Marching past the skeletal shadow of the rising Barclays Center, Carl Patterson roared that he was sick of broken promises. "We are tired of 'once upon a time,'" he yelled through a megaphone. "We want our dreams to come true now."
Patterson, a community activist in Brooklyn's 35th Council district and the self-proclaimed "Puerto Rican Al Sharpton," led a group of more than 40 protesters on a recent mid-week morning, marching near the construction site as a police car crept alongside.
People for Political and Economic Empowerment, which organized the protest, was once a vocal supporter of the Atlantic Yards development. But now the organization, which helps train and place hard-to-employ people like ex-convicts in jobs like construction, says that local construction workers aren't getting the jobs they were promised.
"What do we want? Jobs!" protesters shouted. "When do we want them? Now!" Patterson decried developer Bruce Ratner, as well as F.J. Sciame Construction Co., Inc., one of New York's most prominent construction firms. Many of the protesters were unemployed construction workers struggling to understand how Atlantic Yards, which had once held so much promise for steady work, had yielded so little for them.
Forest City Ratner "lied to the community board as well as the elected officials," said Martin Allen, the sandpaper-voiced president of P.P.E.E. "We got hundreds and hundreds of people out to support the projects here at Atlantic Yards. None of these people are going to work and they make us look like liars. Hunt [Construction Group] and Ratner are eating, and the community is not eating, and I think this is wrong. And we're gonna fight them from now until it's over, and we're not gonna let them get away with it."
"In this country, there's two ways to do things: one is through litigation, and the other is through fisticuffs," said Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., the Bedford-Stuyvestant district leader. "Hopefully, the litigation will be enough. I don't think they understand how difficult it is for people in certain communities to eat, feed their families, and do everything."
Steered by the effervescent Patterson down Ashland Place and Fulton Street, the protesters, many of whom were native New Yorkers, brandished large white placards above their heads, aiming their messages at the Atlantic Yards construction firms and Ratner. Many demanded jobs for Brooklynites and an end to outsourcing labor to "outsiders."
"Nobody in the community is getting a job. We got to feed our children. How are we going to pay our rent?" asked Virginia Nevers, an unemployed construction worker at the rally.
Pablo Vargas, a construction worker with 24 years of experience, detailed how desperate he was to find work, and how betrayed he felt by Atlantic Yards.
"I'm an American citizen," he said. "I've been unemployed over a year. They promised us jobs and we vouched for them. The developers are turning their backs on us."
[As of press time, Ratner, F.J. Sciame and Hunt had not responded to our requests for comment.]