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