I live in Washington, D.C., which like most “urban” cities across the United States is gentrification central. According to Wiki gentrification is defined as: a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values. Gentrification is typically the result of investment in a community by real estate development businesses, local government, or community activists, and can often spur economic development, attract business, and lower crime rates. In addition to these potential benefits, gentrification can lead to population migration, which involves poorer residents being displaced by wealthier newcomers. Or as a Native Washingtonian said yesterday while I was getting my hair done, “all these white people moving here from Idaho and taking over and pushing us out.”
The feeling of being pushed out is common among longtime residents or people who were born and raised in that neighborhood, it is usually people of color who have seen their neighborhood go through hard times when they were the only ones living there and now must witness a resurgence once whites and wealthier residents move in. A friend who owns a home in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in D.C., told me a story of how his new white neighbors want to close down one of the few remaining homeless shelters in the city because it’s blocks from their homes. “This doesn’t belong in our neighborhood,” they said. Well who and what does belong?
Recently, a white woman complained that Black teens who were walking through the now expensive and fashionable Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn were told by the police to leave the neighborhood.
Sara Bennett said five teens were walking along Ninth St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. at 2:45 p.m. on Sept. 22 when she saw an NYPD patrol car following the youths with its lights and sirens on.
Then, over the loudspeakers, a cop told the teens to leave the area, Bennett said.
“I was upset by (the) police behavior,” Bennett wrote on her Facebook page Wednesday. “I notified my city council person (Brad Lander) about what I had witnessed. His office told me I should voice my concern at a precinct council meeting, so I did.”
At the meeting, Bennett said she “was really, really upset and disturbed” by what happened.
“Not by the kids, but by the way the police were yelling at them to get out of the neighborhood,” Bennett said. “They were just walking down the street.”
Commanding Officer Capt. Frank DiGiacomo said his officers have been on the lookout for groups of young people loitering at nearby Atlantic Center Mall who have started fights and robbed businesses, but someone at the community meeting pointed out that the mall is over a mile away from where this group of teens was found. It seems that the cops were being deliberate in their attempt to just move some Black kids out of a neighborhood because from their point of view the teens didn’t belong there.
But what if they did belong? Black and Hispanics do still reside in Park Slope, as they do still live in Washington, D.C. And yet everyday they see signs – rising rent prices, new condos, new grocery stores, new restaurants and shops – all screaming exclusivity and that seem to literally say: you don’t belong here.
The actions of the New York police officers were a representation of gentrification that just happened to be out loud and in living color. The words, “get out of this neighborhood,” were spoken clearly instead of couched in development deals and highrise construction. It is what people of color who live in these neighborhoods, who love these neighborhoods, who don’t want to leave their neighborhoods endure on a regular basis. Get out of here. And go where?
Diana Veiga is a Spelman woman, a DC resident, and a freelance writer. Of course, she’s also on Twitter.