Meredith Staton

Meredith Staton is someone who has spent his whole life trying to make a difference, but he is also someone who has seen how pushing in onc direction means pulling in another.  Overall he has done very well for himself and his family, but he has seen his share of downs as well as ups and he has a good eye for irony.  He was born in Germantown, PA. in 1938, the only son of John and Elizabeth Staton.  His father was a sailor and spent long periods at sea, and his mother had a job in the Post Office.  Meredith got a good education and began getting a college degree at NYU.  However, with the prospect of getting drafted he volunteered to join the army and joined the Special Forces.  He was promoted to Sergeant and served as a Communications Officer in the Vietnam War and was stationed in Thailand.  Thus he was not in combat, but he saw the terrible toll combat took on his fellow soldiers as well as the civilian population.  He felt the worthy goal that the US set out to accomplish was compromised by the suffering and destruction of war. He came to find the Vietnam War disturbing.  Black and white smudged into gray.

When he got out of the army he eventually began two careers.  He worked in the Post Office and also joined the Police Department.  In the Post Office he met his wife, Lula Kirkland, and soon the two of them were married, and they moved into Hampton Place.  The area was a quiet one, perfect for raising a family.  The Statons had two daughters right away and then another after a long interval. The children went to Public Schools or Catholic Schools and then went on to college, Manhattanville for the oldest, Medgar Evers for the second and Hampton for the youngest.  Their grandson went to Monroe College at first but finally graduated from Berkeley College. However the Statons' happy family life was marred by two tragedies.  Earlier Meredith's father was mysteriously murdered while visiting his family in Detroit.  His body was dumped into the trunk of a car and the crime was never solved. Much later one of the Statons' daughters suffered from aneurysms and just when it seemed she was recovering, she passed away in her sleep.  Staton is visibly affected when recounting these incidents.

When the Statons got the house in Hampton Place the area was not regarded as desirable. Albany Houses had been built nearby destroying numerous fine old houses.  The public project was fine at first but was later plagued by a host of problems – crime, poverty, drugs, families falling apart.  An effort to improve the world had very mixed results.  Yet Crown Heights slowly began to prosper and Meredith was part of the process.  He joined the Police Department and worked his way up to Captain, helping to make the neighborhood a safer place, though eventually he was assigned to work over at Flatbush Avenue where the need was greater.  The large amount of money accumulated from crime related to illicit goods that came through the airport soon began to flow into the pockets of policemen in the 77th precinct.  To combat the corruption most of the precinct was transferred, the commander as well as the patrol officers.  And to prevent corruption from returning, officers were only given short terms of service.  Thus, the ability of officers to really know the area was limited, making for a distance between the police and the residents.  Meredith points out that the importance of such a connection can be seen in the recent police killing of Shaheen Vassell.  Local police knew him and that he was harmless; the special team sent in did not, and they fired on him immediately.

Crown Heights was also plagued by racial and religious division.  Meredith was in the force when riots broke out between Jews and Blacks.  Meredith believes there was a lack of trust and mutual interest between the two communities exacerbated by the need of the Jews for more and more living space. This created a flammable situation.  The fire was set off when Jewish ambulance workers failed to pick up a black child hurt in a car crash in which Rabbi Schneerson's motorcade was involved.  Another black child had been killed, and then after that a Jewish man was stabbed to death.  Meredith disagrees with those who say that Mayor Dinkins mishandled the situation.  He believes the police calmed a volatile situation in which both sides, after the killing of Yankel Rossenbaum, were very angry.  A man named Richard Green along with religious leaders from both communities helped to calm the situation.  Since then relations between the communities have improved immensely.  Another piece of history Meredith was involved with was the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.  He had to deal with many fellow officers and firemen losing their lives during this terrible cataclysm both from the buildings coming down and later from breathing in the toxic dust. 

Division has been a concern in other ways.  In the 1970's Meredith became active in Community Board 8.  He works with the Transportation and Housing Committee, and he was active in saving the Franklin Avenue shuttle which today may very well be extended to the G train. Later he joined the advisory board for the State Liquor Authority.  During this time Crown Heights became a safer and more prosperous place, but the progress had side effects.  Just as a liquor store or a bar can create jobs and commerce so can such a place lead to noise and a public nuisance.  Increased prices for real estate can turn many long time residents into millionaires, but they must also pay dramatically increased taxes, something that is hard for people on fixed incomes. Sometimes when the older generation passes away, their children cannot afford to pay the taxes on a property worth more than a million dollars, and therefore they have to sell.  The landmarking of buildings has been a mixed blessing.  It preserves the buildings, but it makes it harder to keep them up. Meredith is fully aware of the ambiguities.  He believes it is bad for Crown Heights to lack cohesion.  The area is divided between different districts in the City Council.  The 35th and the 36th divide Crown Heights in two, and Meredith said the 35th district has eight different Assembly Districts crisscrossing through it. Many problems are hard to deal with as Community Boards 8 and 9 also divide up Crown Heights.

Meredith is now retired from the Post Office and the Police.  A stroke in 2012 set him back, but through a long course of physical therapy he seems to have restored himself.  He still takes an interest in the community and enjoys the peaceful environment on Hampton Place and the neighbors he knows so well.  He lives happily with his wife, daughter and grandchild, and his other surviving daughter lives on East New York Avenue.  Meredith has seen the waves of change come in and he notices the little eddies and undertow that make life complicated and interesting.