Awhile back I wrote a rather controversial diary discussing the possibility of a resurfacing of an age-old tradition of developers burning neighborhoods to clear away "undesirable" communities. I wrote this partly about the Greenpoint fire, one that hit warehouses owned by a developer who has been "unlucky" in the number of suspicious fires that have hit run down properties he owed and wanted to get rid of. The Greenpoint fire occurred mere days before a hearing that was scheduled to debate whether these warehouses should be declared historical landmarks. I also wrote about the unusual and alarming spike of suspicious fires in the Prospect Heights area, around the Atlantic Yards project.
My goal was to raise concerns. I do not KNOW that anything underhanded is happening. But there is a large spike of suspicious fires, some people have died, and these fires have been quite convenient to developers who want to completely uproot entire neighborhoods and have been opposed by those neighborhoods.
Retired NYPD captain Eric Adams, candidate for State Senate, has unequivocally called the Prospect Heights fires arson. Wellington Sharpe and Bill Batson, both candidates for Assembly, also called them arson and referred to these fires and the Greenpoint fire as the destruction of NYC's heritage and identity by developers who are out only for their own interests. These are strong words and I only wrote my article after hearing three different politicians independently make the same kinds of arguements about the Brooklyn fires.
Bill Batson's opinion of how the Greenpoint fire would be dealt with was to shrug and say that they will round up the "usual suspects" and pin it on a homeless guy.
Well, the NYPD have rounded up the usual suspects and have gotten a confession from two homeless guys. From the NY Times:
2 Homeless Men Started Warehouse Fire, Authorities Say
By KAREEM FAHIM and MARIA NEWMAN Published: June 7, 2006
Two homeless men who were burning the insulation off some copper wiring so they could sell it sparked a massive fire that destroyed a historic Brooklyn warehouse complex last month, the authorities said.
One of the men, Leszek Kuczera, 59, was arrested earlier today and charged with arson, burglary, reckless endangerment and petit larceny, the police said. The second man, whose identity was withheld, was still being sought.
The police said that Mr. Kuczera confessed last night to starting the fire, and was scheduled to be arraigned later today in Brooklyn Criminal Court.
The developers, the Guttmans, et. al., are getting off with a slaps on their wrists:
A statement from Mr. Hynes's office listed the owners of the property as Joshua Guttman; his son, Jack Guttman; and four of the real estate corporations run by the father and son.
They are charged with 434 counts of "failure to maintain privately owned waterfront property," one count for each day the owners failed to repair dilapidated piers and crumbling concrete bulkheads after being ordered to by the city Department of Small Business Services Dockmasters, the statement said. The owners were first cited for the damaged and unsafe piers and bulkheads on Jan. 21, 2005, Mr. Hynes's office said.
The charges, considered misdemeanors, are each punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, the district attorney's office said.
Well...I feel unsatisfied. It may be true that two homeless guys burned down the warehouses and the Guttmans are merely unwitting beneficiaries of this, no longer having to worry about pesky community activists trying to declare the now ashes as historical sites. But somehow it doesn't sound right. What happened to the accelerant that the police were so certain was used when they first investigated? Homeless people don't spread accelerant through a wide area of abandoned properties, yet this was originally thought to be what happened because of the speed of the fire. If all of these fires throughout Brooklyn are unrelated and have nothing to do with the development projects, why the sudden spike and why are so many of them near places where developers are battling the community?
We may never know. I would feel greatly relieved if I were convinced that the fires are not sinister. I do not want to believe that people would be willing to so callously destroy and kill just for profit. But for now I am not so convinced despite the confession. And I know that people can be like that and that such practices were once common. I want to hear the opinions of Eric Adams, Wellington Sharpe and Bill Batson regarding this because I found their initial suspicions well expressed and thought out.
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