined to hear both sides. And I don't feel like that today, unfortunately, so.

GRIFFITH: You were talking about the fact that your father was in law enforcement. Could you -- could you say some more about that; what kind of law enforcement he was in, how that has shaped the way you move around Crown Heights, how it has shaped your perceptions towards law enforcement and feeling safe?

DAVIS: Yes, I can. So he was a correction officer is wh-- that's what I remember, right? I do -- I know he worked for, like, the NYPD at one point, where ultimately he made the ranks of correction officer. So he worked as a warden in the jails. And he was always, you know, big on -- this is probably why my awareness was so high, because he would always point out people that he 36:00had seen in his line of work who were just, kind of, walking the streets now. And so, you know, he was always like, "You know, you can't judge a book by a co-- you know, by their cover. You know, always be aware. You don't know who you're talking to. You don't know their life story; you don't know their background." He would just kind of point out people he would see through the neighborhood. I remember people would stop him and say, "Hey, you know, how you doing?" And he would always, kind of, tense up a little bit, because he doesn't know what kind of interaction he -- he may have had with them. But the overwhelming response was that -- and I remember people saying this -- "You know, you were always a fair guy," you know what I mean? Like, "You know, we didn't always agree, but you -- you were always fair." And he would keep it really moving. He wouldn't -- he wouldn't, you know, dwell too much, and he'd be like, "Hey, okay, you know, glad you're doing better," and -- and go about his day. But he definitely instilled in me the idea that, you know, you -- you look at someone and you definitely can't judge what their history's been or what they've just been through. You know. Especially, you know, if it -- if -- if 37:00they were ever involved with the law, you can't judge that. You know. It doesn't matter how clean they may look; it doesn't matter how they may talk, you know. They could have been, you know, locked up for a host -- you know, several reasons. So I think that was great, because it just kind of kept my awareness up at all times, and I'm always trying to listen and pay attention. He never really came back with stories. He came back with negative stories sometimes, just from, as you would imagine, just from working in a jail. He would come back with a lot of strife about the politics within law enforcement and how he just knew he wasn't going to get to the rank that he wanted to get to because, you know, he didn't have the right last name, things such as that. I remember him -- him and my -- my mother would discuss this -- this is after they separated, when I was still going to -- to Westtown -- about that, like how, 38:00that being an issue. And he was trying to figure out how he could get someone of color to kind of vouch for him and just kind of move him throughout the system and stuff like that. And that's -- that's how he ended up in Rikers, because he thought it was going to be the best path for him to get this title that he wanted. He always reminded me to be respectful of police, you know, mainly because [laughter] my father was, like, you know, "They have a gun, and you don't, and they can -- they can exer-- you know, they can -- they can use it. You know, you're at a disadvantage, so don't give them a reason to -- to do anything, you know, besides be respectful to you in any circumstance." So I remember him being a big -- a -- a big advocate of being nice to police and being, you know -- being super-cordial and being respectful of police, for sure. He's also -- just kind of in the wake of, like, all the police brutality that's gone on throughout New York City, I think he's -- he definitely sympathizes with 39:00all the victims, but he reminds people that there's always, like, two sides of a story, you know. Which I think, you know, in -- in conversations probably gets him in trouble, because people think that he's siding with the police officers. And he -- he'll make that clear a thousand times, but people just -- they -- they can't seem to get past the fact that, you know, he just -- he -- he expects people to understand both sides of the story, what police officers have to go through on an everyday basis, you know, and how that takes a toll on someone's judgment. And he doesn't make excuses. My dad is the last one to make an excuse for anything. But he just thinks it should be considered. So, like in the recent conversations that I've had with them, like I said, he'll always -- like, he's disgusted. He's more disgusted probably than most people that I know, because he -- he -- he thinks that there is a certain level of honor that should come with the job, and when people do first, hit first, shoot first 40:00before going through the chain of command, it just -- it muddies the name. So he has a lot of pride about being in law enforcement. But he does realize that times have changed and, you know, you know, people are more armed these days than they were back then. So, you know, I think he kind of -- he does keep that under consideration, but I know he's incredibly disgusted. He's used those words specifically.

GRIFFITH: Disgusted with--?

DAVIS: Disgusted with some of the acts. Like, I know the -- you know, the Garner situation really, kind of, pushed him over the edge. He talked about, like, lack of training, you know, lack of training for police officers and, like, communication skills. Like, you know, he feel-- and my dad is one who's good at talking a situation down. I guess you have to be that, you know, when you're in -- when you're in a jail. And so I don't know if he's projecting what he's good at and what, you know, other officers should be good at. I don't -- I don't know. But he -- he mentioned lack of training, and he mentioned lack of communication skills. He would also say that, you know, neighborhoods today, 41:00they need a familiar law enforcement face. You know, they need someone to, like -- and I agree with this -- to, like, walk a beat. Which doesn't really happen anymore. I don't even think I've seen the same officer at Franklin Avenue Station on a consistent basis, to be honest with you. But, I mean, you know, when you -- when you -- when you see a familiar face, you're less inclined to -- to one, you know, do something that's -- for one, when you see a familiar face, it makes you more safe, right? Because you know the person, you've developed some sort of relationship, some sort of rapport, or you know his first name. You may know a couple things about him. And he thinks that more of that needs to happen. He's like, "Less -- you know, body cameras are great, you know, but we -- we need police to know their neighbors, to know the people that they serve." Because that's what they're there for. They're there to serve the people. And so I think that's really interesting, because like I said, I don't even remember -- I don't remember a ton of plain-- uniformed officers when I was growing up. I don't know if this is how Brooklyn is -- is -- is organized. But 42:00he thinks that that would help. He thinks there needs to be more of a, kind of, consistent face when it comes to law enforcement and safety within neighborhoods.

GRIFFITH: So how has his presence, whatever he told you, the fact that he was in law enforcement, how do you think that impacted your thinking about law enforcement or shaped it or -- or not at all. Do you think?

DAVIS: I'm not too sure it shaped it that much, to be honest with you. His -- his time, I think, with the NYPD was very short. I don't remember too much. Or it maybe wasn't short, but I don't remember too much of it. I remember him, more, being a corrections officer. And so I don't think it shaped it too much. I mean, he shaped me a ton, just because he's a big -- you know, he's a military guy, huge on discipline, you know, very -- you know, very stern. And so that's probably shaped me more than anything, you know, outside of his profession.


GRIFFITH: Have you ever had any interaction with law enforcement, police officers? Yeah, I mean, if you have, if you could just describe it. Or describe what it's like before, or what it was when growing up, and now, when you are interacting with law enforcement on the streets of -- of Brooklyn.

DAVIS: So my interaction with the -- with law enforcement -- I'm trying to think back maybe, like, five years, to kind of say what my interaction is today. I've had a few -- I've had a couple motorcycles stolen, so that requires a call to the police. They don't seem [laughter] incredibly, like, cheerful about 44:00their job. They just seem like, you know, they're responding to you. I don't feel, like in a time of distress, that they made me feel confident that they were going to catch the guy or find my bike. They were just reporting because someone on the radio told them to come up to a location. Other times I've been stopped for a cell phone -- that's embarrassing, but yeah. I've been stopped for a cell phone, probably a couple times. The one time, the guy gave me a warning.

GRIFFITH: You were stopped for a cell phone [unintelligible]. What do you mean?

DAVIS: For using a cell phone in the car.

GRIFFITH: [Unintelligible] -- oh, okay. In the car.

DAVIS: You know, first time, the guy gave me, like, a friendly warning about it, you know. I explained to him that GPS wasn't working in my car, he, kind of, let it go. The second time the guy wasn't -- wasn't friendly at all. And I'm not -- I don't necessarily know if I was expecting him to be friendly; I just felt like he was more rude than anything. Yeah, he definitely was very rude on Utica and Eastern Parkway, I remember that. Then my interactions with 45:00police officers -- you know, they were -- they were kind of just. Like, we used to do things like hop the turnstile, right? Can't do that. And so DTs or, you know, undercovers -- you know, a thing that was the slang back then, DTs -- they would catch you doing that. You were doing something wrong, they would stop you, you know, you'd get in trouble. So it made sense. You know, like, I guess policing then, for me made sense; for the most part. Then I would see like the dramatic entrances from cops driving onto sidewalks and stuff like that. I never see that anymore. I mean, mainly because no one's doing hand-to-hands on Franklin Avenue like they used to. But, you know -- so for me it was very kind of like movie dramatic, like, you know, a Bad Boys movie, you know. Lights flaring, people on the sidewalk, someone's getting cuffed, and then a bunch of 46:00people staring, you know. They didn't have cellphones back then, but if they did, everyone's phone would be up; watching someone getting arrested, unfortunately. So my interaction with them was just kind of watching them, I guess, trying to, you know, bust people for, like, drugs and things such as that. Because I didn't know this at the time, but someone explained this to me -- I guess there was -- there was a really big Caribbean turf war going on in -- between Flatbush and parts of Crown Heights, between Jamaicans and Trinidadians. And so that's why there was a -- you know, a ton of drug activity around where we lived, because we had a ton of Jamaicans who used to live there. And like I said, never plain-- never -- never uniformed officers. They would always just, kind of, be plainclothes guys stopping people. I don't want to say harassing them, because I don't know what led them to stop them, but stopping people, frisking them. I would see people handcuffed on the street a ton. And then, I don't know why I was so obsessed with this idea of -- I just thought it was cool, like, [laughter] in a bad way, just driving on the sidewalk, trying to 47:00stop someone from running or whatever, anyway. And then today, I don't feel -- I don't feel warm and fuzzy when I speak to police or when I inter-- have to interact with them. I know that the fir-- the last two times I was pulled over, I put both of my hands outside the window. I just don't want there to be any confusion. I just don't think -- I don't -- I don't live in that day and time where I can -- I can assume anything. One interaction was -- was pleasant. One interaction wasn't at all. I do feel like I -- I -- I need to be extra -- extra respectful, extra nice, if you will, just because I don't know what kind of day that officer's having, and, you know, he has the means to -- to end it for me right then and there. And so in a time where I -- in Crown Heights, where there was more negative activity, violence, drugs, you name it, I didn't feel 48:00threatened by police. Now when there's less of that going on in Crown Heights, I feel 10 times as threatened by police. So it's just a weird paradox for me. I try to do the right thing, to be honest with you. I feel like part of it is doing the right thing. And, you know, everyone talks about their rights to do this, their right to do that, and, you know, what you can do. And I can stand where I want to stand, and if someone tells me to move I don't have to move. You're right! You're right. But you have to weigh, you know, what the -- what the outcome can be, given that someone who's standing in front of you could end it for you. Right? So you know, there's -- there's part of you that -- that needs to be prideful, and then you got to know when to kind of check your pride. I mean, you can go about it through other channels. I've never been in the situation where I felt disrespected by a police officer; I don't, not in New 49:00York. There's a couple times in Connecticut I felt disrespected by police officers, and, you know, I was sure it was racially motivated because Connecticut, where we were, there's a -- a huge contingent of people associated with the KKK. So if I had to make an assumption -- I know that's not fair -- that's the -- that's the assumption I would make. But in today's time I do feel like -- and this was not answering your question, so I apologize -- but today's time, I do feel like you -- you can't -- you can't just stand on what your rights may or may not be. [laughter] Just doesn't work that way. It'd be nice. But we've seen too many horrific lessons where that just doesn't -- doesn't play out the way you want it to. And that's unfortunate. And I don't know if that makes me, like, less of a part of the resistance or if that makes me someone who's just kind of willing to, like, lay down and let it happen, because I don't feel like that is. You know, I feel like, you know, I've done some of the rallies. I felt like it was important to show support. Outside of that, I 50:00guess I'm guilty of not doing too much more. So I haven't done my part to effect change like I should, because I feel like that's what really needs to happen, like, people need to step up and do something about it, and me going to a rally and, you know, yelling for 30 minutes is cool, but I don't know if that really moves the needle like we need it to. I do make a point now to make eye contact with all the police officers that I see when I see them. You know, because sometimes I just feel like, you know, if -- if I -- if I can do that, and I can establish some sort of, like, familiarity with one of them, you know, you never know when I may need to engage them or they need to -- they need to engage me, and that may help me. And so -- you know, I would say do the right thing, but we've seen examples of people not doing, you know -- not doing the wrong thing and it being fatal. So -- you didn't ask for advice on this topic, but I don't know. Now I'm kind of going off on a tangent. I just -- I don't know.


GRIFFITH: [Unintelligible].

DAVIS: That's why we got people like you, so you can help fix this problem, or at least give me instruction on what I should do.


DAVIS: Because it can't be you who fixes it, but you can definitely say, "Hey, Alonzo, you know."

GRIFFITH: Yeah. I -- I may not want you to -- you're not here to fix anything.

DAVIS: Right.

GRIFFITH: You're just here to tell your story, that's all.

DAVIS: Yeah, but I mean, part of it is if you're not -- if you're not trying to fix it, then you're okay with it being broken then, really, right? So, you know, it's like the -- the doorknob on my -- my bathroom, it falls, like, every two or three days. I haven't fixed it yet. I haven't done anything about it, [laughter] so I'm kind of contributing to it, you know, staying broken, right? So you're right, you haven't tasked me with trying to fix the problem or whatever, but I -- I do feel like I need to be -- be more involved. And I have identified steps, I just haven't taken them. So -- we're not going to get into those, because I'm --


DAVIS: -- I doubt you want to hear those. But I do feel like there -- there -- there needs to be some tangible things that I do to kind of make myself feel like I'm less of a target in my own -- in my own home or my own neighborhood, 52:00you know? So--

GRIFFITH: Could you just -- and I know you have to -- you have to go. So I'm going to ask you --


GRIFFITH: --this one last question. Oh, shucks. If you could just talk about the fact that now you have a family, right?


GRIFFITH: How do you regard -- just tell me about your -- their safety -- well, let me, let me back up. Tell me about your immediate family, and tell me about how you regard their safety in Crown Heights.

DAVIS: So specifically within Crown Heights, I have a grandmother who's immobile. She stays home, so she's rather safe; [laughter] a wife who lives with me in Crown Heights; and my mother lives around the corner, so she's also in Crown Heights. You know, when it comes to their -- to -- to my wife's safety or to--


GRIFFITH: And I know you're expecting, so --

DAVIS: Yes. I am.

GRIFFITH: -- also think about, like --

DAVIS: Yeah. How could I forget, right? [laughter] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

GRIFFITH: -- about the safety of your soon-to-be child.

DAVIS: Yeah. So is the question like how -- like what -- what precautions am I going to take or, like, what am I going to do when it comes to that?

GRIFFITH: Well, I mean, just how has your feeling of what it takes to be safe, has it shifted at all now that you've got a family --

DAVIS: Oh, sorry.

GRIFFITH: -- whatever, that you've got a -- a family, in -- in particular a wife and a -- and a child-to-be, that you now have to be more concerned with. Has -- I mean, I don't -- if it hasn't shifted at all, that's fine. I just want to know if -- whether it has, and if it has, if you would describe what that is. Or if it hasn't. I don't want to -- I don't want to push you into--

DAVIS: No, I -- I hear you. I don't think it -- I don't think it has so much. 54:00I think my wife and I have very similar opinions about safety and police and how, you know, I -- we're kind of on the same page about that. I -- I don't know how my mother feels about it, but my mother's a neighborhood woman, and so she's been in the area, she lives in the area, she hasn't left. She feels in-- she feels incredibly safe. I would -- I definitely feel that way. I know that. The fact that I'm having a family right now, I'm probably not so concerned with safety when it comes to law enforcement, because I really feel like neighbors kind of control the safety, or residents control the safety of a neighborhood, rather. So I want to do my best to introduce my new addition to the people I grew up with, so they know who he is, the new faces on the block so, you know, 55:00they know who he is as well. And I feel like that's -- that's the kind of safety I'm -- I'm more focused on, just kind of being him feeling familiar to the neighborhood. I think it does a lot to kind of keep you out of trouble and mitigate times or, you know, defuse situations when you are in trouble by knowing the people in the neighborhood. And I don't -- that may be--

GRIFFITH: Are you going to give any instructions? Do you -- do you think you're going to give any special instructions to your son as -- as he grows up?

DAVIS: Yeah, I mean, I'm looking forward to kind of throwing him in situations and see how he responds, you know? Because, like I said, you know, I'm looking forward to taking him to, like, 320 Park, you know, some of these parks where I, you know, I felt like, you know, if it gets rowdy or whatever, it could be a problem for me. I'm -- and it's still kind of like that, because it's right by Medgar Evers Houses and, you know, all that -- or -- yeah, Medgar Evers Houses. 56:00I'm interested in kind of seeing how he handles himself in these situations. I want him to have a mix. I feel like that's super important. I want have him to -- to -- to feel comfortable in -- in any part of Brooklyn, you know, any -- in any part of New York City. And I, kind of, want to help him along the way. I don't want to give him instruction on, you know, "Make sure you don't say these type of things," and -- you know, because I like -- you know, my friends would do that, do a ton of that when I was growing up, you know. When you're -- if you go play ball at Boys and Girls High, don't wear red. Because if you wear red they're going to think you're -- think you're Blood and ask you a question. If you don't answer the question right, you're getting slashed. You know, I don't think those -- those same rules apply today, thankfully. And so, you know, I'm -- I don't think I'm going to prep him too much. I just -- but I want him to -- I want him to explore. I definitely want him to get -- be familiar with neighborhoods. You know. I don't want him to be one of those kids that 57:00only knows his local park. I want him on the train to go do activities in Harlem. I want him on the train to do activities in Bushwick. I want him doing activities in Bed-Stuy, kind of all throughout. You know, I want him to have, quote-unquote, "street cred," you know, if it comes down to it. And so -- I'm actually excited about that. Like -- that's another conversation, but yeah. So -- yeah, I mean, yeah, as far as -- as far as safety is concerned, for my family, I think it's more -- I think -- I think that it's more of a problem that I don't know my neighbors, because they've just moved in. They -- they haven't just moved in, they moved in, like, six or eight months ago, and I haven't -- I haven't met them yet. And I don't know if I should be the one to say, "Hey, you know, I'm -- I've been on the block, I noticed you," or if they should be the one. I don't know. Probably should be me, since it's on my mind. But I'm more -- I'm more interested in the people on the block, the people on the surrounding 58:00blocks, knowing each other, because I have a -- because I just feel like if you know someone, you're more inclined to kind of have their back, be nice, be considerate, be neighborly. And so much of that is not going on in Crown Heights, because people don't know each other. Everyone's in their comfort zone. My mom's in her -- my mom's a special case, because she's a very talkative woman, so she'll just walk up to you and start talking. But, you know, I know there's a lot of angst among the neighbors, you know, that -- that feel like these new people have come in, and they don't know them, and they're scared, and they're like, "Why am I scared? I've been here for 15 years." You know, it's a cycle. So for me safety for the new addition to the family is really just going to be about familiarizing him with all aspects of the neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods of Crown Heights.

GRIFFITH: I want to be respectful of your time.

DAVIS: Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. No, thank you for your time, that's what I meant to say. [laughter] Thank you for your time. Yeah.

GRIFFITH: No, I -- you can keep going, but -- but we've got -- this is -- this has been great.


DAVIS: I hope so, man. Like -- yeah, I mean, you know, I -- I don't have horror stories, to be honest with you.

GRIFFITH: I don't-- I'm not--

DAVIS: And you said that from the other day, you said that from jump--

GRIFFITH: Okay, okay.

DAVIS: -- "I'm not looking for horror stories." [laughter] But, you know, a lot of people, you know, when they -- they -- they're -- I don't know if they expect me or expect people to feel like--

[Interview interrupted.]

DAVIS: --just check my phone.


DAVIS: That's okay. Oh, I got like, 15 more minutes, actually.

GRIFFITH: Oh, okay. Great.

DAVIS: All right. So, is this, like, uncut version?

GRIFFITH: [laughter] Right, the uncut version.

DAVIS: I can, I can really talk?

GRIFFITH: [laughter] Please do.

DAVIS: Specifically, Crown Heights, back in the day, like I -- like I was saying, when I was growing up -- this is, like, early '90s -- late '80s, early '90s -- I remember Crown Heights being crack-heavy, drug-heavy. I remember there being violence that followed that, but I don't remember that standing out as much as just crack hitting Crown Heights so hard. And just seeing people 60:00walking around on drugs, seeing people walking around trying to figure out how to get more drugs, seeing people walking around trying to escape people who were looking for them for drugs; kind of, all the above. That stands out to me. I remember the streets being littered with, just, crack vials: red-tops, yellow-tops. I remember us picking them up and playing with them, and throwing them each -- at each other. Like, it was that common. So I --I look at Crown Heights today, and when I see these people walking around, going to Chavela's and going to Franklin Park, you know, areas of Crown Heights, or areas of Franklin that you just could not walk on past eight o'clock. It was just -- if you -- if you were there after lights-out, you were there looking for trouble, because that's where it was. And that's a fact. And that's why -- you know, I told you, my parents were like, "You -- you know, you can't go to corner stores, because they're on Crown Heights." You know, that's just -- that's just how it is. And today, I feel like, I see Crown Heights, and it just -- it's so-- it stands out to me how clean it is. Just, how clean it is. Like, everything is 61:00just clean. You know, stores are there. You know, ev-- it's vibrant. It's like SoHo. You know? And I don't like SoHo. [laughter] I don't. You know? And part of the reason why I don't like SoHo is because it doesn't feel like a place to live. It feels like a place to visit. And I'm not visiting, I'm staying here; I'm waking up here, I'm going to bed here, I'm working out here, I'm going to eat here, like, all of the above. And so, you know, now, like I -- as I'm thinking more about, kind of, my experience of Crown Heights, early '90s, before I went to high school, you know, I just -- I wanted to mention that, because people -- people have asked me, like, what's so different? And I'll say the drugs. First and foremost, drugs; the drug use was through the roof. There was a time -- I remember this -- this was on the news, too. Someone had stashed a gun at St. Charles, where I li-- St. Francis, where I live. And I -- and the 62:00-- I came home, and it was like, yellow tape around the house, because someone had, you know, shot someone on Franklin, threw the gun around the corner. Right? And in the news headline, you know, it was over a drug dispute. Right? So, you know, for me, you know, Crown Heights is -- I felt like different areas of Brooklyn, when you think about the -- the -- whatever negative may be going on in that neighborhood, they are kind of known for something, unfortunately, right? Some areas are known for stabbings. Some areas are known for, you know, murder. Some areas are known for, you know, theft. For me, Crown Heights, early '90s, late '80s; drugs, heavy, in plain sight. You know? And even still, that didn't seem -- it didn't seem scary to me. It just kind of seemed like, you know, what was going on, you know. It just -- I don't know. Kind of like the neighborhood wino, except we had, like, the 10 neighborhood crackheads, who were just -- you know, they wouldn't harass you. They would just, kind of, be going through their fix. But I knew that there were things that kind of 63:00followed that, that were negative, i.e., the violence. But even still, with all the drug activity--

GRIFFITH: And where did -- where did you see the -- the police? How did the police interact with all that? In -- and how did that -- how did that affect police activity in -- in Crown Heights?

DAVIS: I really don't see the police -- I didn't see the police really intervene. I don't remember seeing a, like I said, a police presence, unless it was the dramatic entrance, trying to bust somebody for something. I don't remember seeing police stationed at corners. I don't remember seeing police stationed at -- at traff-- at train stations, bus stations, walking around Franklin. I don't remember seeing those big, white -- I don't know what you call those things, you know, with the -- with the big lights and the cameras that you kind of see. Like, the little pop-up police shops, whatever you call those. I don't remember seeing any of that. I just remember, you know, it would -- they just over-- they just ran the neighborhood. Drugs, and people who 64:00-- you know, people who were -- that was it. That was Franklin Avenue. And so, because of Franklin Avenue's drug activity, that was a violent place. And so there were times where it was -- it was a known fact, if you were on Franklin, you were going to be caught up in some sort of trouble -- at a certain time of night. Especially the summertime; probably one of the more dangerous times in the summertime was the Labor Day parade, you know? Because people were drinking, people were dru-- you know, people were smoking, you know; they're enjoying themselves. And it -- you know, it just led to -- it led to a little bit of -- a little bit of it led to violence, [laughter] you know?

GRIFFITH: Well, can you -- do you remember any -- any incidents of violence or any things that happened directly related to the West Indian Day Parade?


GRIFFITH: And that was just a couple of blocks away from you, right?

DAVIS: Yeah. I'm right there. I'm very lucky when it comes to that. But I can't remember any -- nothing, like, sticks out. I do remember there being incidents; Labor Day. I remember J'Ouvert always being kind of -- kind of calm. 65:00Like, the night before Labor Day was always pretty -- pretty nice. But I do remember -- you know, I remember gangs would kind of post stuff. This is -- we're talking back when, like -- everyone was making up a gang back then. There were, like, Decepts, and then there were like -- I mean, GDs is a well-known gang, or whatever. But I remember Decepts being a little big, like, Brooklyn movement. [laughter] They had the -- the cool handshake. But I do remember there kind of being, like, gang representation during Labor Day parades, throughout the parade. And I do remember there being incidents. And I remember my friends kind of ushering me to go one way versus another way, or giving me a heads up, "If you go this way, you can be looking forward to this, versus going that way." So, I can't think of any incidents that -- honestly, that stand out to me. But the drugs, man; the drugs were a -- were a huge, huge deal. And you 66:00don't see any of that anymore.

GRIFFITH: Did it ever impact you directly? Other than, like, finding crack vials on your street? Did you -- did [inaudible]?

DAVIS: Yeah. Besides stepping on them, and -- and playing with the yellow-tops and the red-tops? I knew Rick. Rick seemed to own the -- the -- the crack house [laughter] on the block. And he had a dog. And he would say hello. And he was, you know -- he was friendly. And I just think he -- you know, he had his operation, and, you know, that was it. I couldn't tell you more details about that. It never affected me -- no, it never affected -- besides me, [laughter] you know, knowing the homeowner, it never really affected, you know, me. I was never caught in the crossfire of some sort. Maybe every now and then, you know, somebody would ask me for a -- a quarter or fifty cents, and I'm like, "I don't have any money," whatever. Besides that, no.


DAVIS: Yeah.

GRIFFITH: Okay, cool. Thank you.

DAVIS: Yeah.


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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Alonzo Davis

Thirty-four years of age at the time of the 2017 interview, Alonzo Davis is a Black man and the founder of Just Been Tested (JBT), a mobile HIV testing and health screening unit and organization. The mission of JBT is to engage the community via innovative technology to become proactive participants in their preventive health. Davis was born and raised in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and went to boarding school during his secondary school years.

In this interview, Alonzo Davis recalls life as a child growing up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. He describes his block and immediate neighborhood, contrasting those with his later experience at a boarding school outside of the city. Davis discusses his memories of some events during the 1991 Crown Heights "riot," and this leads into general observations about people in conflict there. Contrasting 2017 with how policing and safety has changed since the early 1990s, he invokes his own experiences and the observations of his father, who worked in the New York Police Department before moving up the ranks in Corrections. Davis also considers how neighborliness plays into a sense of safety at home. After a pause in the interview, he concludes with a description of the Crown Heights landscape during the crack cocaine epidemic. Interview conducted by Mark Winston Griffith.

This collection includes oral histories conducted by Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), Brooklyn Movement Center, and Weeksville Heritage Center beginning in 2016 and collected and arranged by BHS in 2017. Each organization's interviews form a series within the collection. This oral history is one in the Brooklyn Movement Center series. The assembled collection was part of broader programming efforts by the three organizations to commemorate and examine the transforming Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn a quarter-century after the August 1991 conflicts and unrest sometimes called "the Crown Heights riot." The oral history collection features a broad range of narrators; educators, community organizers, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, bloggers, and longtime neighborhood residents, who describe the changes they have observed in their neighborhood over decades.


Davis, Alonzo, Oral history interview conducted by Mark Winston Griffith, March 24, 2017, Voices of Crown Heights oral histories, 2016.027.2.01; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Davis, Alonzo


  • Activism
  • African Americans
  • Community development
  • Crime
  • Education
  • Gentrification
  • Housing
  • Neighborhoods
  • Police-community relations
  • Private schools
  • Racism
  • Riots


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)


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Voices of Crown Heights oral histories