On Friday, Charles M. Blow, Black op-ed columnist at the New York Times wrote about the census data from 2010, which is showing that NYC, which has been a city with very large Black population (only 4 states have more Black people than New York), is seeing a major decrease in Black folks since the 2000 Census count. According to the op-ed,the 2010 Census data
“…will show the first drop in the black population of New York City on a census since at least 1880, according to Professor Andy Beveridge, a sociologist at the City University of New York. (The white, Asian and Hispanic populations are all expected to grow.)”
This is not surprising altogether. I have lived here since 1999 (and spent a college semester here in 1996) and I sometimes stand in NYC and wonder (often aloud) where did all these white people come from?
What’s interesting is that the NY Times itself has reported on Black migration out of NYC in the last several years, but their analysis has mostly come to people talking about better job opportunities in the South, moving closer to familial connections, cost of living and better quality of life. I think all these things are true.
However Blow’s op-ed is the first I’ve seen to point to a more sinister reason Black folks are fleeing New York: Police violence and harassment. Blow opines:
“But to the soup of reasons and recriminations I would like to add one more possible factor that must be considered if not studied: the hyper-aggressive police tactics that have resulted in a concerted and directed campaign of harassment against the black citizens of this city.
According to a report in The Times last year, there were a record 580,000 stop-and-frisks in the city in 2009. Most of those stopped (55 percent) were black (a large portion were also Hispanic), most were young and almost all were male. For reference, according to the Census Bureau, there were about only 300,000 black men between the ages of 13 and 34 living in the city that year. A mere 6 percent of the stops resulted in arrests...The Times article revealed that in one eight-block area of an overwhelmingly black neighborhood in Brooklyn, the police made 52,000 stops in just four years, an average of nearly one stop for each resident each year…If this is even part of the reason blacks are fleeing from, or simply not coming to, our great metropolis, then the city, knowingly or not, is engaged in its own subtle form of ethnic cleansing — a sort of eradication by intimidation.”
This is a really great point that needs to be explored. Similarly, police violence targeting Blacks in Oakland, California made headline news a few years ago with the murder of Oscar Grant. News has also circulated from the 2010 Census that Oakland, California’s Black population has dropped 25% over the last decade. Though more Blacks in Oakland are moving to surrounding areas like Richmond and Sacramento more than they are to the Southern states (although that is also occurring), could police violence still be a major factor?
Things to consider:
1. Does the white young urbanite migration to back to urban areas increase police violence (yes, that even means you, white activists who consider your selves, progressives or radicals) against Blacks–that, combined with rising property values force Blacks out? More bluntly, do white bodies (regardless of one’s stated politics) draw bullets to Blacks?
2. Does this migration of Black people back South mirror the Great Migration out of the South–migration caused both by the promise of better economic and living conditions as well as a fleeing a way from white violence (in one case by some police but often by white citizen mob violence, and in another by official and organized police forces.) whether staffed by people of color police or not, but that represent white interests–including those of the gentrifiers?
3. Do white gentrifiers see that they collude with the state violence against blacks? That is to say, the state speaks for you through the police, and what they perceive to be your wishes, or at least your value and purchasing power. So whether or not you feel bad about your place in a neighborhood you’re gentrifying, and try to combat that by being nice to your Black neighbors, or by doing activism at a nonprofit in the city in which you live, which you may see as a way to offset the conundrum of gentrification, none of that is the point. Black people become expendable in order to increase property values and bring luxury goods (indy and corporate coffee houses, bars, boutiques, bourgie restaurants including “ethnic” themed establishments.) to a new market–the white 20-40something urbanite. So to the state (government and the police) and to the market (capitalist forces including landlords), white gentrification (whether by bourgie yuppies like in Carroll Gardens and Park Slope or by radical punks, artist, and white antiracist devotees –who usually become bourgie yuppies–in Bed Stuy, Bushwick, and Crown Heights) represents an opportunity to make money, regardless of how you see yourself on the political spectrum. It’s not an easy question nor solution, I just wish some people would begin to engage it.