Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Violence of Gentrification

Last night, at a dinner where my wife was being honored for her educational leadership and anti-testing activism, I ran into an old friend, Tom Kappner, who for forty years has been a tenant activist on the Upper West Side. I asked him how the battle against Columbia expansion was going, and after saying "Not good," he shared me a horror story about events that were occurring in the heavily Dominican neighborhood that runs from Amsterdam Avenue to
Riverside Drive between 135th and 155th Streets which has suddenly become valuable terrain. Tom had just come from a meeting with the local City Councilman and several community leaders who had stories from more than 400 Dominican families who were being harrassed by their landlords to drive them out of their apartments.  This was being done because huge profits could be made from raising rents for new arrivals or turning the buildings into co-ops.

  As Tom told me this, I thought of the events in Baltimore, and in Ferguson, and in many parts of Brooklyn, and was reminded that "Gentrification," often described as the impersonal operation of markets, can get very personal, and in its own way, quite violent.  How many tenants and homeowners and storekeepers leave communities where they have been fixtures for decades, sometimes generations, because they have been harassed by landlords and/or banks. If what is going on in West Harlem now is any indication, more than a few.

  We need to factor this in as we try to understand the rage that many people feel about police practices, and in more recent times, police killings.  The police are bearing the brunt of an anger felt at a whole array of forces that are driving poor and working class  people out of communities they once felt at home, or making them feel as if they are an unwanted presence   When harassment comes from every direction, and you feel that no one cares and no one will come to your defense, it breeds desperation and rage as well as resignation.

    Either we address the underlying causes of this distress, which go far beyond resentment of police, or we will reap the whirlwind.

    And not only in Baltimore