Friday Reading List: Gentrification and Police Violence

Citizen Ed published a piece I wrote, which reflects on the death of Saheed Vassell:

While Americans tend to talk about racial integration and coexistence in aspirational, abstract terms, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that an influx of new white residents takes a serious, and sometimes violent, toll on residents in black communities. These intersections between police violence and gentrification warrant much more discussion in our culture. Neighborhoods become gentrified – or, to be even more assertive, colonized – when new residents superimpose their interests and culture on a community, often in direct conflict with a neighborhood’s existing character. This process is usually oversimplified as a real estate phenomenon, wherein developers and investors plunder the housing stock of underserved communities, driving up prices in a way that enriches themselves, while making it impossible for existing residents to keep up with the escalating cost of living. But the problem isn’t about real estate alone, as Sy’s death makes painfully clear. 

Natasha Lennard, writing at The Intercept, had a similar take:

A study by RentCafe released last February found the area encompassed by the Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant area to be one of the 20 most gentrified in the country, using metrics of housing value spikes, median home value, median household income, and the share of residents that hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Whether or not the 911 callers in Vassell’s case were direct participants in this gentrifying protest, the readiness with which longtime residents drew this conclusion speaks to an empirically grounded concern in gentrified and gentrifying communities that black residents will face increased scrutiny and police interference — at times with deadly consequence.

And here's Errol Louis, at the New York Daily News, making specific points about the way that the NYPD alters videos before presenting them to the public:

City leaders — including elected officials, police commanders and community activists — should agree to take a few important steps to prevent a repeat of this disaster. The fact that Vassell was shot at 10 times suggests the NYPD should reconsider its current training, which allows officers to use whatever level of force is needed to neutralize a perceived threat ... To increase community trust, stunts like the NYPD’s video creation should be banned as a matter of policy. Instead, a full release of raw, untouched footage — including audio of 911 calls — should be presented to the public as soon as possible.

Vassell's family also has called for the release of the unedited videos. This transparency is critical, as the police tend to construct a narrative that exculpates its employees, in cases where those employees have murdered unarmed citizens.

The interplay among the Supreme Court's interpretation of the fourth amendment, and state and local "use of force" laws and policies, means that it is extremely rare that a police murder is technically "illegal," even if it is morally wrong.

"Legal" and "moral" are not synonymous. See also: slavery, the contemporary prison system, etc.

Transparency here would serve two purposes. First, and most importantly, it would hasten justice for Saheed Vassell and his grieving family. Second, and more globally, releasing all of the available evidence, including incontrovertible video evidence that demonstrates an unnecessary use of force, could shift public opinion in such a way that allows us to sustain political pressure on the leaders who could change the laws, which currently allow police officers to get away with murdering innocent people.

Have a thoughtful weekend ...