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Alisha Finlay

Oral history interview conducted by Walis Johnson

March 09, 2017

Call number: 2016.027.2.02

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JOHNSON: -- just going to slate this, and then we'll get started. So, today is Thursday, March 9th, 2017. My name is Walis Johnson. I am doing this interview for the Brooklyn Movement Center, for the Voices of Crown Heights Oral History Project. Today, I'm sitting with and interviewing Alisha Finlay in the Central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Alisha, can you say your name, your age, your -- where you were born, and where you live now?

FINLAY: Okay. My name is Alisha Finlay. I'm 36. I'll be 37 later this year. I -- where I was born? I was born in Boston, Massachusetts. I actually lived in Mattapan, in Boston. And right now, I -- actually, I'm still a resident of Crown Heights.


JOHNSON: Great. All right, thank you. And did you bring pictures? Or you didn't?

FINLAY: Oh, no.

JOHNSON: Oh, you didn't, okay.

FINLAY: I was running -- I went to the grocery. [laughter]

JOHNSON: Okay. That's all right.


JOHNSON: All right. So, what I usually like to start out with -- just, you know, so we can get acquainted is a question about the past, and then we --


JOHNSON: -- kind of can move into the present, gradually, through the interview.

FINLAY: Okay, all right.

JOHNSON: But we can go back and forth, also. So, I like to ask, what's your earliest memory?

FINLAY: [laughter] Okay, well, this has been my earliest memory for the longest -- when I was still living in Boston, my mom had slippers -- it's kind of disgusting, but it's honest. I used to play in her slippers. So, one time, I guess, a mouse went and burrowed in it. So, [laughter] I went and put my foot 2:00in the slipper and there was a mouse in there. So, my earliest memory was of feeling, like, a mouse, and that feeling on my foot in my mom's slipper. [laughter] Yeah, so --

JOHNSON: And how old were you?

FINLAY: I was maybe three, no older than four years old. So, that's, yeah, like, the oldest memory that sticks the longest. [laughter] Yeah.

JOHNSON: That's a good one. [laughter] That's, like, my biggest nightmare.


JOHNSON: Stick -- you know. And so, what's -- let's start out with -- what's your earliest memory of Crown Heights?

FINLAY: The Labor Day Parade. So, I remember, even before we lived over here, my aunt -- before they bought the house, they lived in an apartment on Montgomery. So, I remember being maybe six or seven and coming, and it's so 3:00crowded. Everyone -- it was just always that fun time of year that I always looked forward to. So, it was more the Labor Day Parade -- that whole weekend.

JOHNSON: Yeah. So, how did your family arrive in Crown -- I mean, when did you move to Crown Heights, and what was that like?

FINLAY: It -- I moved here December 1993. So, it was exciting. It was exciting, because the neighborhood we lived in, it was sort of, like, cut off. We were cut off from the family that did live here. So, when we moved over here -- was just, like, okay, oh, I have my cousin down the road, then my other cousins in Flatbush. So, it was, like -- it was good for me. I was happy to move over here.

JOHNSON: Where did you move from?

FINLAY: Yeah. Bushwick. Bushwick, so -- it was good out there. It was a neighborhood experience, and family, but it was nothing like over here. The resources over here, the -- just everything over here. It was kind of grungy in 4:00Bushwick at the time. If you go there now, it's really built up. But it was a lot of empty lots. I remember Broadway was, like, every other store was still burned down from the '70s blackout and the riot. So, it was really better to move over here for me. It's happy, yeah.

JOHNSON: And when did you move over to Bushwick?

FINLAY: Bushwick, that was 19-- I believe it was '84 or '85. And I moved here when I was five, so it had to be '85.

JOHNSON: Can you tell me about the journey from Bushwick to Crown Heights?

FINLAY: It was -- I mean, I did leave -- because I went to school in Bushwick since I was five -- [laughter] so, I did leave a lot of friends over there. But the journey was more like a -- it wasn't as many West Indians in Bushwick. So, coming over here was sort of, like, oh, now I could be myself. People won't ask 5:00what kind of music that is. When I'm eating a roti, they won't be, like, "What is that? A wrap?" You know, so I felt coming over here was more, like, West Indian-oriented. So, I was really happy to move over here. So, even with moving over here a couple years after the riot, I still was happy to move over here. So, yeah.

JOHNSON: What is your family background?

FINLAY: They're Trinidadian, both sides. So, my mom and dad are both from Trinidad. So, that's where the Labor Day Parade fits in, kind of with that culture. So, they're both from there. My mom -- they both moved to Boston when they came from Trinidad. So, they lived out there -- I think they came in '76, my mom came. I can't remember when my dad came. They came here illegally. [laughter] So, they kind of came up here, never went back to Trinidad. So, that 6:00was how they came to America. And then, my dad's mom lived in New York. So, that's sort of how we moved from Boston to New York. So, yeah. And they're all from Trinidad, my entire family, so --

JOHNSON: And your extended family lived in Crown Heights? Tell me how your family got to Crown Heights.

FINLAY: Well, I don't know how -- I have to ask my mom how my aunt ended up here. She was the only one here, out of all her siblings in New York, in Crown Heights. The rest of them were in Boston. So, I -- that's the question I'll ask my mom, because I'm not sure how my aunt ended up here while all the rest of my sibling-- my mom's siblings were still in Boston. So, it's 12 of them, and only two of them live here, as of now. But we came here -- my dad's mom -- most 7:00of my family grew up here. When they came, they came straight from Trinidad to New York. So, they went to, like, Franklin K. Lane. My aunt went to -- and basically, that's how we moved from Boston to come to Brooklyn. So, I had -- my dad's family was out here, in droves. But my mom's family was really only my aunt out here. So, I'm not sure how that really -- have to ask my mom that question. [laughter]

JOHNSON: When we talked, you said that your aunt owned a home. What was --

FINLAY: Right.

JOHNSON: -- how did that come about? Or when --

FINLAY: She -- well, my grandmom -- they all owned homes. So, my dad's mom, my paternal grandmom, she owned a home. And my other aunt owned a home -- East 17th Street. So, they owned homes, I guess -- from the time they came, they 8:00probably worked to get that. But my aunt, she got that house -- I believe it was '91. So, that's how -- once she saw the opportunities in Crown Heights, it was, like, "Oh, we bought this house, look!" And she started showing my mom homes over here. So, that's sort of how we got to Crown Heights, was through -- basically, my aunt. My mom's sister. Because everyone else lived in, like, Flatbush. East Flatbush, East New York, over there. Yeah.

JOHNSON: And what was -- where was the house that your mother bought? Like, what was the address, or -- of the house your aunt lived in?

FINLAY: It was 417 Lincoln Road. So, Lincoln Road -- so, that was where I got to -- I was maybe, like, 11, 12, so I could travel from Bushwick by myself sometime. [laughter] So, I got to sleep over here a lot. So, I got to 9:00experience Crown Heights a lot before I actually moved here. I think that's why I fell in love with it. It was, like -- it's so much excitement over here. They -- now I'm hearing reggae this way and then I hear soca coming that way. But then, when I go to Bushwick, it's all, like, Spanish music and American music. So, it's -- it was really -- at the time, it was a real different kind of ethnicity between Bushwick and Crown Heights, to me, from what I saw. So, Crown Heights was more Caribbean-oriented, but Bushwick was more, like, Spanish-oriented over there.

JOHNSON: So, you talked about moving to Crown Heights from Bushwick and how there were more kind of Caribbean people --

FINLAY: Right, yeah.


JOHNSON: -- that you could relate to. What do you love about Crown Heights?

FINLAY: The food, [laughter] the diversity, and it -- to me, I've always looked at it like a hidden gem, because we're, like, so close to the city. We have Prospect Park right there. We have the museum, the botanical garden, so it's, like, we really have a gem. People come from Canarsie, you know, Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, just to come to this museum, this park, you know? So, we are, like, really in a proximity of, like -- this is, like, a little gem, in Brooklyn.

JOHNSON: And when you -- your family -- so, did your mother buy a home when she moved to Crown Heights? Or you said she lived in an apartment in -- ?

FINLAY: In Bushwick, right. So --

JOHNSON: Oh, right.

FINLAY: -- we moved here -- when we moved here, we did move into a house.

JOHNSON: And where was that?


FINLAY: So -- Union Street and Nostrand, right.

JOHNSON: And is that -- what --

FINLAY: It's still -- yeah, my mom's still there. Yeah, we're still there.

JOHNSON: And you're --


JOHNSON: -- you're in the house, too?

FINLAY: Yeah, in the basement part, yeah.

JOHNSON: So, tell me about 1991.

FINLAY: [laughter] Nineteen ninety-one, I was still living in Bushwick, and I was 11. So, I just remember my brother was overprotective. So, it was more, like, "Why you wearing those earrings? Didn't you hear?" You know, I don't know if it was the riots that was going on, but I know, before we moved -- so, it was between '91 and '92, it was sort of, like, this tension of robbing and, I don't know, it was, like, a sort of gang mentality in Bushwick at the time, because they had the Decepticons and Transformers. So, in Bushwick, it was, 12:00like, a lot of that gang mentality. It was a lot of -- I tuned it out. I forgot they -- it was shooting every night and things like that. Crack vials over there, [laughter] and -- in the park. And that was, like, my experiences in Bushwick. So, it was sort of, like, okay, the park's -- it's a crack den. There's gangs all over the place, but my elementary school and my junior high were, like, safe havens. So, it's, like, I learned to play chess, I learned to play the recorder. We had gospel chorus, dance, gymnastics in my other school, band. So, it was, like, although all of that was going on, I still had a -- outlet in school to kind of make me who I am today. [laughter] So, I wasn't in the streets as much, even though it was, like, a lot of drugs and gang things 13:00going on around me. A lot. [laughter] Yeah, so --

JOHNSON: And then, 199--

FINLAY: Oh, '91. Oh, right, that's where I was. So, it was -- that -- it was like that. That gangsta rap, kind of, gang kind of mentality. Kind of, like, that. So, over here, it's sort of, like, [laughter] the gangs were in pockets. I'm not even sure how to explain it. So, like, one block would be -- this is where they hang out. This is this gang, and then the next five blocks would be, like, another gang that hangs out. And then, they know each other, but then if one gets mad at the other -- so, it was sort of a lot of gang activity during that time, also, that I remember. So, I guess, speaking of people after when I 14:00moved here; some of the people used that opportunity of the riot to actually just -- okay, this is -- "I'm going to go and take this out the store and steal that and that." So, it was a lot of that kind of gang mentality in the riot itself that -- I don't think people realize that -- I guess that anger built up from the -- I don't want to say it, because I'm not really a person who takes slavery and -- you know, I believe we could do things to go forward, also. But it has -- a lot of people who have that kind of mentality, like, "Oh, these white people did it, so I'm just going to go over there and mess with their stuff, and" -- just because. And they were nowhere in the proximity of what happened with, you know, the accident. But it was, like, "Oh, yeah, that's what they're doing over -- let's go over there! Let's go wild out over there!" So, it was kind of a lot of that going on around that time, too. And I think that 15:00made it worse. So, that's what probably made it turn into a full blown-out riot. So, I think, yeah, just a lot of gang stuff going on back then.

JOHNSON: What was your relationship -- what was the relationship of your family to that whole event in 1991? Because that was when you moved --

FINLAY: Right.

JOHNSON: -- to Crown Heights, right?

FINLAY: No, I moved in '93.


FINLAY: But my aunt lived here, so --

JOHNSON: Right, so you were going back and forth.

FINLAY: Back and forth, like, every other week.

JOHNSON: You called it a tale of two cities.

FINLAY: Yeah, it really was. So, for my family, it was more, like, "Okay, time to eat. It's dinnertime. Okay, time for bed. Okay, we got to get up -- school in the morning." My mom getting -- work -- that was them every day. It was, like, "Okay, some madness going on outside, but we still have to continue living 16:00our lives." But then, it was -- some of my friends it was, it was just different. The home would be different. It would be, "Yeah, you know, some people out there" -- and I don't want to say more ghetto or 'hood, but it was more like that, 'cause my mom is more, like, the country type from Trinidad. So, she's not too rowdy and -- want to make noise. But then, people I went to school with and some of my friends, their mom -- were, like -- grew up here. So, it was, like, "[unintelligible] see them on the corner there? Oh, look at those peo-- the cops and" -- it was just a lot of that with certain families. But with my mom, it was more, like, "Oh, wow, that's going on? Okay. Oh, man, that's horrible. Okay, I have to get up in the morning. You make sure you come home after school and do your homework." And I was expected to stay on the 17:00straight and narrow. So, yeah, for me, it was more, like, I have to follow the rules and mind my business. But meanwhile, people in my school were actually -- some of the people I knew were put -- actually was around in the riots. Their mom was there and they were there, partaking in the madness. So, it's like that.

JOHNSON: Can I just ask you to move your --

FINLAY: Oh, my -- yeah.


FINLAY: That's rubbing on it?

JOHNSON: Yeah. [laughter] So, take me step by step through your experience in '91 and then, later, your experience in '93, when your family finally moved to --

FINLAY: Over there?

JOHNSON: -- to the area.

FINLAY: See, going -- I don't know, going back and forth, it was more, like, "Okay, I'm coming, but I'll see you later." Because I'd smile over here. So, it was, like, an excitement. And then, when I went back to Bushwick, it was more, like, "Oh, okay, I'm back around here." Okay, so for a long time it was 18:00sort of that, "Okay, I'll go see my aunt and then, okay, I'm back here. And really, the only highlight of Bushwick at the time for me was school and my schoolmates. And then, when I came over here, it was more, like, I knew people on the block, I could run around and play. My mom wasn't as worried. We could go up to the store without her having to worry if someone's going to start shooting. So, even though it was bad, it -- I think some of the pockets of the bad were in certain areas. Of course, people would get caught in the stray of certain -- but for me, growing up, it was -- when I moved over here was more, like, certain pockets of gangs. But in Bushwick, it was more, like, the gangs are here -- like, I lived, like, right on Bushwick and Schaefer. So, the gang, 19:00it would be, like, one -- Decepticons here, and the Transformers are literally, like, the next block. So, every night it was, like, shooting back and forth. So, after a certain time, it was, like, "In the house." So, like, for a long time, that was, like, my life, every night in Bushwick. Make sure you get in the house by a certain time. Then when you hear 11:30, 12 o'clock, it's gunshots in the air. It's, like -- but then, moving over here, it was, like -- even though it was bad, I wasn't hearing gunshots every day. I didn't see people shooting, you know, like a block away from each other. So, for me, it's, like, I know a lot of people maybe would look at Crown Heights one way and say, "Oh, during nighttime it was horrible." But to me, it wasn't as horrible as some other neighborhoods, honestly, with that.


JOHNSON: So, how did you hear about, you know, the -- what happened, you know, with the accident and --

FINLAY: With everything?


FINLAY: It was actually my cousin who lived not too far from East New York. So, he was on Rochester and Lincoln Place. So, I remember he called my brother. He was about 17. And he said, "Oh my God, they're wilding over here! They're -- I don't -- they're just, you know, like, throwing stuff at cars, setting cars on fire. All kind of crazy stuff." So, he -- you know, the type of family -- we were recently immigrated here. No more than, like, 15 years for some. So, it was, like, okay, he came out, saw everything that was going on, and went back in the house. So, that's how we first heard that it was -- like, rioting going on over here. So, it was -- my cousin called and let us know.

JOHNSON: And you -- when you were kind of walking through the streets, did you have any kind of impression of the police or, you know, what kind of policing 21:00was going on or any sense of what that was like?

FINLAY: Well --

JOHNSON: You were pretty young, but still --

FINLAY: At that time, I didn't like the police. I remember -- I think it was we just moved to Crown Heights, and my brother still was in Bushwick. And somebody -- was July 4th. Somebody put an M-80 in the telephone. So, I guess it blew up. So, my brother was there trying to get coins. So, he's -- you know, the police came, of course my brother ran. I say he was wrong for running, but when --

JOHNSON: What's his name?

FINLAY: Brian. So, he ran. When the police caught him, they literally, like -- I remember -- gave him a black eye. He had, like, a swollen lip here, swollen lip. It was -- something else was bruised. And they basically beat 22:00him, and he was only maybe 15 years old. So, from that, I just was, like, my brother doesn't even do things like that! How could they just, you know, attack him and beat him like that? Like -- and he's not even a grown man. So, from that -- that experience kind of had me, like, these cops, I don't know. I don't know. So, we would never call the cops. Any kind of situation that went on, we wouldn't even -- you know, we would handle it, like, internally. The only thing we'll call the cops for is, like, if it's an emergency. Somebody's finger got cut or -- but anything else, we wouldn't even want to call the cops, because we're scared if we call the cops, okay, they might arrest my brother or my father, and we're calling you guys to protect us from a threat, not them. These men are not the threat. The threat is over there. So, that was the kind of way 23:00I grew up looking at the police when I was young, so --

JOHNSON: What did your parents do? Were they -- they both worked?

FINLAY: Yeah, they both worked. So, well, with that situation -- looking at it now, my mom could have, like, got a lawsuit, and she could have won, because they didn't have -- he didn't even get arrested. They released him. So, I think going through all those experience-- and then my mom having to deal with my experience, with me, I think she has, like, a more clear view of how police work in America. Because to her, it was sort of, like -- originally, it was, like, "Well, Brian, what did you do with the police? What did -- did you do something to antagonize them?" Not realizing antagonation (sic) is not a defense for abusing a teenage child. You're already in a position of authority. 24:00So, I think going through all of that helped my mom kind of understand police, and she's not as scared to call them now. I was also scared to call them. I think that kind of -- it messed me up with my court situation and everything, because if I was the first one to call the police and I was the one to do the thing first, the way I would've been viewed going into court would have looked totally different -- instead of, you know, their father calling the police on me, because he doesn't want to pay child support -- and using the police as a sort of weapon, using the system as his strategic way of getting back at me. So, it's a lot of -- coming from, like, a West Indian background with West Indian parents, it's really a different point of view than, like, an American growing up here, dealing with the police, dealing with court, you know? They're 25:00not as -- looking at it, like, "Oh, these people are sketchy." With Americans, they'll run -- you know, 'cause that's what I saw with my kid's father. He ran to call the police. Me, I was more, like, "Okay, can we work this out? Can we -- oh, you have a -- attitude. We argued, okay. We got in a little tussle. Even though you left a bruise on me, I'm still not going to call the police on you." But it was more -- he's American, and it was more, like, he used the police, he went, filed complaints. I didn't even know you could do that without getting the person arrested. So, he went filing complaints to the police and everything. And I had no clue about all of this. So, yeah, coming from a West Indian family compared to an American family born here and who knows the system, it was kind of different, too. It kind of messes you up, going into court. It 26:00messed me up, because I was not prepared at all. I was not prepared how to deal with the police, how to speak to them. And with the situation that happened with my brother, I was already, like, "I don't even want to talk to the police." So, going through those situations now made me look at policing a whole different way. I don't know if I'm making sense, but it's sort of, like, understanding how -- what I didn't know, going through everything -- also, speaking to a lot of people who knew about the system for years, getting tips from them, it sort of made me have a different view on everything. Everything; policing, how policing works with the judicial system, how that's intertwined, and everything with that, so --


JOHNSON: So, you said there was a cultural difference between how you understood the police, as an immigrant --

FINLAY: Right.

JOHNSON: -- daughter of an immigrant, how native-born Americans will think about the police.

FINLAY: Right.

JOHNSON: Can you describe -- just tell me a little bit more about, like, how police operate in, let's say, Trinidad, and how, and how your mom's perception of what that would look like, as opposed to --

FINLAY: Right.

JOHNSON: -- what it looks like in the U.S.? Like, what was your understanding of your rights or -- in the --

FINLAY: In the --

JOHNSON: -- Trinidad situation and --?

FINLAY: In Trinidad -- I don't want to make it look bad, [laughter] because it's a very beautiful country. But with any place with people in power, there's going to be, you know, egos involved. So, it's kind of, like -- how could I explain this? Okay, it's sort of, like -- okay, let's take Trump, for example. 28:00Everything he's doing, no one would say anything in Trinidad. It would be more, like, "Okay, this is what's going on. They're wrong." You know, people in the streets would be, "Ah!" But it's sort of, like, this unspoken thing: "Ah, oh, it's -- okay, that's what's happening, but what can we do? Okay, huh." You know? They more just complain and talk, [laughter] talk about it. So, it's a -- and with the police, the police are, in some ways, more powerful than the government, because they control, they control, like, the safety. So, it's sort of, like -- say it's a village. And a village has builders, right? The police can control who the builders get -- whatever contracts. So, it's sort of, like, 29:00they're controlling your welfare and everything. So, people in the village were more -- want to -- you know, "What can we do?" You know? Try to bribe the police to work with them, you know? And, "Oh, I'll have sex with you." Or, "Oh, I'll give you this amount of drugs if you just, you know, do this for me." So, it's sort of that kind of -- not corrupt to the core, but it's sort of -- it's a lot of -- oh, sorry, it's a lot of politics along with police control going on out there. Because the police out there -- if you see them, they're more, like, military-type. So, people will look at them and not even want to, you know, bother them. So, I think, coming from that type of background, it's more, like, "Okay, the police do this. There's nothing we can do about it. Let's not get ever involved. If we don't have to bother them, leave them out," 30:00you know? So, I think coming from, like, a country where the police are in control like that, like a military kind of control, my mom didn't even want to bother with the police at all. Like, "I just don't want to bother with them at all."

JOHNSON: And so, you say that after the incident with your brother, Brian, and your own incident, something shifted in your mother in terms of what she understood about the police.

FINLAY: Right.

JOHNSON: And something -- tell me about that. Tell me what --

FINLAY: Because now --

JOHNSON: -- how that came, how you saw that?

FINLAY: I think it came when -- she knows the type of person I am. She knows, like, I'm far from violence. And to see her daughter -- like, the father calls the police, but to see her daughter being taken away by 15 police officers -- like, she even said that. Like, "Oh my God, all these people need to come just 31:00to take my daughter? Oh, my gosh. All these people?" Because it was literally about four police cars. Then, I guess, the ones on foot patrol started coming up. And it's all because he said I spoke to his mother, and it was a violation of the order of protection. So, my mom is, like, "Wait a minute. She violated an order of protection. He calls the cops, and 15 cops show up? What? Oh." So, I think, like, that happened twice to me. So, I think her seeing that, it's more like, "Oh, so we need to call them. We need to put our stuff on record. We need to let them know what's going on. Okay, we need to make a track record of things. We can't just sit back and let this man" -- my kids' father -- "do whatever he wants to do and abuse the police in the way he's doing." So, I think that -- and then knowing my brother was innocent, it was sort of, like, "Maybe we need to talk to them first instead of just acting like, you know, 32:00everything was okay." So, I think that helped shift her view.

JOHNSON: So -- and your father?

FINLAY: Well, he's my stepdad, but he's been there since 11. They're basically, like, Tweedle-dee and -- you know? They're -- so, he himself has never been arrested. They're, you know, almost 60. So, they're, like, in their late 50s. And he's never been arrested. He's never had to deal with the police. So, in certain ways he knew, you know, about child support and baby mama drama, and this -- we'll go file -- but in other ways, it was more, like, "Oh, he can use the order of protection just like that?" You know? So, I think in certain things, too, my dad knew, even -- 'cause he's American, my stepdad. But it still was, like, a lot of things he learned with me; going to court and seeing how order of protection could send 15 police to take little old me -- 33:00[laughter] because I spoke to his mother. So, I think they had a real different view of how to handle the police. And the police are really only doing their job. So, we need to get out information to the cops first so they can do their job, yeah.

JOHNSON: So, can you tell me what happened? I mean, you mentioned that in your email, so I'm really --

FINLAY: Oh, what --

JOHNSON: --with the whole situation.

FINLAY: Oh! [laughter] I'll just give, like, the short run-down version. Basically --

JOHNSON: No, you can tell the long story.

FINLAY: Okay. No, I was -- he -- I have two children. So, he's the father of both. He's never paid any child support, and I'm not sure how he was brought up, but he has the mentality of -- he'll take care of the children when they're there. But when he sends them with me, it's, like, it's my responsibility, even though I have them, like, 85 to 90% of the time. But nevertheless, I got tired 34:00of that, so I went to court. He -- you know, I was young. I was twenty-- went in court, that was 2000, so I was 24. So, he knew how to just antagonize me. He would ignore my calls. I would say, "The kids are starting school, I need help." He would ignore all of that. So, I just went and filed for child support and custody. He, in turn, I guess, when he got served with the papers, started his plan. And that's when -- it was a night -- we got into altercation, and he called me all kinds of names. And my hot-blooded self, I kind of -- I don't want to say things on record that -- so, in other words, we got into 35:00altercation. The police didn't even come during that altercation. We went home. I was, like, "Okay, I'm just going to leave him alone until the court date." Then, all of a sudden, one night, two detectives show up at my door. So, I was, like, okay, "Hello, officers." Like, you know, [laughter] what do you want?" So, my mom came, you know? So, from there, they basically took me in because he filed a domestic violence report based on the scratches on the back of his hand. So, I said, "But those were my -- wound -- I gave you those wounds because you wouldn't let me go. I was scratching your hand to let me go. You wouldn't let me go." [laughter] So, that was, like, okay, so, I guess basically the whole time I was in bookings, from Saturday to Monday, I was just kind of blown away that I am arrested because I was defending myself. And they 36:00took his marks as me attacking him. So, I basically got arrested for defending myself. So, that was, like, how that started. Then that just started a whole kind of avalanche of things, because once I got arrested, it was, like, even though I filed for child support, they were looking at me, like -- okay, he filed for child support. He's filed for custody. And I'm sitting here like, "Oh my God." So, while I was in bookings, he went and did all of this, so -- and then, it was another time -- I had visitation with the kids. And he -- I can't remember how exactly that started. But he was going to let them go with me. I was getting ready to leave. He came over and started pulling the kids 37:00out the car. So, I know one of my neighbors called the police because they saw him pulling the kids out of the car. Like, what the hell? What's going on? So, he -- when the police came, he told the police he has an order of protection. So, this was the second time I got arrested. He has an order of protection, and "she's taken the children" -- although he said I can take them. So, then I got arrested again. I was just, like, I can't believe this. I can't believe he's really using the police and filing reports as a way to get back at me. So, it was more -- I saw how my not going to the police-- that night that I had a huge bruise on my arm-- my not going, got me in all of this trouble. Like, I should have just went to the police, filed a report on that bruise, and then that would have, you know, shown, "Wait a minute, this is the same day? Okay, we're going to arrest him, too." Let him spend nights in bookings, too, 38:00because we were both fighting. So, it was kind of, like, I saw how he used the police as a weapon and how the detective didn't even want to cuff me the first night. The first night, when the order of protection was set in place. He didn't even want to cuff me in front of my kids. So, I was so thankful for that; was, like, "Wow, he's a cop, you know?" Sorry I'm getting emotional, but, "He's a cop and he is not arresting me." I'm a Black woman. He could take me and put me away, [laughter] you know? But he really -- wow, respected me enough not to cuff me in front of my kids. So, that made me look at police officers in a way, like, they had a heart. Because I've seen them -- you know, they come and they take -- and they're very violent. But then, this officer was -- he was 39:00so considerate, and he was so understanding that that alone, that one experience -- even though it was, like, horrible, and it was the first time I was arrested, it made me look at police in a whole different way. Like, he's just doing his job. He really is just doing his job. I can't -- how can I be mad at him for doing his job? But at least he didn't cuff me in front of my kids. So, from that -- and then, the experience I had, you know, going forward with the police. So, it was more, like, one Black officer, while -- because, you know, me getting locked up for domestic violence, it made me look like I was the aggressor. So, while in court, I filed a normal court -- regular court. So, him filing that domestic violence case made us go to, like, a -- Integrated Domestic Violence unit. So, we were back and forth in there for about three 40:00years. So, all through that time, I literally got advice from police officers. One police officer, she-- Black female-- she told me, like, you know, "Never give up." She was, like -- her mother lost custody of her brother the same way. "So, don't stop going to court." She said, "It's going to be a long road." This was, like, the first year. She said, "It's going to be a long road, but keep going to court." She told me, "No matter what" -- she said, "If you're tired, you're sick, keep going to court. Don't give up, 'cause you'll get your kids back. But don't give up." Because the second time I was arrested, he went to the courts and got temporary custody. So, I had to go and deal with that. So, all through -- it was, like, every step, he tried to screw me over -- it was sort of, like, an officer there to give me, like, the backhanded, "Do this, do 41:00that, talk to this one, talk to that one. Go to all of your appearance in courts. Don't miss this." So, throughout the whole process, it was more Black officers helping me; giving me little advice. Because they could see and tell that, "Wow, this woman, she doesn't seem like she knows much about the system." And I guess they could tell I could use their advice. So, throughout the four years, it was mainly officers giving me advice. So, that's where my view, like, changed, like, 360 [laughter] on the view of police. Because I was, like, sure, they have their bad -- you know, the bad ones out there who -- it goes to their head. But it also has those police officers who truly care and want to help people. Like, they're there to really, really protect and serve. So, yeah, I'm 42:00sorry for getting emotional. That's, like, a -- [laughter] yeah.

JOHNSON: What year was this?

FINLAY: This was -- it started late 2008. And I finally filed officially in February 2009. So, no, I was 29. But we were dealing with this back and forth since -- it felt like my entire 20s, I was trying to get child support from him, without going through courts. So, yeah, I went to court, I filed that in February 2009. I filed that, yeah.

JOHNSON: So, who are the police officers that helped you? Were they -- I mean, could you kind of describe them? And what was, what was the difference between that situation, in terms of the police officers, and-- who were part of the 43:00situation-- and what happened with your brother? I mean, was there, like, something really different about them?

FINLAY: Yeah. I think more -- with my brother, him running, they saw him as, "What did you do? You're guilty. You're running. You did something." But with me, it was more, like, "I don't know -- what the hell? Oh, my God, he did what? He got -- what?" So, I think they saw, like, my natural reactions. And naturally, like, as a human being, wanted to help. Not even as an officer; like, as a regular human being, they just saw, like, the hurt and pain I was going through. And they didn't want to add to it. So, I think from that -- from, I guess -- my reaction was how the cops reacted to me. So, that's why 44:00going forward, I always tell, like, my son and daughter, "If a cop asks you to show ID, take out your school -- just listen. You can make that -- you know, the time the police stop you so much easier if you just do what they say. They're just doing their job." So, yeah, from there, I think I got off track with that one. So, but, yeah, going forward, I always tell my kids, you know, sure, you're going to -- you never know when you'll come across that officer who's one of those officers who wants to give you a hard time. But if you don't give him anything, [laughter] he has to let you go. So, it's sort of, like, I teach my kids not to do what my brother did. [laughter] And sort of, like, "Okay, if you see the police, don't run. If you see they -- don't -- just, you know, follow through. Do what they ask you if it's in reasonable -- you know, 45:00and just follow through. Don't make the cop's job more difficult than it needs to be." So, I have a really different view on police. And then, also, working in the community, I've seen -- at the community board meetings, they have precinct meetings where you can actually go and meet the people at your -- police officers at your precinct. And they're actually at every other, if not every, community board meeting. So, it's sort of, like, they're interested in the community, too. They want to make a difference, also. So, that whole experience just made me look at them a whole different way. It made me look at them like human beings, not just, like, people with a badge who think they're all bad. So, yeah.

JOHNSON: And what precinct was this?

FINLAY: The 71st Precinct.


JOHNSON: You know, you talked about community work. So, can you tell me more about that? What you do and --

FINLAY: Oh, I --

JOHNSON: -- how you've become involved, or --?

FINLAY: I'm more trying with my block. [laughter] So, we're trying to get the block association back up and running. It's been kind of hard, but --

JOHNSON: And this is on Union Street.

FINLAY: Union Street. But I've been active with the armory fight. So, I've been active with that the past few years. So, I've been active in meetings. They had a -- what was it? A -- not a visioning session, but they had a session where you actually came and you got to give feedback on what you want the armory to be. So, I've been collecting news, sending that out to the block, letting them know, like, you know, everything that's going on. And I've been working with the president of the block association. So, I'm, like, the acting 47:00vice-president, but I don't really want that. So, I'm more -- I'm not -- like, what would you call it? A gung-ho -- I'm at every community event, but I'm more, like, with the block, with my block, and getting information to them. And also, with the armory, I'm, like, a rallier for that, too, so -- yeah.

JOHNSON: And, I mean, how does, how does policing come into play; in some of the things that you see, the meetings you go to, the --?

FINLAY: Oh, yeah. The -- was it? A couple years ago -- it's -- she has a organization -- I can't remember the name of it. It's a tenants' right organization, basically, for -- you know, to fight against landlords who --

JOHNSON: Crown Heights Tenants Union?

FINLAY: No, it's another one. And they were more -- they were fighting for, 48:00like, the commercialization on Empire? They were fighting against that. But her name is Alicia Boyd. So, she would come in the meeting and just rile everyone up. So, you know, no one -- like, that's my neighbor. I don't want to tell her, you know, "Calm down." So, the police, they were so -- they know her. So, it's kind of, like, "Alicia! Alicia! Miss Boyd!" You know? So, it's kind of, like -- even with that, they're still -- like, they're -- the police are, like, a part of the community, because they know the dealings and the crazy ones [laughter] in the community. So, they come in with that, kind of to just keep the peace in community affairs, because they do have -- I went to a scoping meeting Tuesday, that night. And it just had this guy, and he's just yelling 49:00across the room! And who was there to kind of keep the peace? The community affairs officers, because you -- as your neighbor -- I know if my neighbor's yelling, I'll be -- yeah, I'll kind of want to support them. I don't want to shut them up, so -- but at the same time, I want the meeting to go forward. So, someone needs to tell them to -- so, that's where the community affairs police come in, without too much tension starting up and -- someone else yelling out, "Shut up!" You know? Because somebody will probably -- "Shut up!" And they keep the peace very, very good, at these meet-- and they're very knowledgeable. They know, like, what's going on. They go to the precinct meetings. So, they're very knowledgeable of the area, too.

JOHNSON: You talked about, early in the interview, what Crown Heights was like before, right? In the '90s, right?


JOHNSON: And now, you're -- can you, can you describe what you see are the 50:00differences between then and now?

FINLAY: Now -- stop and frisk was a lot more prevalent. I grew up -- well, with Prospect Heights -- so, I went to Clara Barton, so I knew a lot of the guys and a good amount of females that went to Prospect Heights. And I lived right around the corner from, like, President Street. They're not angels. I'm not -- you know, they weren't angels growing up. So, I'm -- I don't want to make it seem like they were being harassed for no reason. But they -- the police would harass them on a regular basis. So, say, four or five people would stand at the corner. The next thing, maybe no more than a half hour later, a cop car will be pulling up there. "What are you guys doing here?" So, it was, like, all of that during the '90s that had me looking at the police, like, "So we can't even 51:00stand on the corner? And every time, they got to come and say something." So, it was more like that during the '90s. It felt like an annoyance, in a way. But as I got older and I had children, I was kind of, like, "Yeah, I don't want all those people hanging out on the corner." And my daughter's walking by. She's wearing a skirt, and then -- "Yeah, I don't want all those guys hanging on the corner." So, growing up during the '90s, I think I had a different mentality than now. So, now, it's like I could kind of understand why they wanted them off the corner. But at the time, it was more, like -- it felt like harassment, in a way. But being older, I could understand why, totally, yes.

JOHNSON: So, is there anything more you want to say about that, or --?


FINLAY: No, it was basically that. I think that helped to spearhead the gentrification in the neighborhood, because a lot of the -- I know a lot of people that actually had to move. I know some people who got deported back to their country. So, a lot of families sort of got broken up around that time, too, which left, like -- if you take away a breadwinner, even though he's selling drugs, you know, his mother can't pay rent. So, she has to go, and then, "Oh, an apartment's free! Wait a minute, let's split this up into three bedroom and charge $2,000!" So, in ways, I think it helped to, like, exceed the gentrif-- not exceed, but push along the gentrification during the 2000s, also.

JOHNSON: So, could you clarify what helped push gentrification?

FINLAY: The police and tactics in Crown Heights during the '90s, because I know 53:00a lot of people that went to jail for a long time or got deported. And a couple of them were, like, the breadwinners of the family. So, once they're gone -- you know, and then I know a couple people who lost -- the house is foreclosed on, because they couldn't -- you know, with the rising cost of everything, they couldn't afford to pay and maintain their homes. So, with the lack of help -- like, nowadays, we have our assemblywoman, Crown Heights Tenant Union, that -- they give you resources so you don't have to leave. But during that time, it was more, like, the slumlords: "Oh, he got locked up? Okay!" They're going to kick you out and move this one in who's going to pay higher rent. So, I think during that time, a lot of families -- it was a lot going on. I don't know if it was just people I knew --

JOHNSON: And this was during the --

FINLAY: The '90s. During the '90s. So, it was a lot of, like, stop and frisk, 54:00people getting arrested, families broken up. And it was a lot of apartments in here -- around here that -- I think, like, in the late '90s, early 2000s, people started looking at -- eyeing -- the landlords started looking at it, eyeing -- you know, they're more into the market and things. So, it's, like, "Oh, we have this many apartments, we're in this proximity. They're building this here. Oh, we can start raising rents!" Because it was 2003, around there I saw, the rents-- in this area-- started just shooting up, shooting up. You can find a one bedroom for $800-900, like, in the nine, in the '90s. So, I think a lot of the stop and frisk and the aggressive policing in the area broke up a lot of families and homes, and people had to move and-- yeah, uproot out of Crown 55:00Heights, because of lack of resources, also-- not just policing, so--

JOHNSON: How do you feel about the changes to the community now? What's your take on that?

FINLAY: I'm on the -- I know a lot of people who don't like it. But to me, it's kind of, like, "But what was there before? Nothing. So, something is there now. What's the problem?" [laughter] So, it's kind of, like, I don't mind it. To me, the neighborhood is more lively, you know. It's just the kicking out of the long-term residents I don't agree with. But as far as, like, Franklin Avenue? I am so glad to see it the way it is now. It was sort of, like, a drug haven over there between -- it was Franklin and Lincoln Place; that area was, like, a drug haven. And I don't know if people really knew that, but 56:00it was a lot of selling of drugs going on around there. So, to see that whole corridor -- sort of, like, stores; a pet store, I think a bookstore recently opened. I was, like, this is good! How can people not like this? So, I like it. To me, I'm all for it. But the luxury developments, I don't think, really fit the area. This is not Central Park West and -- you know? So, the luxury housing, I'm kind of sort of like -- some of it is okay, but to overtake the entire neighborhood. I don't agree with that part of the gentrification, yeah.

JOHNSON: So, I mean, in your experience now, how are you seeing the police? I 57:00mean, given all the community changes, and how they do their jobs?

FINLAY: I could only really speak for, like, the 71st Precinct, but it's a, it's a good difference. It's not the kind of -- even when the rookies are walking around, it's not that -- you don't feel like they're watching you walking down the road and watching my son, you know? And kind of profiling. I don't feel they do that in the neighborhood anymore. I know they used to do that a lot back in the '90s and early 2000s. But now, I think the police in my precinct, 71st Precinct, they don't really profile people like that anymore. I mean, they would stop you and pull you over. But if you're not doing anything 58:00-- show your, you know, registration, license, and keep going. So, to me, I don't think they single out and -- they're more policing the area as a whole instead of -- just, like, this street and that street and that street. So, think it's gotten a lot better, a lot better.

JOHNSON: And, I mean, in terms of safety -- I mean, what's -- how -- describe to me how -- what makes you feel safe?

FINLAY: Well, the police don't make me feel safe. [laughter] To me, they help -- they're more, like -- they help keep order, because, I think, there was -- a few shootings, maybe late last year or sometime, around on Franklin -- like, within Franklin and Union Street, and then Franklin and Lincoln Place. So, it's 59:00still lack of resources in the area. And once, there -- lack of resources in the area, lack of opportunities for children to work in the area, lack of things for children into the area, there's always going to be a small component -- no matter how gentrified, no matter, you know, what you try to build and make look nice, if you're not providing resources to the children in the area, children are going to find something to do. And if they're 19, 20 with no skills, and all they know how to do is sell drugs, we might end up -- they're still people like -- I don't like to label, but there're still people out there who make their living that way. And they're still living in this area. So, if you're not providing the resources for people to kind of uplift themselves, there's still going to be some sort of violence. Someone retaliating against someone 60:00because they sold or -- you know, it's not as widespread as it was, you know, in the '90s and 2000s. But there's still that little, missing -- underlying missing piece on Crown Heights that people don't know about that -- compared to a lot of other areas, like Bed-Stuy and even Bushwick, they have a lot of social service support. Crown Heights, I know CAMBA provides something, but that's also in Flatbush. It seems like -- even me growing up, I had to go -- Flatbush, Downtown Brooklyn. There're not -- resources enough in the area for the youth. So, there --the police could do the best job. Look at J'ouvert; so it's, like, they -- I remember they did the whole walk, they handed out flyers, "It's just a 61:00peaceful--" It was still the kind of gang-banging guys retaliating against each other in the gang. So --

JOHNSON: I mean, looking across at all the different people who live in Crown Heights, I know the Hassidim are a core --

FINLAY: Right.

JOHNSON: -- constituency. Can you describe what your point-of-view is in terms of the police and the Hassidim and --?

FINLAY: [laughter] I mean, it's sort -- it's still -- I guess I still have my biases with that. But sometimes it looks like they get special treatment. But then, I'm realistic. I'm, like -- I'm always one to step back and analyze and not let my feelings kind of take over. So, I step back and analyze why. And 62:00then, I understand. If I go, if I go like-- I'm West Indian. So, we come from that. We -- that's our culture, so we know we're not going out there to fight. We're not going out there to start trouble. This is more, like, a -- it's -- it was started as a rebirth for Lent. So, it's sort of -- Carnival is, like, that -- all your fun before Lent. A lot of people don't understand that and they come with a kind of drama vibe. And then, I go to -- like, a soca fete, that's what we call the parties. And they'll throw bottles, and this one is peeing in the corner, and this one is over there fight-- it was -- but meanwhile, if you go to one of the Hasidic community events, you don't see that. You're not 63:00seeing people throwing bottles, and even if it gets a little rowdy, people are not getting violent to the point where they're -- I remember someone got beaten to a pulp. He was, like, in a coma for -- and he died. Like, people are -- and this is my Black people; I love them, but in certain situations, you scare people. [laughter] I mean, if I see a crowd of people running, I'm going to think something violent's going on in there. And I'm not going in there with just one or two officers. I'm calling a whole trail of officers to go. So, you know, a lot of people in the -- that community don't realize how they make the police react to them, also. So, it's kind of, like, "Okay, when we go out, we're all adults. Let's all behave. If you're not behaving and then you get us stigmatized and now, like, we can't even have any big fetes in Brooklyn because 64:00of that." But then, the Hasidics, they come and they go to the armory. Sure, with a crowd, it's always going to be mess. But no one was, like, peeing all over people's stuff. No one is there fighting, where they have to call police, and someone's leaving in an ambulance. I mean, as the police who see it every day, I have to look at it from that point of view. It's sort of, like, "Okay, the Hasidics, this is -- I can handle this." And then it's when it's like, "Oh, a soca party. Oh, God. Bring -- let's -- okay, overtime for" -- you know? It's, like -- so, it is sort of like that tale of two cities, where -- when it comes to police having to deal with my sort of community and the Hasidics. So, I know people may call me prejudice, whatever. But I call it like it is. I 65:00love my brown people, but sometimes they're a bit much, yeah.

JOHNSON: So, you just mentioned favoritism. What does that look like? You know, in terms of, like --

FINLAY: Sort of, like, the Labor Day Parade having to end at a certain time for their religious event. So, sort of, like, "Okay, we have to stop at five o'clock," so, that we have, every year, for the past 30-something years because of their -- but then, if the shoe was on the other foot, like, "You're not taking away stuff from them for us. You're making--" We have to accommodate around a certain kind of box. Meanwhile, you're accommodating for them in a certain kind of box. So, I think, with me, that's what it used to look like until I really got involved with the community; started speaking to, you know, 66:00some of the members from that community. They look at it the same way. They're going through the same things as us. They need space. You know, you can't get mad at them for getting homes and being able to keep their homes and pass it down. 'Cause I hear a lot of that, too. Like, oh, they get this cheap, and it's sort of, like -- but that's like my mother passing the house to me, and then me passing it to my kids. You can't really look at that as, like, favoritism. If you get the money and then you go buy -- because I hear a lot of people say, "Jews are," like, you know, "taking over and buying up everything." But it's sort of, like, "But you get together with your partner and try to do it, too." [laughter] It's, like -- it's not -- things nowadays, it's not so much black and white. It's not, "Oh, you're this color." It's more, like, "Okay, you have the money, we'll rent to you." So, it's not an excuse, to say they're 67:00getting this or getting that, to react a certain way or not even try. Because even though the Jews will get, maybe, a permit for something, I would still try and go get a permit for what I need to do, also. I'm not just going to, "Oh, they got it and, oh, see, the police are -- yeah." No. "Did you guys go through the proper process of, you know, filing with the community board, notifying the police department? There are steps you have to take, also. You can't just think I live here and--" No, and, "You probably didn't follow the steps that they did." So, it's sort of -- it's, like, that tension is still there. But for me, my personal stuff, I don't, like, let it -- the face value of it make me biased. I step back and realistically think about things, and going-- the community meetings and speaking to people-- helps, really helps a lot. 'Cause, you know, on the outside, if you never speak to someone from the 68:00Hasidic community, I would have never known that they're looking for community space. And, you know, their rent is going up high, too. I mean -- and sometimes, there are seven people living in that one family house. So, they have it hard, too. It's -- we're all human. We're all struggling. So, I don't look at it as the way I used to look at it when I first moved here. Yeah, I don't look at them the same way, either.

JOHNSON: And in terms of their relationship with policing, what's your --

FINLAY: I don't think they're much -- they more stay to themselves. But then, at the same times, we do. But I think it's more of a -- I stop at, like, the West Indian markets and things. We just eat different things. And they have stores to provide for what they eat and what they bake. Their clothes, I don't wear. So, of course, they're going to have tailors and stuff for their clothes. 69:00So, yeah, I don't -- I think it's more that than "I'm staying away from you and I'm not going over there and--" because I know a lot of people who actually ate at that diner on Empire and Kingston, and it's a Jewish diner. But they still went -- they go support them, too. So, yeah.

JOHNSON: So, is there anything more you'd like to say about -- sort of your experience --

FINLAY: Experience?

JOHNSON: -- in Crown Heights and your relationship with law or, you know, police or your work in the community? Is there anything you feel like you left out that you want to speak on?

FINLAY: No, no. Just that with a lot of the community events, I know it's some -- I'm not sure what year they started the community police -- like, community 70:00affairs police? But I think that's a -- it's a good idea with that. I think it makes it -- like, when you see them showing up to -- it was, like, this barbecue I went to. They had it in the park over by Betsy Head, so it was, like -- it was a Duck Down BBQ, so it was a lot of rappers there and everything. And to have the police in community affairs t-shirts instead of, like, their full, you know, uniform, badge, and -- it, it lets them -- it feels more relaxed with them like that. So, I could say, with the NYPD creating that community affairs division, it helps. Because even the reaction from, like -- you know, I know those rapper guys, even the reaction from them; it's not, like -- 'cause, you know, they're smoking if we're outside, so isn't -- it's more, like, "Oh, okay." They're not feeling as, like, "Oh, we got to go over there," you know? They 71:00more feel, like, "Oh, they're here for community event." They already know what's going on. They're not paying me attention like that, so, eh, you know? So, I've seen that reaction from the guys, too, yeah. So, that's an add-- that's a positive step, I think, yeah.

JOHNSON: So, your view of the police at this point?

FINLAY: Favorable. I think they still have work to do in other precincts, because I have come across some police that -- is kind of, like, "Okay, you're -- okay, okay, you had a bad day today. I'll just let you go." But I think they're, like, in the step in the right direction. And I'm also on the right side of the law, so I'm not, you know, scared of them or anything, yeah, like that. So, I think they're getting better. But it's hard in a city like New 72:00York City, so [laughter] yeah.

JOHNSON: All right. Well, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.

FINLAY: Yeah, and --

JOHNSON: I really --

FINLAY: -- thank you.

JOHNSON: -- appreciate your honesty and capacity for understanding both sides.


JOHNSON: And your story; your story's amazing.

FINLAY: Thank you.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Alisha Finlay

Thirty-seven years of age at the time of the 2017 interview, Alisha Finlay was born in Boston, Massachusetts to parents from Trinidad. Many of her relatives settled in New York City, and her immediate family followed by relocating to the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn when Finlay was still a child. Finlay's social life as a teenager was split between keeping in touch with Bushwick contacts while acclimating to her family's later residence in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Finlay attended Clara Barton High School in Crown Heights. A mother of two in her twenties, Finlay later needed to sever ties with the children's father; leading to altercations with him, arrests and advice from police officers, and encounters with the judicial system. In 2017, she was participating in local community affairs and held a position with the Union Street Block and Civic Association.

In the interview, Alisha Finlay recalls her childhood, her teens, and feelings about living in the Bushwick and Crown Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn; noting their differences. She refers to her recollection and understanding of the August, 1991 uprising in Crown Heights, as well as the secondhand experiences of relatives. Much of the interview turns on Finlay's experiences and evolving opinions on policing; on the level of cultural understanding and on a level of her personal encounters with police. That subject leads into her discussion of gentrification and what she favors and dislikes about its effect on Crown Heights. In closing, Finlay also notes the influence of the Hasidic community on the area. Interview conducted by Walis Johnson.

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.


Finlay, Alisha, Oral history interview conducted by Walis Johnson, March 09, 2017, Voices of Crown Heights oral histories, 2016.027.2.02; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Finlay, Alisha
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department


  • African Americans
  • Community development
  • Community organizing
  • Crime
  • Gangs
  • Gentrification
  • Housing
  • Neighborhoods
  • Parents
  • Police-community relations
  • Racism
  • Riots
  • Trinidadian Americans


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


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Finding Aid

Voices of Crown Heights oral histories