Today is a big day for the Trump administration. It is The President's maiden State of The Union address. Mr. Trump is expected to speak on how great the economy is, immigration, and infrastructure. Two big questions loom over the annual speech to Congress: First, which Trump will show up? Trump the good who stays on message or off the rails Trump? Second, will First Lady Melania Trump actually show up? The administration is hoping for a reset after the roller coaster of a first year. Also looming over the SOTU is the Special Counsul Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 Presidential Election. Given the speed and intensity of Republican efforts to derail the investigation, it seem like the Special Counsul is getting ready to drop a bombshell. Blogger Candidate Forum might tune in to see what transpires. Alright, time to chat about today's subject: criminalizing gentrifying neighborhood's.
We begin in the epicenter of gentrification, Brooklyn. Abdullah Fayyad reports on an early morning incident that took place over Labor Day in his The Atlantic article, "The Criminalization of Gentrifying Neighborhoods." He writes, "In the early hours of Labor Day, Brooklynites woke up to the sound of steel-pan bands drumming along Flatbush Avenue, as hundreds of thousands of people gathered to celebrate J'ouvert, a roistrous Caribbean festival that commemorates emancipation from slavery." In recent years, having been afflicted by gang violence, the 2017 pre-dawn parade was very different, according to The New York Times (nytimes.com; Sept. 4, 2017; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018). Floodlights and security checkpoints dotted the parade route; many of the participants were distrurbed by what they believed was excessive police presence-overkill response to "a comparatively small number of bad actors."
Imani Henry, the president of the police accountability organization Equality for Flatbush, told Mr. Fayyad, There's criminalization of our neighborhood. The New York Police Department declined Mr. Henry's request regarding security before and during the festival, "citing safety concerns." His group filed a lawsuit for the information (gothamist.com; Sept. 2, 2017; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018). Mr. Fayyad notes, "The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment."
Mr. Henry reckons that the increased law enforcement activity at the J'Ouvert celebrate is part of a greater overall pattern of police surveillance in gentrifying communities. Mr. Fayyad reports, "The lawsuit-which has since made its way to the New York Supreme Court-argues that the NYPD recent increased 'broken window-'style [theatlantic.com; March 1982; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018] arrests in Flatbush and East Flatbush, and claims that these 'police actions have coincidence with increased gentrification.'"
The claim is not just mere speculation. Over the past twenty years, gentrification has become a regular feature of major American cities. Abdullah Fayyad cites a typical example, "...a formerly low-income neighborhood where longtime residents and businesses are displaced by white-collar workers and overpriced coffeehouses." This conventional example aside, "gentrification is a result of an economic restructuring-often leaves out a critical side effect that disproportionately affects communities of color: criminalization."
Let us elaborate. Typically, when low-income neighborhoods experience an influx of more affluent residents, the social dynamics and expectations, change. One the changed expectations is the perceptions of public safety and order, and the role government plays in providing it. Mr. Fayyad writes, "The theory goes that as demographics shift, activity that was previously considered normal becomes suspicious, and newcomers-many of whom are white-are more inclined to get law enforcement involved." Activities such as loitering and noise violations frequently get reported, particularly in racially diverse neighborhoods (thecut.com; Aug. 21, 2015; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018).
Harvard sociology professor Robert Sampson told Mr. Fayyad,
There's some evidence that 311 and 911 calls are increasing in gentrifying areas,...that makes for potentially explosive atmosphere with regard to the police.
Long-terms residents incrementally begin to get caught up in the criminal justice system for "quality of life" crime as 311 and 911 calls bring police to communities where they previously did not enforce nuisance laws before. Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor in Washington D.C., described the situation, "misdemeanor arrests are more reflective of police presence than the total number of infractions committed in an area." He said,
It's not a question of how many people are committing the crime-it's a question of where the police are directing their law-enforcement resouces,...Because wherever they direct the resources they can find crime.
In 2013, San Francisco launched the Open311 mobile app which allows residents to quickly report quality of life violations like loitering or vandalism by taking a picture and sending their location. The app can be used for altruistic purposes like reporting homeless people in need of assistance. However, some are concerned (citylab.com; Oct. 28, 2015; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018) the app can result in unnecessary harassment or citations. While brokens windows remains a controversial policing strategy, a 2015 survey suggested that it was still largely accepted by the general public (poll.qu.edu; May 13, 2015; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018), therefore when people witness something, they are more likely to report it. To wit, when the app launched, the number of 311 calls increase througout the city, and one study (antievictionproject.net; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018) showed that gentrifying neighborhoods had a bigger increase in report quality of life violations.
Mr. Butler recently wrote the book Chokehold: Policing Black Men, believes that the spike in 311 calls is the result of newcormers (i.e. the affluent residents) refusal to assimilate into longstanding communal norms. Paul Butler told Mr. Fayyad,
Culturally, I think the way that a lot of African American and Latino people experience gentrification is as a form of colonization,... The gentrifiers are not wanting to share-they're wanting to take over
One mechanism of this type of usurping public space, according to Mr. Butler, "is law enforcement."
Mr. Butler's hometown of Washington D.C., where he is currently a member of the Georgetown University law school faculty, provides a case study. Abdullah Fayyad writes,
"On most Sunday afternoons, a performance group hosts a drum circle in Malcolm X Park, whose official name is Meridian Hill. The tradition dates back to 1965-shortly after Malcolm X was assassinated-and was intended to celebrate black liberation. While the drumbeats can still be heard today the ritual was called into question when the surrounding neighborhood began to change in the late 1990s. New arrivals living in the blocks surrounding the park repeatedly complained about the noise until the police imposed and enforced a curfew (washingtonpost.com; Sept. 17, 2000; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018) on the drummers."
Lest you think that the increased police presence in gentrifying neighborhoods is the result of new neighbor's calling for service; Abdullah Fayyad observes, "police departments sometimes proactively deploy officers in areas that see bars and other alcohol-serving outlets pop up, as they tend to do in gentrifying neighborhoods." Following an economic analysis, conducted by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department in 2013, created its nightlife unit (mpdc.dc.gov; date accessed Feb. 5, 2018), "...which deploys officers to areas with budding or resuscitated nightlife scenes. Robert Sampson told Mr. Fayyad,
If you're bringing in more bars, there's going to be drunk people congregating in the street, so you need police to tamp that down...But that may lead to potential confrontations.
Those confrontations can involve officers with bar patrons and longtime residents in the neighborhoods.
Former Washington D.C. police Cheif Cathy Lanier spoke to Mr. Fayyad, telling him, "...when a neighborhood's population and economy begin to change, certain problems are bound to rise." Ms. Lanier elaborated,
You're going to have traffic issues, and you're going to have everything that comes along with a rapidly developing community,..., So you want to have that police presence there, and establish community engagement long before the change so you can work with long-term residents to help them through the transition."
She added, "Zero-tolerance enforcements,..., can be avoided if the police are proactive in creating a safe and orderly environment in advance of any major economic disruptions."
Be that as it may, long-term residents can still feel overwhelmed by the presence of increased security, not all of whom are law enforcement. Mr. Sampson said, "private security and third-party police contribute to a sense of over-surveillance. Specifically,
In a kind of rough neighborhood that's about to flip, there may be demand on the part of new residents for safety that goes beyond what the police can provide, which means more eyes on the street on the part of private police.
Historically, low-income and minority neighborhoods are frequently targeted for heavy police presence regardless of their development status, Mr. Fayyad opines, "gentrification and aggressive policing are two sides of the same coin and tend to reinforce one another." Paul Butler added,
The concern when there are misdemeanor offenses is that neighborhoods seem unsafe or disorderly and that decreases their attractiveness for gentrification,.... So in a number of cities, people have observed that enforcement of low-level offenses against black and brown people increases when neighborhoods are prime for gentrification.
A primary concern in communities of color is that the increased police presence enhances the risk of police misconduct and violence. Case in point, "In 2014, when San Francisco native Alejandro Nieto was fatally by four police officers responding to a 911 call, many residents believed [theguardian.com; March 21, 2016; date accessed Feb. 5, 2018] the incident wouldn't have occurred had his neighborhood not gentrified." Mr. Nieto was accused of suspicious behavior in the neighborhood he lived in his entire life, and it was a newcomer who made the 911 call. Following a brief confrontation with a neighborhood dog, Mr. Nieto, a former bouncer, anxiously paced up and down the street with his hand on his Taser, according to a passerby who called the incident in. When the police arrived, Mr. Nieto pointed his Taser at them, which they mistook for a weapon.
Abdullah Fayyad points out, "Gentrification and police violence don't necessarily have a casual relationship." However, increased law enforcement does create a situation for potential misconduct. This is true of any neighborhood that experiences a greater police presence-"it's a simple matter of numbers." Mr. Sampson said,
If you're ticketing more people or patrolling more often, you're stopping more people to ask question on the street,... Now, that's different than pulling a gun and shooting someone, or beating someone up, but the more stop-and-frisks and the more interactions, you have, then probabilistically, you're increasing the risk for police brutality. So it's sort of a sequence or cycle.
Paul Butler, offered the case of Eric Garner, who came to police attention for selling "loosies" (individual cigarettes), in Tomplkinsville Park on Staten Island, a common practice since 2006, when New York City sharply increased its tax on tobacco products. The surrounding neighborhoods already experienced some economic development and there was a spike in misedemeanor violation calls. Mr. Fayyad reports, "After a landlord made a 311 complaint [nytimes.com; June 13, 2015; date accessed Feb. 5, 2018] regarding illegal drug and cigarette sales taking place outside his apartment building, officers began to closely monitor the area." Mr. Garner was confronted several months later, by police, an officer tried to arrest for previously selling loosies. The arrest went bad-later the focus of national attention-when Mr. Garner died after an officer placed in a chokehold.
Paul Bulter opined,
Before there was this effort to gentrify the neighborhood around the [Staten Island] ferry, I think it's fair to say it hadn't received much attention from the police,.... And you can imagine that of all the crimes polices have to worry about, selling loosie cigarettes shouldn't be a priority.
Gentrification goes deeper into the criminal justice system beyond police surveillance. "As cities become whiter, so do juries." For example, in Washngton, it is typical to have a majority Caucasian jury, if not all Caucasian, in a majority African-American city. Mr. Butler had this to say,
Jurors often have different life experiences based on their race. And so if the defense is 'the police lied' or the police planted evidence,' that's something that an African American or a Latino juror might well believe or find credible,.... A white person might find that hard to believe based on that person's experience with the police.
The debate over how best to deal with gentrification (washingtonpost; Feb. 6, 2016; date accessed Feb. 5, 2018) frequently glides over these tension, concentrating solely on economic development. There are some who posit that gentrification is a natural part of the urban landscape (theguardian.com; Nov. 19, 2014; date accessed Feb. 5, 2018), and there are some that argue that municipal governments should do more to regulate the housing markets. However, there is one question cities have not fully dealt with as they evaluate changing communities: "Are they prepared to decriminalized them?