Video courtesy of GerritsenBeach.net

I was born and raised in Sheepshead Bay. And yet, despite its proximity, I stay out of Gerritsen Beach. That’s how I like it, and it seems that’s how they like it, too.

But I decided to venture into the tick-filled taint of Brooklyn and see for myself just how unwelcoming it is.

What I found was a neighborhood dynamic that begs for quietude and autonomy, and sees the slightest glance from a stranger’s eye as a threat to its independence from the rest of the city.

The Backstory

The reason I found myself in that neck of the woods was to attend the Gerritsen Beach Property Owners Assocation (GBPOA) meeting. Some of the group’s members are waging a campaign to ban the neighborhood blogger, GerritsenBeach.net’s Dan Cavanagh, from attending and reporting on the discussions. I wanted to see exactly how this unfolds, since I’ve never seen such aggression at any of the eight or so monthly meetings I attend.

Cavanagh, for his part, has been chronicling the situation pretty steadily, capturing video of and summarizing the members’ opposition. So far, though, the issue has revolved around GerritsenBeach.net’s policy of anonymous commenting, and most critics were tied to another neighborhood civic organization, GBCares. That group has been squabbling with the blogger for months, since Cavanagh ran a story that they claim led to a suspension of one of their programs.

So to me, the outsider, the situation looked pretty obvious before I arrived. You had a bunch of guys pissed off about anonymous commenters unleashing a flurry of four-letter words, and seeking revenge from being shut out of providing a neighborhood service. They were tough guys pissed off with a snot-nosed kid with a computer.

I thought it’d be straightforward; maybe even funny. But it wasn’t.

If We Don’t Move, It Won’t Eat Us

Members not only attacked GerritsenBeach.net on Wednesday, but proposed barring all reporters and uninvited guests from attending the event. They argued that it was inappropriate to have bloggers or reporters at the meeting, saying they didn’t understand why an organization with dues-paying members is mandated to have public meetings. They especially took issue with audio and video recordings by GerritsenBeach.net, but also turned attacks to Our News.

The problem, they said, wasn’t with the reporting. It was with the distribution.

“What goes on in Gerritsen Beach stays in Gerritsen Beach,” said one member. “Gerritsen Beach was a quiet neighborhood; no one ever heard of it. Now it’s all over, and [Cavanagh] keeps hiding behind his amendments.”

“It’s absolutely destroying the neighborhood,” he added.

At issue was the idea that the Earth’s six billion people can potentially access the blog, and news from the area shouldn’t be spreading to the outside world. Our News, a Gerritsen Beach creation that just years ago never left the confines of the community, is now distributed into Marine Park, Sheepshead Bay and Mill Basin.

That, too, is unacceptable. (Joel Garson, the paper’s publisher, said he never takes notes at meetings and only publishes content approved by George Broadhead, GBPOA’s president.)

I didn’t quite get it. Closing off access to the media didn’t really seem to be about hiding anything, or about blocking access for those it serves (the fastest road to abuse). It seemed more to be about keeping out the threat of the wider world: the great big city.

It’s an interesting idea for a New York City community: as Manhattan planners continue to centralize authority and dictate local character, you might be able to go below their radar if no one talks about you.

It’s kind of like in Jurassic Park, where you stand very still to avoid a T-Rex.

The Blind Eye

One of Gerritsen Beach’s strengths, some might say, is the autonomy its low profile provides. The organizations can go about planning programs, parades, or whatever else with impunity because no one’s going to say they don’t have permits. It has its own volunteer fire corps and no one even knows who has the keys to the parks anymore (one person joked with me that everyone in the neighborhood has a set).

And when outsiders come a-knockin’, they can turn inward. We heard stories about an alleged hate crime a few years back wherein white kids beat up black kids who stole a bicycle. When the Hate Crimes unit came asking questions, no one talked.

But this is the era of Bloomberg, and far-flung communities – no matter how small – are stripped of their self-determination. Outerborough neighborhoods all over New York City are decrying the city’s ham-fisted efforts to lay down regulations and enforce laws in a manner that befits the chaotic, high-density neighborhoods of Manhattan or Northern Brooklyn.

Down here, we don’t need it, and we don’t want it. And in the past, there was enough of a blind eye to let ‘hoods like Gerritsen Beach grow in the manner they saw fit. Those days are over, folks.

Close It Off

But while other neighborhoods whine, complain and submit, Gerritsen Beach’s previous stronghold on local affairs won’t be thrown aside without a fight.

The problem is that they’re not quite sure how to strike out, and the prevailing logic – twisted and misdirected as it may seem – is that silence is the key.

So at GBPOA, the board is considering an amendment to the bylaws making meetings members and invited guests only. While commenters at GerritsenBeach.net squabble over the legality of the proposal, the group has that right.

Currently, the bylaws omit restrictions to meeting attendance, so it defaults in favor of the public. But the group is not a non-profit; it receives no public funds. It’s a hybrid of civic organization and corporation; it raises money through programs and membership dues and even owns property.

Just as Knights of Columbus or other fraternal organizations are not required to have public meetings, GBPOA is within its rights to shut the doors. Members have asked for a vote, and it may come up at the next meeting when they have a quorum.

The Joke Of It All

Doing so, though, may be at the group’s peril. A closed-door policy can too often be mistaken for secrecy, and a group that controls funds and property will be accused of dirty dealings in short order.

But beyond that, there’s an inescapable fact that critics may not have considered: their attempt to keep media out will attract more media.

After all, what journalist can resist the narrative of a free speech advocate silenced by a bunch of thugs? I’m not saying that’s what it is, but that’s what it’ll read like in the city press.

And therein lies the rub. No journalist gives two tugs of a dead dog’s tail what happens in Gerritsen Beach on any given day. All they care about is a good story – and the best one you’ve got going now is trying to shut up a fellow journo.

That’s a great headline.

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  • nolastname

    When is the next meeting? Great reporting. Blogging, whatever the heck.
    Now I will watch the video, I almost forgot about it. LOL

  • nolastname

    11 min. into it. Got the impression that because of a couple of dumb ass kids the area has drawn a lot of negative attention.
    Maybe the need to have “open and closed” meetings.

  • nolastname

    ooops, “member and non-member”.

  • http://www.bksouthie.com/ Brian Hedden | BK Southie

    I believe an open and closed session was discussed at the May meeting. I guess some people would say that doesn't go far enough.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    Two meetings would mean that one meeting would be a joke, a mockery of the purpose of a public meeting.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    Gerritsen Beach may be insular, but there is a sense of community there that is rare in NYC. My perception is that community involvement is higher here than elsewhere. This sort of positive becomes apparent to those who read Gerritsen Beach.net Unfortunately there is a downside to such a close knit community, and that is that some negatives are ignored, or spoken of in whispers. Gerritsen Beach.net breaks those taboos, and as a result becomes a heretic to some people.

    Daniel Cavanaugh is following in the tradition of the great newspaper editors of the past, who occasionally angered their readers by printing unpleasant truths about them. No community is a Utopian paradise, and those that pretend to be are going to allow all manner of ill to plague their existence because they will not see what is going on.

    There was a time when the angered townspeople would descend upon the office of the maverick publisher and smash his presses. That won't work today, publications can be easily transported anywhere. But the threat of harm can still be made.

    I would suggest that rather than fighting with Dan they work with him, and rid themselves of the evil which their secretiveness allows to continue unabated. Because like as not, 6 billion people are watching.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    Or to quote Woody Allen, such an arrangement would be “a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”.

  • nolastname

    6 billion? Let mr get gussied up. LOL.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    Yep, and then they could be raking in trillions from the tourist trade.

    These people need to develop vision!

  • nolastname

    So they did a Jersey Shore and are working on a Brighton Beach thing. Is a Gerritsen Beach close behind?
    Remember when people wore gerritsen belts?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    I think Gerritsen Beach is so unique that it deserves its own series. There's no place like it. It's like an upstate town in NYC, but without the rural surrounding area.

    I remeber Gerritsen belts, but can't remember what they looked like.

  • nolastname

    Wide black leather belt with a big buckle for swinging, LOL

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    Oh yes, used by the kind of people who would frequent the Park Tavern.

  • Pingback: Sheepshead Bites: “What Happens In Gerritsen, Stays In Gerritsen” | GerritsenBeach.net

  • Guest

    GB certainly has its issues but it is far from the “taint” of Brooklyn. If that is the real perception of the author I would hate to hear is description of other BKLYN neighbor hoods. GB is small, most people know each other and it is pretty safe because of that.

  • http://twitter.com/nicktherat nick the rat

    Gerritsen beach = racist hellhole of back alley hicks. scary place

  • Ned Flanders

    They were called GARRISON belts. Let me guess, SBHS graduate?

  • zen3344

    SBHS 1983 – graduated at the top of the class. Got a problem with SBHS?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gene-Berardelli/1173482469 Gene Berardelli

    Class of 1996, and proud of it! :-)

  • Nick The Cat

    Boo bitch.

  • http://twitter.com/nicktherat nick the rat

    STOP FOLLOWING ME!!! PUT THOSE PRINGLES AWAY!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    Maybe your generation called them Garrison belts.

  • a-nonymous

    85% of GB is racist. The other 15% Of GB are the people who are too high/drunk to care! Everyone in Sheepshead Bay knows this. The are unwelcoming and they seclude themselves because they think they're better than everyone else. These are facts… and thats why we call 'em BEACH RATS! Ask around!

  • 123

    Lisanne! you ignorant sl ! Not my generation, thats what they are called. Wikipedia is free. so is dictionary.com.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    Ever heard of a localism? You won't find it in dictionary.com

  • 123

    Lisanne! you ignorant sl ! Not my generation, thats what they are called. Wikipedia is free. so is dictionary.com.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    Ever heard of a localism? You won't find it in dictionary.com

  • Pingback: What’s Wrong With Gerritsen Beach? | Sheepshead Bay News Blog

  • Beachratt13

    What do these people in Gerritsen Beach really want to hide? Their out of control children? Lynchings, dead people hanging from trees? Didn’t they do that in Mississippi?

  • Peace551

    Ned Berke – I can see you’re just a tad jealous and have resorted to the usual pen-slinging arrogance….  You’d fit right in down here in Gerritsen!  I vote welcome!