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Spike Lee explains expletive-filled gentrification rant

By Ray Sanchez and Steve Almasy CNN | 2/27/2014, 10:26 a.m.

Spike Lee grew up in Fort Greene in Brooklyn.

His parents still live there.

He still keeps an office there.

But it's not the same neighborhood he grew up in, and his feelings about newcomers now inhabiting once-blighted parts of America's most-populous city like Fort Greene slapped many people in the face after the famed director went into an expletive-laced rant during an African-American History Month lecture on Tuesday.

"I grew up here in New York. It's changed," Lee said at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, an art, design, and architecture school. "And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn't picked up every mother* day when I was living in 165 Washington Park. ... The police weren't around. When you see white mothers pushing their babies in strollers, three o'clock in the morning on 125th Street, that must tell you something."

Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service, said the city has witnessed an enormous recovery since 2001, and the greatest change has been felt in Brooklyn, which has drawn newcomers because of its housing, access to Manhattan and improved safety.

"Cities don't stand still, and the cities that stand still are Detroit," Moss said. "So if Spike Lee wants to see a place where there is no gentrification, he'll also find a place where there are no investments. Obviously, he's someone who knows how to make a movie but doesn't know anything about cities."

He added: "Brooklyn has become more attractive to more people. Of course, that means some people are going to have to find other places to live, but that's the magic of New York. We create new places. Today, Bushwick, which was an area that people were afraid to go to, now has some of the best restaurants in the city."

The new neighbors complain

"Let me just kill you right now," Lee, the "Do The Right Thing" director, told D.K. Smith, a Brooklyn homeowner and tech start-up director, at the speech when Smith brought up the subject of the "other side" of gentrification.

And then he launched his lengthy tirade.

On Wednesday, Lee told "Anderson Cooper 360" that he's not against new people moving into areas that were once predominantly poor and predominantly African-American.

"My problem is that when you move into a neighborhood, have some respect for the history, for the culture," Lee said.

Smith, the managing director of the start-up Brooklyn Innovation Center, told CNN that he doesn't mind that Lee ripped into him and wouldn't let him interject.

Smith told Lee on Tuesday that he didn't dispute his point that services in the neighborhoods had changed after the new people -- most of whom are white -- moved in.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa..." said Lee. "Let me kill you some more."

"Can I talk about something?" Smith said.

"Not yet. Then comes the mother' Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can't discover this! We been here," he said to applause from the audience.