His campaign trail extends from Clarkson Avenue to Empire Boulevard. His motorcade consists of a single vehicle – a 1964 Chevy Nova straight 6 engine with painted flames that leap from the hood.
His spokesman – currently on leave at a canine anger management camp – is an ornery bull mastiff named Bush. After a long run as an independent, he has been aligned with the extremist Bloods Party since the late nineties.
For a particular Flatbush demographic, “Monsta” Rose serves as street mayor – lauded by constituents, feared by combatants, and respected by both. He is the hardened sage, the raconteur, the dispenser of morbid wisdom.
Monsta spends much of his day either in or around his conspicuous red chariot on Lincoln Road. Passers by approach his driver side window to exchange rugged pleasantries and intricate handshakes. Men and women, young and old, mild and menacing.
For a community accustomed to the premature erasure of friends and loved ones, mere longevity garners a special respect.
Having survived more than two decades on the frontlines of Brooklyn street violence, it’s a quality Monsta carries in abundance. He saunters across his jurisdiction with an air of rakish valor.
Fat medallions swing from long chains around his neck like dead men from ropes. Given his war record, the ornaments have the feel of having been awarded rather than purchased.
The Lincoln Road resident’s lanky frame has hosted 13 bullets stemming from five incidents over more than 20 years – the most recent coming in 2012.
One has taken up permanent residence in this chest. Another squatted in his neck for more than a year before finally emerging in fragments.
He walks with the labored gait of a retired offensive lineman. The movements are informed both by style and suffering – the proportions are unclear.
Considering his absolute fluency in American mayhem, it comes as a surprise that the 42-year-old couldn’t even speak English when he came to Flatbush from Panama at the age of 10 in 1982.
While the blight and poverty rang familiar, little else did.
Ostracized for his ragged English, Monsta soon realized that he would have to forge wise allegiances if he was to emerge from the gauntlet intact.
“Panama was poor,” he said in his earnest growl. “But there were still principles. There was respect. People shared what they had. Any parent could discipline any child. Here, even as a kid, you could feel that it was everyone for himself.”
Once settled with fists, confrontations in Monsta’s adopted neighborhood were beginning to involve artillery. “At the end of the eighties you heard shots every night,” he said. “Every single night. There were guns everywhere around here.”
Whatever innocence he brought on the flight over from Panama was quickly effaced like a scratched off serial number.
Monsta’s later teen years in Flatbush – spent with his mother in an apartment on Clarkson Ave. between Bedford and Rogers – coincided with the dropping of the crack bomb.
“The older guys, the older hustlers in the neighborhood, they used to mess with coke,” he said. “But then people started to change physically. All of a sudden it was like zombies everywhere.”
Flatbush Avenue teemed with mothers and daughters turned crack-addled goblins roaming and scrounging for their next fix.
With mass addiction came the potential for mass profits. Drug crews hoping to cash in on the epidemic bloomed in Flatbush and beyond.
Monsta recited an abridged list of defunct local gangs that warred for territory and treasure. The Gucci Posse. The Touchies. The Shower Posse.
Towards the end of the decade, local affiliations faded as an insidious West Coast export began to take hold. The Blood and Crip model soon began to infect Brooklyn. Monsta – whose vocation at the time was robbing dealers – had to select wisely.
Flatbush was and still is considered a Crip stronghold. But Monsta Rose took the implied hue of his last name as a sign and opted for crimson.
It’s an affiliation that he trumpets through every channel available to him. It begins with the red Chevy that serves as a roving Blood billboard.
There are the tattoos. “M.O.B” – or “member of blood” – is inked on his craggy left hand. Sartorial choices inevitably include red – jackets, knit caps, on and on. There’s the red bowler hat that sits on the rear dashboard of the vehicle.
The word “Blood” is spelled out in chrome letters to his rear windshield.
But despite manning a Blood canoe amidst a Crip armada, Monsta is generally allowed to indulge in the allegiance without harassment.
The locals are well aware of Monsta’s history in the theater of war. His reputation is so steeped in violent lore that he sails the streets without fear of broadside.
“I raised a lot of these kids who call themselves Crips now,” Monsta said. “They know me, they know what I’ve been through.”
Despite having spent more than a quarter of his life behind bars in both state and federal facilities, Monsta said he doesn’t squander time tussling with regret.
“When you are in a certain environment for a long time then choices aren’t really choices anymore,” he said. “I think that’s what people don’t understand. Choices just become instincts.”
“Situations on the street always have outcomes, one way or another. You can’t change that. It’s going to end at some point, somewhere. I just like to have as much control as I can over those outcomes.”
As he entered his forties still upright – a notion he would once have considered ludicrous – Monsta has become less monstrous. Sporadic forays into the rap game have become more focused.
It’s been years since he was last shot at, after all. Things have calmed down.
As he spoke, a stylish young white girl walked down Lincoln Road past his car. She smiled and waved with a comfortable familiarity.
The cameo served as a comely cue to discuss Flatbush’s rapidly shifting demographics.
“This used to be an island,” he said. “You have a lot of new faces here now, new people. But who am I to judge a book by its cover? You have to read the chapters.”
He credited part of his sunny racial attitude to a white cellmate he had in federal prison. “He was a good guy,” he said. “Good people are all types. Bad people are all types.”
That said, Monsta knows that many of the newcomers are palpably uncomfortable with his unrepentant persona.
“I’m not forcing anything on anybody,” he said. “I can’t control what people think. I can’t get drawn into that.”
The sun began to pack up its belongings for the day and Monsta’s home block began to darken. Playing children shrieked in the distance. A few more handshakes, a few more greetings.
Bemused residents of the million dollar plus homes across the street from his apartment building stopped to watch as he posed for pictures.
He has family, he has two kids. He has a roof over his head and a surplus of respect from people whose opinions mean something to him.
If the rents continue to rise in the neighborhood, Monsta said could just move to Trinidad where he has people. Or something.
“I’ve been to some dark places, some dark corners. Places that other people haven’t been to. So I just try to value time as best I can.”
“We all want the same things. Right? Something bright, something good every day and for the future. That’s all.”
“Part of that means trying not to look back.”
Photos by Byron Smith for Flatbushed.com.
The details of this story have been provided by the subject alone.