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'Don't Be a Karen:' Celebrated Crown Heights Marching Band Fields Rash of New Complaints

"You don't call 911 for children playing drums." Complaints about a marching band practice in Crown Heights is raising calls of gentrification in the neighborhood.
Photo: BU / Supplied

The Brooklyn United Marching Band (BU) has performed for New York's top sports teams, officials and venues — but its young entertainers can't seem to catch a break on their home turf in Crown Heights.

BU founder Ty Brown said, since March, he's had to field a rash of new complaints about the band practicing under the LIRR on Atlantic and Kingston Avenues, with the complaints raising new questions for him about gentrification in the area.

Ty Brown. Photo: BU / Supplied

In the past four months the band has been approached three times by NYPD officers, twice by members of the community board and several times by a bothered neighbor, he said. The band practices from 4:30pm to 6:30pm Monday through Thursday.

Now, Brown says he's frustrated about the way some members of the community are voicing their complaints, especially as the band has nowhere else to go.

"The police are there for criminals and crimes, you don't call 911 for children playing drums," he said.

"Drumming is not a crime and your first thought is, "I'm calling 911?' They are not your personal private bodyguards," he said.

Cultural sensitivity

Brown said the cultural sensitivity of cops being called on people of color when they could simply have a conversation needs to be addressed in Crown Heights. "If you don't want to be a Karen, simply find another way," he said.

A complaint in the past week has come from a neighbor who Brown — who is Black — believed to be "new to the neighborhood and of the other race."

Brown said the woman had approached his team leaders several times as the kids practiced, and then reached out to him via email. He said he offered his number for a phone conversation but has not yet heard back.

If he does speak to her, he said he wants to explain that the marching band —which has played for the Mayor, the Governor, multiple ticker-tape parades, the Nets, the Giants, the Knicks, AfroPunk, shot a Nike commercial at Brower Park and even recently played for Manolo Blahnik in fancy footwear — has nowhere else to go.

"Ma'am, if I move a block away, what should I do when the next person complains?' Not to belittle her, just to point out the absurdness of moving to where there is no residents. We're not from a place where you can move."

Brown said, while he would love to have a venue for the kids, the organization doesn't have the money. If anyone is interested in helping him find a venue in Crown Heights, he has a list of requirements ready to go.

He pointed out that the marching band tradition was born in the South, and said BU did well to work with New York's lack of space and wild weather to create a world-class program. While some may not like the noise, his program was boosting kids from East New York, Brownsville, Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights into successful careers, and keeping some out of trouble.

Brown said many of his kids come from Brooklyn's housing projects, and have gone on to get into the City's best schools, as well as being paid staple performers at venues like the Barclays Center.

Last week, a Facebook post he made on the complaints issue garnered hundreds of comments.

"We're talking about norms of a community," he said. "We're not a new group. And just like brownstones, and churches on every corner, a marching band in Crown Heights is normal. What's reasonable sound? That depends on who you're talking to."

"I wish that people wouldn't stop me while I'm going to the ATM. I wish sanitation was better. I wish fireworks stopped on the 4th. But as a Brooklynite you learn to live it and love it."


Reached by email, the community member who reached out to Brown to voice her concerns said she had hoped the band would move its practice to an area not surrounded by residents.

"I suggested a number of areas also located on the Atlantic Ave underpass, like across from the high school. Or by the BP station, but maybe those are too far from the HQ," she said.

She said, while she did call 311 several months ago to make a noise complaint, it was not her who contacted the police or the community board.

"When I realized they would be practicing through the summer I came out to speak directly to them. I don't think complaining about drum noise qualifies as gentrification," she said.

Asked about those who think the complaint was "Karen-like" behavior, the resident — who said she'd lived there since 2005 — said no one wants to be called names that turn them into a stereotype.

"If I were to try and learn the drums outside of your door for 2 hours every day five days a week, I'm pretty sure you would get jangled," she said.

Community board response

A woman who answered the Community Board 8 phone line but would not identify herself to BK Reader said the board had never approached Brooklyn United, and that she did not know of the band or where it practiced. She said the board had no further comment and hung up the phone.

The board later contacted BK Reader to advise that it was unaware its Public Safety Chairman Mark Thurton had in fact contacted BU.

"The office did receive a few complaints from residents," it said. "We referred the issue to the 77th Precinct."

NYPD's 77th Precinct has been reached for comment. Community Board 3 has also been reached for comment.

Jessy Edwards

About the Author: Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is an award-winning news and feature reporter whose work can be seen in such publications as NBC New York, Rolling Stone, the BBC, CNBC and more.
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