Former City Councilman Kendall Stewart and his son, Omar, filed separate lawsuits against the NYPD last week. The suits allege that the NYPD has continually tried to shut down Cafe Omar — the Stewart’s business — as part of larger-scale discrimination against West Indian nightlife operators in Brooklyn’s 67th Precinct.
Cafe Omar’s troubles began in 2016 when police shut down their sold out event for the West Indian Parade. Throughout 2017, the police visited Cafe Omar multiple times. One of those times, they seized $5,000 of liquor even after Stewart showed them proper documentation. Still, the police then proceeded to inform customers that Cafe Omar did not have its liquor license. Ex-City Councilman Stewart met with officers from the 67th Precinct to mend the relationship, but the officers had other plans. They ordered him to cancel any events at Cafe Omar around holidays like Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Eve. According to the NY Daily News, in the lawsuit they justified their orders by saying, “the NYPD did not want any crimes in the jurisdiction of the 67th Precinct.”
Separately, on January 27, 2017, officers arrested Omar Stewart, who was working at the cafe at the time. He spent two days in jail for failure to display a state-issued liquor license. He is now suing the NYPD over the arrest, the charges of which were eventually dismissed by a judge.
On the other hand, the NYPD appears to have cause for their actions. In 2017, officers responded to “nearly a dozen” 911 calls involving Cafe Omar patrons or within Cafe Omar. Some of these incidents even involved assaults and shootings. NYPD spokesman Lt. John Grimbel added, “As you can see by the history of this establishment, it’s a problematic location.”
Just last month, the State Liquor Authority voted to suspend the cafe’s license for 90 days starting February 13. This decision is the culmination of numerous complaints and violations for excessive noise, overcrowding, and disorderly behavior. However, Stewart feels that the NYPD “did not treat white-owned businesses in the same manner as they treated the Caribbean-owned business,” according to his lawsuit.
Recently, at least 10 other bar owners have filed complaints against a newly assigned sergeant in the 67th Precinct. The Brooklyn Nightlife and Restaurant Coalition’s June Persaud passed those complaints along to the NYPD on December 14, 2017. They responded by equipping the sergeant with a body camera and meeting with several business owners to help them understand the violations they’ve committed.
Brooklyn is no stranger to tense racial relations, and its rapid gentrification has only heightened those tensions. Renowned blogger and author Jeremiah Moss has documented the strain put on New York City (mainly Manhattan) by gentrification. In a post from October 2015, he highlighted just a few ways that the city government can push out local businesses in gentrifying neighborhoods. Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Flatbush, where Cafe Omar is located, may be next up for a heavy influx of new residents this year. As such, this case may set an important precedent for disputes between local businesses and the city where it isn’t altogether clear who is right and who is wrong. Only time will tell.