Bushwick Drug History: Blackout of 1977 and “The Well”

Blackout of 1977

While walking down Knickerbocker Avenue in the area of Bushwick, Brooklyn, one can only wonder about how the neighborhood once was, before gentrification slowly transforms the town. With new hip places, such as The Well Beer Garden popping up, and overtly trendy thrift shops immersed by hipsters and bohemians alike, the history of Bushwick rings loud through the various residents who remember the crucial events that marked the infamous nature of this Brooklyn town.After WWII, the demographics of the neighborhood of Bushwick shifted from Europeans, and Sicilians to working class African American and Caribbean American families. Soon many poverty-stricken and goverment aided African American and Puerto Rican migrants began to move into central Bushwick. . The rising energy costs, mass transit expansion, forced many of the breweries that vitalized the Bushwick area to leave. As the breweries closed, the area deteriorated along with much of Brooklyn. The major difference was the 60% decrease in the amount of white residents in the area. By the mid 1970’s, many of Bushwick’s residents were on welfare.

According to the New York Times, “In a five-year period in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn was transformed from a neatly maintained community of wood houses into what often approached a no man’s land of abandoned buildings, empty lots, drugs and arson.”[

But that all changed after a massive blackout on the evening of July 13, 1977 . People began looting, vandalizing properties, and committing arson, creating damage unsurpassable by normal standards.  Twenty-seven stores, and many homes along Broadway had burned, creating a firestorm of debris in the street. Many people took what they couldn’t afford.. After the riots, the integrity, and neighborhood bond had disintegrated, and many burned down shops were now abandoned and left as a staple of the tragic event of human desperation. There was a 43 percent vacancy rate in the aftermaths of the fires.

The shopping area along Knickerbocker Ave was nicknamed “The Well” for excessive drug use and drug dealing and in the 1990’s gravitated off of being known for extreme poverty and crime, with 77 murders, 80 rapes, and 2,242 robberies in 1990 alone.

During the mid 90’s, crime significantly dropped in the neighborhood, beginning when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s  first police commissioner, William Bratton, introduced new methods into tracking crime patterns by the NYPD. Murders dropped from 1990’s to 1198, seeing a total 84.4 percent decrease.. Dangerous crimes of violence  in Bushwick also fell 66 percent. By 1998, Bushwick saw 1,500 fewer annual robberies, 1,000 fewer burglaries, and 675 fewer assaults than it has in 1990.

With the rise in gentrification, the future for Bushwick is still unknown. Although crime is still at an all-time high rate, compared to other areas, a massive police presence and support from local politicians proves beneficial for the future positive transformation of this historical area of Brooklyn.


3 thoughts on “Bushwick Drug History: Blackout of 1977 and “The Well”

  1. Nice piece. I spent a lot of time in Bushwick in the late 80’s early 90’s after moving to Greenpoint from the LES. I remember the Maria Hernandez killing and why it happened.

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