Police Train in Public Housing, Terrorize Neighboring Residents

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on March 28, 2013

When Lauren Manning, a resident of the Ida Yarbrough Homes in Albany, NY, posted this public photo on her Facebook page, she probably didn't imagine that a week later it would have been shared almost 900 times and have generated multiple news stories.

Manning and other residents were angry that a vacant building directly adjacent to their apartments was used for a police traning exercise, including flash grenades and the sounds of assault rifles, and that they were not notified. Manning wrote:

I live my life in such a way that my 2 children should never have to experience a raid. But through no other fault than living in [public] housing we have been subjected to pretend warfare. . . . Additionally the residents/ guest of residents who wandered outside as usual were told to stay in their homes under threat of arrest for trespass where they hold leases or were invited by the leaseholder.

I attended a community response rally on Tuesday. Here are a few excerpts of what people had to say:

I addressed the mind-boggling concept that no one in the decision-making process foresaw that this would be a problem in my biweekly column today:

Even if it really didn’t occur to them, that betrays a startling lack of ability to think of the residents of public housing as having normal every day lives—lives that can be disrupted by gunfire, children who can get scared, and a sense of dignity that might be marred by having their environment sound and look like, a war zone. (Read full column.)

But of course when I put on my Shelterforce hat, I'm also intrigued by the intersection of the police training decision and the public housing demolition decision. The development is scheduled to be torn down and redeveloped, as one of the speakers in the video references, and two buildings, including the one where the training took place, are already empty.

I'm guessing that in some people's minds, the whole place was basically empty already.

The blind spot about the people still living there in this case strikes me as possibly a symptom of the larger blind spot about the existing value of those places as homes and communities, and the single-minded focus on demolition and dispersal always being the right response to their woes (which come, as frequently pointed out here, as much from a systematic underfunding of maintenance and capital improvements as from any inherent fault in their design).

Earlier this week, Rosanne Haggerty wrote an interesting piece here on Rooflines called "What If We Don't Tear It Down? Re-Imagining Public Housing," which connects to some arguments about restoration over displacement Mindy Fullilove has made as well.

I wonder if we saw public housing residents as partners in addressing the problems facing neighborhoods, rather than as problems in and of themselves, if it would both improve redevelopment planning efforts and reduce incidents like the one Ida Yarbrough residents experienced.

About the author more »

Miriam Axel-Lute is editor of Shelterforce and associate director of the National Housing Institute. Her email is miriam at nhi dot org.

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COMMENTS

Yonah El
28 Mar 13, 8:45 pm

I am from Atlanta. We have a 501c3 organization. One of the projects on our 2013 agenda is the purchase and redevelopment of blighted property. It is our plan to employ residents and local labor to restore these properties to above code standards and offer them to low income families. The properties will be maintained and policed by the residents. We want community involvement in these plans because we want our children to be safe from all criminals as well as invasion forces who are more interested in their own lives than the lives of our innocent children.

We must put and end to the inordinate killing of black and brown children by careless and insensitive police who do not value their lives. This includes a citizens review board that reviews each and every questionable shooting. We can no longer depend upon the police review board to give accurate accounts of police shootings. The vast number of shootings alone mandate that at least some of them are inappropriate killings, but we are faced with a 100 % approval rate for the authorize shooting of unarmed innocent children. These tactics can only be arrested by the people who authorize them.

These are common sense solutions to the out of control problems in out communities. We will be happy to visit this and other communities and offer our assistance in revitalizing and saving lives.

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