Spike Lee Rants That NYC Gentrifiers Have "Christopher Columbus Syndrome"

Wednesday, Feb 26, 2014  |  Updated 8:23 PM EDT
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Native New Yorker and famous filmmaker Spike Lee went on a long, impassioned tirade against the gentrification of parts of New York City during a Black History Month event at Pratt Institute.  Ida Siegal reports from Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Native New Yorker and famous filmmaker Spike Lee went on a long, impassioned tirade against the gentrification of parts of New York City during a Black History Month event at Pratt Institute. Ida Siegal reports from Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Spike Lee lashed out in a passionate rant against the gentrification of the Brooklyn neighborhood where he grew up and other New York City areas where he said residents are being pushed out by people with "Christopher Columbus Syndrome."

"You can't discover this! We been here. You just can't come and bogart," the director told an audience Tuesday at the Pratt Institute in Fort Greene, where he grew up and his family still lives.

Lee was asked a question by an audience member about the positive side of gentrification, and Lee wasn't having it.

"Let me just kill you right now," he said, before launching into the expletive-laden rant.

Lee, who now lives on the Upper East Side, said people who have moved into neighborhoods like the South Bronx, Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights are changing those areas, and not for the good. Fort Greene Park, he said, is now like the "Westminster Dog Show" in the morning, with "20,000 dogs running around."

The so-called benefits that supporters of gentrification cite, he said, don't matter because new residents drive up real estate values and rents so that longtime residents can't afford it anymore and have to flee. 

"So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why's there more police protection in Bed-Stuy and Harlem now? Why's the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!" he said.

"I don't see a lot of good coming from gentrification for the people living in those neighborhoods," he added.

He said it's unfathomable that some neighborhoods are being rebranded to seem more attractive to new buyers and renters, like SoBro and SpaHa.

"It's a scam!" Lee said.

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