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
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
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