I came across an interesting read last night in the Atlantic, it addresses how local police handle neighborhoods in transition from their being distasteful refuges of the poor to their blissful transcendence into enclaves of the affluent. In most developed countries, the disparity caused by such “urban renewal” remains somewhat genteel, since other affluent nations have broad social safety nets to see that class disparity never becomes so crass. But in the United States? Well, you get this:
When low-income neighborhoods see an influx of higher-income residents, social dynamics and expectations change. One of those expectations has to do with the perception of safety and public order, and the role of the state in providing it. 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. Loitering, people hanging out in the street, and noise violations often get reported, especially in racially diverse neighborhoods.
Ahh, “suspicious activity”, the catch-all phrase we use in today’s culture-of-fear(™) to micromanage the behavior of those least convenient to modern real estate marketing.
Before we go further, this is that time of explanation some knee-jerk conservative may demand mid-reading: Yes, some behavior is truly suspicious and warrants reporting; yes, it’s basic common sense that if you witness someone breaking into a house or stealing a purse, the best thing to do would be to call the police (and never, I must stress, confront the perpetrator yourself). But with the increasing paranoia in present day white America, anything and everything people of colour do in animated urban centres can be construed as suspicious by somebody. This is including but not limited to, being black in a neighborhood of white residents whose enthusiasm for diversity stops at having that one black friend they use to clear their name of racism. Dinner at fusion restaurants or their occasional dabbling in the local jazz scene constitutes the right and proper interest the culture of the other. Tolerating too many people on the block whose hue deviates a little too much from the pre-approved resident code? Well, can’t have that!
That the police purport to protect & serve in these communities is by no means indicative this principle is equitably applied. They’re protecting and serving somebody, but it’s a given that it’s likely not those being profiled.
The modus operandi in gentrifying, urban areas is that law enforcement and their impressive apparatus of structural power are ramping up the platform prescribed by Plato’s Republic; the “guardians” of civilization protect first and foremost, the fiscally indispensable from the societally expendable. In the less advanced stages of ongoing “urban renewal”, higher value residents, that is to say, those who can cough up reliable tax monies, often live in immediate proximity to lower valued residents. And I hate to break it to those of you who think contemporary America is an equitable society, the latter group means poor people with no tax dollars to extract.
Are you a normal person with some sense of demand for justice, seeing this as at least marginally unfair? Then you recognize bad policy. You’re admirably humanistic. Unfortunate, it seems, that humanists aren’t cut out for policy making from the perspective of real estate profiteering, because if you’re seeing the big picture from the eyes of a cold, pragmatically calculated labyrinth of brutalist architecture bound government offices, and the development titans they enable, the top down approach to neighborhood policing reported on in the Atlantic, simply makes real sense.
It is often said evil shouldn’t be invoked to explain situations that could better be deciphered by revealing ineptitude. When do we ask ourselves how many times this saying should be applied in reverse?