Monday, October 22, 2012

Justice Community Works With Artists to Restore Community Mural on US Post Office

We began our collaboration with Ralph Perez and Xmental when they were contracted by the Department of Probation to install a mural here at our shared offices in the Brooklyn NeON.  Two of our members, Sean and Pedro, who have a particular interest in art, collaborated with Ralph and his crew to help select some of the imagery and do some of the painting.

Next we collaborated on a big mural restoration in Betsy Head Park.  As part of Probation week we brought out several dozen volunteers -- Probation and Center for Court Innovation staff, probationers, YMI participants and staff (including East New York Justice Community), and restored a substantial community mural and concrete bleachers next to the baseball field and track at the center of this major community park. 

Many of our members took this as an ongoing weekly project as well, returning to complete the entire site (below).

Finally, our partnership culminated in the restoration of two mural panels on the front of the United States Post Office for 11212 on Bristol Street.  At this location, two murals were over twenty years old and chipped and faded almost beyond recognition, which originally depicted images honoring the community's graduates and seniors respectively.  The District Manager of Community Board 16 brought us together with the U.S. Postal Service to collaborate on restoring these panels.  Through discussions together, we decided to install new murals depicting an updated version of the imagery of graduates on one side and a variety of images depicting an intergenerational Brownsville on the other side.

Our members cleaned up the weeds and trash around the building, and scraped, sanded, and primed the panels (below).   At the same time members took pictures of things that symbolized daily life in Brownsville to them, which were collected and used by Ralph to help select images for the new murals. 

Then, Xmental brought a crew of five amazing urban artists to install the new artwork.  Two of our members, Dexter and Jayquan came out to help with the set up and painting for the art installation.

To me, our collaboration with Xmental together with another one of my other favorite collaborations this year with Groundswell to install a monumental art piece on the side of a building next to a community garden that invites conversation with all the viewers in this prominent location regarding the past, present, and future of their identity (below) represents the true justice reinvestment that I hope the Mayor's Young Men's Initiative delivers. 

Our members are engaging in incredible service learning while making real, tangible community beneifts.  And through art, they are engaging with the community and giving a voice and a stake to young people in the revitalization of the neighborhood. 

-Benjamin Smith

Justice Community
Program Coordinator

Friday, October 12, 2012


The Brownsville Youth Court Application has been extended to Monday, October 15, 2012 by 5 PM. If you have any questions, please contact BYC staff via email at or via phone at 347-404-9587.

The application can be completed by:

1. Downloading the application Here
2. Completing the application online Here

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Justice Community Members Complete Their Program

This past Thursday, October 9, 2012, at the Brownsville Justice Community program we gathered to honor 11 of our program members who were completing their participation.  These young people, approximately half being referrals from Probation and half being court-involved community members who applied as walk-in's or signed up at a youth enrollment fair, aged 16-24 and nearly all residing in Community Board 16, have each excelled in the program and were ready to complete their participation and enter their aftercare period.

Each of them are accomplishing personal goals such as high school attendance, high school graduation, continuing their job search, receiving scholarship funding to participate in a mediation training apprenticeship program, and beginning a year-long term of AmeriCorps service.  From the Justice Community program each of the members will receive final stipend payments, portfolios, work attire from Career Gear, and Brownsville Recreation Center memberships if interested.

Congratulations to Jayquan, Andre, Yaritza, Quidill, Tjuan, Jaydell, Dante, Kenroy, Ashley, Shaniqua, and Sean!  And finally, thank you to to all of the members this year for helping us to shape and create this new program together.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Brownsville's Anti-Violence Project Receives Federal Funding

On Tuesday, September 25, 2012, at a press conference attended by community leaders, local officials, and representatives from several federal agencies, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, through its Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program, awarded $600,000 in grant funding to the Brownsville Community Justice Center to support Brownsville’s Anti-Violence Project.  The press conference was held in the Heritage Room at the Stone Avenue branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. 

Launched in August, the Anti-Violence Project seeks to improve public safety in Brownsville and enhance local perceptions of justice.  The project will pursue these goals through two major efforts.  First, monthly “call-in” forums where parolees returning to the neighborhood meet with law enforcement, social service providers, and ex-offenders who have put their lives back on track.  Participants at these meetings receive a targeted, three-pronged message: that future violent behavior will be rigorously prosecuted at the state and federal levels; that many ex-offenders have successfully and positively re-entered the community; and that individuals seeking help will receive the community and service providers’ support.  The second major effort involves a public education campaign to promote non-violence and promote cooperation between residents and local law enforcement. 

Many of the project’s community and government partners addressed the crowd gathered at the press conference.  U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch observed that the gun violence in Brownsville was something that “we can’t prosecute our way out of… but we will prosecute [those who participate in violence].”  Her remarks were echoed by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes who focused on the Anti-Violence Project’s commitment to re-entry services for parolees returning to the community.  New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly emphasized the drastic drop in crime rates around the city while acknowledging the need for greater strides in communities like Brownsville.  Commissioner Kelly expressed the Department’s enthusiastic commitment to the Anti-Violence Project saying, “[The NYPD] is open to any good ideas for reducing crime.”

One of the stars of the conference was Mark Tanis of the Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District, who passionately described his life-long ties to Brownsville and expressed the desire to see the neighborhood’s streets returned to the safer thoroughfares he fondly remembered from his youth. On behalf of the community he conveyed the hope that this grant funding would be put to good use.  He finished by saying, “the more shoulders, the lighter the load.”  Denise O’Donnell, Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, remarked that while the library was a beautiful and incredible asset to the neighborhood, “one of the greatest assets is clearly community members [like Mark Tanis].”

Many community members in attendance had questions about the program, specifically seeking information about how funds will be distributed and the selection process for hiring the Anti-Violence Project Coordinator.  James Brodick, Project Director for the Brownsville Community Justice Center, responded, saying, “We’re committed to hiring locally – and we already have team members [at the Justice Center]… .”  from the community, many of  whom were present at the event.  Brodick went on to explain that the grant called for a six-month planning process during which time input would be solicited from community stakeholders to help determine how the project’s funds would be expended to maximize the grant’s impact.

Tuesday was a great day for Brownsville.  With the help of local partners, community leaders and the federal funding, the prospects for Brownsville’s future are growing brighter every day.

For information about the new initiative contact Deron Johnston, Project Director, Brownsville Community Justice Center, at 347-404-9587.

For further details including links to other press coverage and audio excerpts from the event visit the website of the Center For Court Innovation website, here

Conflict Resolution and Mediation Training in Brownsville

Conflict.  As we seek both to reduce nieghborhood conflicts (especially those that lead to gun violence) while also working with our the members of our Justice Community program to help them achieve their educational, job readiness, and pro-social potential, we realized early that helping people acquire new skills and approaches for dealing with interpersonal and group conflict was very important.

We're proud to say that on August 29, 2012, twenty members of our Justice Community program took part in a day long Conflict Resolution workshop led by the expert staff from the New York Peace Institute.  In the training, our members discussed the types of conflicts they typically encounter, the types of responses they use, how those responses do or don't work for them, then learned and tried out a wider array of responses, in the process becoming cognizent that no one approach is necessarily better, but that we have a choice from among an array of different styles that we can use and each may lead to different results.

Following the training, two members who expressed interest in learning more were able to go on to participate in a five day mediation training, together with professionals from around the City, also lead by the New York Peace Institute, and one of those members will also continue, starting this week, in their apprenticeship program which may lead to formal approval as a trained mediator.

In the future, other members of the program will take the mediation training and may be eligible for the apprenticeship program as well.  The goal is to develop the abilities of young people in the neighborhood to respond to conflict creatively.  We hope that these young people will inform, inspire, and teach others!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pitkin Avenue Graffiti Cleanup

The Brownsville Community Justice Center, in partnership with the Kings County District Attorney's Office, provides low-level offender an alternative to incarceration while addressing problems in their community. The goal is doing meaningful service projects in Brownville to improve the community and by targeting litter and vandalism to show that justice works.

The community service program partners with the Pitkin Avenue BID to cover graffiti on Pitkin Avenue.  This week we tackled several locations:
1522 Pitkin Avenue 
If you are a community member who knows of a quality-of-life concern in the Brownsville community that our crew could help address, please contact Dwayne Lashley, at 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mural Dedication

We had a wonderful and inspiring event on Thursday, August 30, 2012 in Brownsville for the dedication of the Groundswell mural "Yesterday I Was ______, Today I Am ________, Tomorrow I Will Be _______",  sponsored by the Brownsville Community Justice Center and which six of our Justice Community members worked on to research plan, design, and install.  Working as part of a team made up exclusively of young men, they spent the summer creating their vision of role models and the male identity.  In addition to these core members who completed their internship working on the mural, other program members assisted with the painting as well.  The project is located at the Student Farm Project a new community garden and teaching space (connected to PS 323), which the Justice Community has also assisted with construction as a community benefit project.  The site of the monumental work is a high traffic area in a prominent location in the heart of the neighborhood and the mural is visible and legible from as far as the train station several blocks away.  The truly amazing design that these young people executed invites all segments of the community, young, old, male, and female into a conversation about changing identity.

The youth artists, our program members, Department of Probation staff, folks from the Center for Economic Opportunity and the Mayor's office, Groundswell staff and board members, neighborhood residents, family, friends, news media, as well as Commissioner Schiraldi, the principal of PS 323, and the founder of the Student Farm Project were all in attendance.   

Members of the Justice Community program also enjoyed meeting some of the animal residents of the farm!

For more on the reaction to this new work, check out this story about Groundswell's summer murals in the New York Times' City Room Blog.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Alley Pond Park Adventure Course

On August 11, 2012, Brownsville Youth Court members, in conjunction with the Greenpoint Youth Court, took a trip to the Alley Pond Park Adventure Course to participate in team building and leadership exercises. Members challenged themselves and worked together to problem solve and accomplish a shared goal. The day was filled with challenging activities that were both fun and empowering to the Youth Court members. Some of the highlights are showcased in the pictures below.

Brownsville Youth Court Members get ready for a day of excitement and adventure at Alley Pond Park Adventure Course.
 One of the activities required the group to get each member over the log, which was raised 7 feet off the ground. The members practiced trust falls and how to support each other before starting the activity. On the way up, Christal was happy and excited, but was a little nervous to come down

As 3 court members managed to get up the 40 foot pole, they ran into trouble as the fourth member attempted to join them on the platform. However, that did not stop these adventurous young people from completing the task!

Here the members are supporting one another on the tight rope. As two Greenpoint Youth Court members rely on each other to begin the activity, they receive support from fellow Brownsville Youth Court members to get to the finish.

Brownsville Youth Court members, Christal and Tynesia, try to hold on and balance each other on the tight rope. Half-way to the finish!

Brownsville Youth Court and Greenpoint Youth Court had a day full of fun and
 adventure at Alley Pond Park.

Brownsville Youth Court's Summer of Service

Over the last three months, the Brownsville Youth Court members have dedicated 115 hours of community service throughout the Brownsville community. In addition to conducting hearings on a weekly basis, the members gave extra time to give back to Brownsville. Check out their contributions to the community below.

On June 30, 2012, the Brownsville Youth Court assisted in the grand opening of a new Community Garden located on Powell Street and Livonia Avenue. The members were out in the community informing residents of the Garden’s location and all of the healthy options available at the Garden’s Farmer’s Market such as delicious homemade candies and fresh vegetables from the garden.


On July 7, 2012 The Brownsville Youth Court set up a Face Painting station and turned the young kids into characters of their choice at the Pitkin Summer Plazas. A fun day was had by all. The Pitkin Summer Plazas is annual event sponsored by The Pitkin Avenue BID, the Brownsville Partnership, and Shoppers World. Pitkin Avenue went car-free from Strauss Street to Amboy! Activities included games, fitness classes, and educational resources for the youth.


On August 7, 2012, the Brownsville Youth Court participated in the 73rd Police Precinct’s annual National Night Out Against Crime event at Betsy- Head park.  The Youth Court members interacted with Brownsville’s youth population with a ball toss game. Each young person was given two opportunities to win a gold medal. In addition, the members encouraged fellow peers to avoid violence by handing out “Peace” buttons.

Brownsville Youth Court members with police dog, Scruff McGruff.

A young man trying his best to win a goal medal!

Youth Court member, Tynesia, engaging a young person from Brownsville.


On August 8, 2012, the Groundswell Mural Project, in collaboration with the Center for Court Innovation and the Student Farm Project, worked to complete a mural on at 514 Rockaway Ave.

Youth Court member, Christal, contributing her artistic abilities to the Mural Project.


On August 10, 2012, Youth Court members visited our community service partners at the True Holy Church Food Pantry. The members packed over 200 bags of food to be handed out to local residents in need.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Brooklyn Resource Hub Opens!

Yesterday was the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Department of Probation Resource Hub downtown in the Municipal Building at 210 Joralemon Street.  Here's Commisioner Vincent Schiraldi giving his remarks.

Like the NeON here in Brownsville and at other locations around the City, the goal of the new Resource Hubs are to transform dreary waiting rooms into informational areas, work spaces, and places to find  inspiration and help.

Deputy Commisioner Karen Armstrong started the ceremony off by sharing her own experience where she felt that the old waiting spaces sent the message that "Probation doesn't care about you, so why should clients care about Probation?" With the new spaces, she is certain that probationers will feel empowered to make positive changes.

This approach has a lot in common with the ideas about what a community court should look like and how the physical layout and furnishing of civic facilities send important messages that are part of the principles of community justice that the Center For Court Innovation seeks to promote as well.
For more on the development of the Resource Hubs and the NeONs, and a new Mayoral Initiative called "See Change" that seeks to reimagine a variety of spaces where people actually interact with City services, particulaly those accessed by at-risk New Yorkers, read this article from Metropolis Magazine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Another Shooting, But New Approaches To Soliving The Problem Are Taking Hold

Playgrounds, basketball courts, block parties:  the spike in shootings this summer has particularly affected youth and young adults.  Last night, four teens were shot in a playground in the Brownsville area by a teen assailant who rode away on a bicycle. (The location, which is actually the nearby Ocean Hill neighborhood, was described by news reports as being in Brownsville.)  Click here, and here, for news coverage.

Fortunately, innovative approaches to this seemingly intractable problem are increasingly being used in New York.  Here, the Brownsville Community Justice Center is piloting a series of "call-ins" to utilize the theories of focused deterrence promoted by Tracy Meares and others.  On August 9th, representatives from the New York Police Department, Kings County District Attorney's Office,  US Attorney's Office, ex-offenders, and local service providers came together for our first Offender Notification Meeting. The meeting which is also called a "Call-In" convened sixteen high-risk parolees released to the Brownsville community. These parolees are also perpetrators and/or victims of gun violence.   The forum was held in a neutral, community-based location.  As described previously on this blog, the message was threefold: individuals in the room will be closely watched, further violence is unacceptable, and help is available to anyone who chooses to avail themselves of it.

In related news, see below for an excerpt from the current affairs show "Here and Now" in which Marlon Peterson, associate director of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, talks about their anti-gun violence efforts in an area very nearby to Brownsville. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

National Night Out Against Crime

Last night was National Night Out Against Crime, a nation-wide event that began back in 1984 to improve police community relations and neighborhood morale.  Here in Brownsville, the 73rd Precinct held a wonderful event with food, music, basketball, moon bounces, a climbing wall and lots of neighborhood organizations.  Our staff and participants from the Justice Center came out to provide information and mingle with residents.   The Mayor, Police Commissioner, Kings County District Attorney and Brooklyn Borough President were among the dignitaries in attendance; and our program members and staff enjoyed meeting them!

From top to bottom: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commisioner Raymond Kelly, Brookyln Borough President Marty Markowitz, and Captain Joseph Gulotta, commanding officer of the 73rd Precinct, with staff and members from the Brownsville Community Justice Center.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Groundswell Mural Design

This past Tuesday afternoon, I joined other Justice Center staff and community members in a classroom at PS/IS 323 in Brownsville to listen and watch the participants in Groundswell's making His'tory project present their mural design. This all-male group has spent the past month researching their topic and crafting a design grounded in their own experiences as young men living in this neighborhood, but one that is relevant for the all.

The group surprised me and I think they surprised themselves by creating an image that embraces the past, present, and future, invites reflection, and suggests continually changing possibilities and reinvention.   I won't ruin the surprise, but stay tuned, and keep your eyes on developments at the site at 512 Rockaway Avenue for an amazing piece of public art for the entire community.

-Benjamin Smith, Program Coordinator

Friday, July 20, 2012

A New Approach to Combating Gun Violence in Brownsville

On July 17, 2012 members of the NYPD, KCDA, US Attorney and local service providers came together to spearhead the Brownsville Violence Reduction Initiative. The centerpiece of the Brownsville Violence Reduction Initiative model are call-ins-- forums convened by the program to be attended by high-risk parolees released to the Brownsville community. The parolees will be those considered to be at high-risk and also perpetrators and/or victims of gun violence. The forums will be held in a location of civic importance, like a church or library. The meeting will take place in a roundtable setting, where everyone is on equal footing and where the opportunity for interplay and connection will be enhanced. Each call-in will bring together as many as 20 individuals at a time, along with representatives of the community, service providers, and law enforcement.  The first scheduled call-in will take place on August 9th.

The message that will be delivered at the meetings will be three-fold: that the individuals in the room will be closely watched, that further violence is unacceptable, and that help is available to anyone who chooses to avail themselves of it. Importantly, this message will be delivered by both justice system personnel and community leaders.  In addition, ex-offenders who have turned away from crime will be recruited to talk about how they have changed their lives. The goal is to work in partnership with law enforcement, social service providers and the community itself to bring gun violence to an end.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mural Restoration in Betsy Head Park!

Across the country, July 16-21, 2012 is "Probation, Parole, and Community Supervision Week" (more information here), including in New York City. You can see the Mayor's Proclamation, officially making it so, here.

Yesterday, Wednesday, July 18, 2012, the New York City Department of Probation held community engagement and benefit activities across the five boroughs as part of Probation Week.  Here in Brooklyn we partnered with the Brownsville NeON, the Center For Community Alternative's East New York Justice Community Program, Ralph "TATU XMEN" Perez, of Xmental and the Paint Straight program (read about it here, here, and here), and the NYC Parks Department to rehabilitate a mural in Betsy Head Park.

Betsy Head Park is a large, centrally located recreation area for the entire Brownsville community with basketball courts, athletic fields, and a pool, where our Justice Community program has done several prior cleanup, maintainance and horticultural projects. The goal of this project was to repaint the existing, original mural design, covering a wall several hundred feet long, which had become badly deteriorated over many years since it was originally installed.

Despite the intense heat the day of the event, almost 100 people, including probation staff and probationers, friends and family, Justice Community program participants and staff, staff from the Brownsville Youth Court, artists from Xmental, and participants from the Paint Staight program, all came out to work on the project.  Thanks to all who participated in making the event a success.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Brownsville Youth Court Turns One Year Old!!!

On June 14, 2012, The Brownsville Youth Court celebrated its one year anniversary. The Brownsville Youth Court began hearing cases on May 12, 2011. The Youth Court hit the ground running as our members have; collectively, logged more than 3100 hours of service, heard 175 cases and we have achieved a ninety-percent compliance rate. Word of our good work has quickly spread throughout the Brownsville community and greater Brooklyn.
Over the past year, we have received 450 applications for our past three competitive law internship programs. We have invited 107 teens into our training classes and selected 39 to serve in our first and second cohorts combined. We have built strong partnerships with our referral sources and received an outpouring of support from community organizations.

Also, the day included the induction of our third cohort into the Youth Court, which is made up of ten Brownsville residents and three East New York residents. These young individuals successfully completed a month of training and will serve on the Court for the next 6 months.

James Brodick, Project Director of The Brownsville Community Justice Center

Brownsville Youth Court Alumni: Ashia Barnes and Richard Perez

Alumni, Linda Armstrong and Ashia Barnes sharing their Youth Court experience with everyone.

Viola D. Greene-Walker, District Manager for Community Board 16,
kindly swore in our newest members.

Our third cohort of members being sworn in the Court.