Posted on October 13, 2022

How a Dog’s Killing Turned Brooklyn Progressives Against One Another

John Leland, New York Times, October 7, 2022

Real-world ethics question: In a well-used city park, a man with a history of erratic behavior attacks a dog and its owner with a stick; five days later, the dog dies. The man is Black, the dog owner white; the adjoining neighborhood is famously progressive, often critical of the police and jail system. At the same time, crime is up in the neighborhood, with attacks by emotionally disturbed people around the city putting some residents on edge.

In a dog-loving, progressive enclave, where pushing law and order can clash with calls for social justice, what’s the right thing to do? How do you protect the public without furthering injustice against this man?

Here’s what happened in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when real-life residents faced this situation.

On Aug. 3, Jessica Chrustic, 40, a professional beekeeper, was walking her dog in Prospect Park a little after 6 a.m. when she saw a man rifling through the garbage outside the Picnic House. She had seen the man before — tall, with dreadlocks wrapped in a turban, carrying a long staff and often muttering to himself or cursing — and she usually kept her distance. But this morning there was no room to avoid him.

According to Ms. Chrustic, he started yelling about immigrants taking over the park, then grabbed a bottle of what she later concluded was urine and sloshed it at her and her dog. She tried to run away, but Moose, her 80-pound golden retriever mix, was straining toward the man, trying to protect her.

The man started swinging the stick, she said. One blow hit her, not seriously. Another connected solidly with the dog’s snout. Mary Rowland, 56, a hospital manager who was walking her dog nearby, said she heard the crack of wood on bone and came running toward them, screaming at the man to get away.

Both women called 911, and four patrol cars arrived within a few minutes. But by then, the man was gone. “Moose was bleeding from his mouth and pulling to get home,” Ms. Chrustic said. “My focus was just on caring for him.”

Ms. Chrustic was physically unhurt, but she was shaken. How could this happen in a park where she had never felt unsafe, even walking her dog late at night?

Moose had a shattered tooth that needed to be pulled. Ms. Chrustic posted a description of the encounter on the neighborhood social network Nextdoor, warning others about the man and asking them to report any sightings to the police. Her post elicited more than 280 comments in the coming weeks, mostly expressing sympathy. A total stranger on the forum offered to make her a bracelet with the name Moose on it.

But then the next weekend, Moose developed sepsis from a perforated intestine, caused by a blow Ms. Chrustic had not noticed. After emergency surgery, Moose died.

Weeks passed, and the man who attacked the dog was still at large. People on Nextdoor, working from Ms. Chrustic’s description, posted that they had seen him in one part of the park or another. Ms. Chrustic, who used to visit the park four times a day, now found it too traumatic to enter unless necessary.

She was especially frustrated that the man, who was well known to people in the park, had not been arrested. “You have a person who is walking around the park who is violent and needs to be removed,” she said. “He’s known by the community. It’s disheartening.”

It was a random incident that might once have been discussed by a group of dog owners. But now it had a forum for a much wider community, with arguments about policing, vigilantism, homelessness, mental health care and progressive obstinacy all feeding into a conversation that evolved beyond the crime that set it off.

“It’s complicated,” said S. Matthew Liao, a professor of bioethics, philosophy and public health at New York University. “It’s a conflict of values, between wanting security and social justice. Everybody has a responsibility in some ways.

“There are a bunch of issues here, a bunch of threats,” he added. “We can deal with them in a compassionate way, or a not compassionate way.”


When Ms. Chrustic posted about the attack, the first responses were mostly notes of condolence and support. People with dogs posted that they had seen the man in the same area where she was attacked — why weren’t the police arresting him? Donations poured in to offset her veterinary bills.

But gradually, other voices emerged. A vocal minority asked why Park Slope residents, mostly white, were calling for the police to take down a man who appeared to be homeless and emotionally disturbed. Others called the man a “monster,” a “predator” or a “psychopath.” As on other social media platforms, the most ardent voices made the most noise.

Martin Lofsnes, 52, a dancer and choreographer who moved out of the neighborhood in 2020, came across the conversation while trying to sell some stuff and was appalled by the vitriol directed at an impoverished man, and by what he called “this vigilante attitude.”

He urged people on the thread to put their emotions aside and consider “400 yrs of systematic racism which has prevented black people from building generational wealth through homeownership resulting in the extreme disparity we see today.” Arresting the man, he wrote, would solve none of that.

With all the affluence in Park Slope, he posted, maybe critics should raise money to help the man, not throw him to the lethal jail system, from which he would most likely emerge more dangerous, or not emerge at all.

Others called Mr. Lofsnes naïve or accused him of mansplaining, or told him to take his comments to another thread.


Kristian Nammack, 59, who works in sustainable financing, read the Moose posts on Nextdoor and grew frustrated that nothing seemed to be happening. So he decided to do something about it. He invited people on Nextdoor and Meetup to form a neighborhood watch group to “take our neighborhood back.” As an enticement, he created a logo and printed 10 T-shirts. “We may also get to wear cool berets,” his solicitation offered, nodding to the Guardian Angels, an anti-crime “safety patrol” prominent in the ’70s and ’80s.

Mr. Nammack’s name for the new group: Park Slope Panthers.

He did not see the backlash coming.


Then there was the group’s name, which was an immediate flash point: a white financial services guy using the Panther name to take action against a Black man. At the group’s first and only meeting, the scattering of potential volunteers was met by a group of four people, all white, who showed up to disrupt the proceedings.

{snip} A man calling himself Snow told the group, “We are super not into you guys having your meeting, or doing anything in the park,” according to Hell Gate. “The opposite of what we need right now is more cops in this park and more people who want to be helping the cops in this park, when people are already being, like, chased down by the cops.”

To the delight of people who enjoy making fun of Park Slope liberals, one of the disrupters, a woman calling herself Sky, said, “Crime is an abstract term that means nothing in a lot of ways,” according to Common Sense.

A few days after the meeting, someone spray-painted the sidewalk outside Mr. Nammack’s apartment: “Don’t Be a Cop, Kris.” {snip}

On Nextdoor, people seemed to be dug into their positions. Many bundled the lack of an arrest with the rise of other crimes in the neighborhood. Serious crimes in the 78th Precinct, which includes Park Slope, are up 50 percent from two years ago, though well below the highs of the early 1990s.


Both Ms. Chrustic and Mr. Nammack separately appealed to their representative on the City Council, Shahana Hanif, for help, but they came away feeling her staff members were more concerned with the safety of the man — whom they presumed to be homeless and mentally ill — than with the threat he might pose to others.

Mr. Nammack said he was told: “‘We don’t want the police involved in this.’” He said, “They didn’t seem concerned that there was a public safety threat with this man at large, and that he needs to be dealt with. The bigger concern was keeping this man out of Rikers, and let’s not do anything.”

Under New York law, depending on the level of cruelty, killing a dog can be a misdemeanor or a felony, carrying a prison sentence of up to two years. Michael Whitesides, a spokesperson for Ms. Hanif, called the situation complicated. “We don’t believe that the N.Y.P.D. is the vehicle to bring safety to our community,” Mx. Whitesides said. {snip}