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September 28, 2020
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News + Views

Smoker Revolt: Cobble Hill

By Lisa M. Collins
Clarence K. Berry, aka "King," will smoke in the parks till someone arrests him.

Everyone calls him King.

King is mad at the emperor of Gotham. He’s ready for the compliant subjects of Bloomberg’s Empire to throw smoke into the wind.

King, who grew up in Ft. Greene and now lives in the Columbia Waterfront area, is staging a revolt, a quiet protest.

Just last week, in the span of an hour, King broke the law three times in Cobble Hill Park, that bucolic splash of green grass, benches and trees in our tony pocket of brownstone Brooklyn. He grabbed a little stick, deadly but legal, from his pocket, placed his lips around it, sucked in, and then exhaled — into the air. His eyes shifted back and forth.

I declined to enact a citizen’s arrest.

King, who introduced himself to me while we stood one day on Warren Street, said that when Mayor Bloomberg and City Council banned smoking from public parks and beaches as of May 23, he was enflamed.

“I go to Governor’s Island, Pier 1, Cadman Plaza. I enjoy the outdoors,” King says. “With the pressure now of being a criminal or a law-breaker, I can’t enjoy it. That feeling is not good.”

King was born Clarence K. Berry. Grew up in the Walt Whitman projects. Smoked since he was 11. Now he’s 68.

I called the local police commander, Capt. Jack Lewis, at the 76th Precinct, and asked him if he was going to enforce the smoking ban. He seemed perturbed even at the suggestion. “That’s above my pay grade,” Lewis joked.

Mayor Bloomberg, when announcing the ban, said he’d rely on “peer pressure” from citizens to curb smokers.

“I feel like we can turn to the First Amendment. Freedom of Expession,” King says.

How much do you smoke, I ask King.

“Well I can’t smoke too much, half a pack a day. I’m a student. I’m in school full time. I’m a junior. I have to study and go to class.”

King attends CUNY’s Medgar Evers College. He’s got a 3.6 GPA, and has made the Dean’s List five times. “I need to maintain that,” he says.

“I want to go to graduate school. Harvard. I’ve got a good narrative,” King says.

He’s studying constitutional law. His major is public administration.

“Bottom line, government is good. It can work and it does. But people need to be aware, and they are not.

“We pay the highest taxes in the nation in New York City on a pack of cigarettes. Those taxes pay for the parks. Now our tax dollars persecute us for what is legally sold.

“When will we rise up?

King dropped out of school in the ninth grade. His mom sent him to a detention school up North, which he says taught him discipline. He went on to work as a leader and grant writer for an organization that held after-school, sporting activities and summer camps for kids. He was the community liason for a hospital. When he got married, he moved to Coney Island, because “I love the beach.” Years later, he lived near Prospect Park.

“All this time, I was smoking. Now they want to criminalize it,” King says.

“I’ve had it up to here,” King says, pointing to his head.

King told me about NYC C.L.A.S.H., Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment. The group encourages people not to pay city and state taxes in protest of smoker restrictions, as well as a boycott of city establishments that do not allow smoking. A Facebook page has been dedicated to calling it the most worthless group on Facebook.

Read here for another message from one of our local seniors, who finds us quite annoying.


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Readers' Comments

July 22, 2011
2:22 AM

I like, bookmarked
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