I recently wrote about a panel discussion I did on Race, Racism and Social Justice (RRSJ). I can’t let that column stand without amending it to make sure everyone knows that I understand that racism exists. 21st-century racism is slicker and subtler than its cousin who was at the helm in the 1950s. But no matter how you color it, perfume it or dress it up in fancy clothes, it is still ugly.
Two Sundays ago, the Tribune ran a story that I think everyone should have read. If ever there was a real-life story that highlights Race, Racism and Social Justice, this was it. The story in the Trib revolved around the Harris family. They own property in the 1600 block of North Clybourn. The property was purchased in the 1970s when the neighborhood was predominantly black and “ghetto” behavior acceptable and commonplace.
Fast forward to 2011: The neighborhood is now predominantly white and wealthy. They have no tolerance for the behavior that we see far too often on the streets of Austin. Dogs without tags, hanging out on the front porch and sidewalks, loud music and voices, property run down and unkempt. You know the scene. Well the new neighbors in the million-dollar-plus homes don’t take too kindly to that kind of behavior. So they complained.
And guess what? Their complaints were heard and a resolution put in place. Based on the alleged mistreatment of a dog, the Animal Crimes Unit (ACU) was called in and the house raided by 40 – yeah, you are reading right, FORTY – officers. CPD ACU officers, two swat teams and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. Dayum! And y’all were told there is a shortage of officers.
None of the crimes alleged in the warrant to conduct the raid were substantiated. But the raid was followed by a city building inspector who cited every violation in the book, so the Harrises were issued an order to vacate.
By the way, the property the Harrises paid $65,000 for in 1970 is now worth about a million dollars. Of course, that doesn’t help when they’ve been forced out of their home with nowhere to go. But that is classic RRSJ in Chicago.
When the new white neighbors move in, all of a sudden their complaints are valid. Every day on the streets of Austin, I see dogs with no tags and chains around their necks to make them stronger; dogs on ropes, not genuine leashes; puppies being dragged down the street, not walked.
When and how can we get the ACU out here just to drive up and down our streets? We have so many known drug buildings. When can we get a city inspector to write violations that cause an immediate order to vacate?
I can empathize with the new white neighbors having to watch what should be socializing in the backyard done on the streets and front porch. Was it racism that caused the new neighbors to have such consternations? Was it classism from those who paid a million or more for their property vs. ones whose property is worth a million? You gotta wonder at what point who is right and who is wrong.
As one who subscribes to the idea that backyards should be used more often in the black community, I can understand the frustrations of people seeing their property values being affected by those who believe they can do whatever they please and the rest of us have to tolerate it. That ideology only works in the black community because it is seldom to never that we can get the city to respond to our complaints about people/buildings that makes our quality of life miserable.
I feel sorry for the Harrises in that they are being maligned because of how they look. They also brought a lot of it on themselves by not adjusting to the changing social conditions around them. Their story can be seen as a metaphor for all of black Chicago as this city moves forward, steamrolling any and all black folks in the way.
No one is waiting for us to decide to catch up and get with the program. The solution now is to eliminate the problem, and they are doing just that by any means necessary.