After ten years of living in the greater DC area, I became a District resident in 2010. In those three years, I’ve grown to see more complexity in many different subjects, but most clear to me is how this city eyes the politics of race and of affluence. The front lines of DC’s gentrification are not a comfortable place, for the new or the old. And yet, they’re inescapable for a city in the midst of change and growth.
Tiffany and I moved to Monroe Street NE in the Brookland neighborhood, a part of DC that is both old and new all at once. Brookland is one of DC’s most diverse neighborhoods. There are new residents (white, black, hispanic), old residents (white, black, hispanic), poor residents, rich residents, the childless and families, and all are well represented in Brookland. I won’t call that coexistence easy or flawless, but I will say that this is a neighborhood that, for the most part, gets along despite their differences. The meetings can be contentious – see the 901 Monroe development for a good example – but this isn’t a place where all decorum is thrown out the window, making it an exception in Ward 5, known for its online drama.
On Sunday night, thirteen people were shot in front of their homes at Tyler House on North Capitol Street. The 284 units of Section 8 public housing at Tyler House are the site of a $25M renovation planned for the near term, separate from a necessary $100M commitment from Mayor Vincent Gray for the expansion of affordable housing for the District.
Much of the focus in the reporting on the shootings was placed on the neighborhood where the shooting occurred, and not on the victims. Discussion was framed around the big nightclub nearby and the changing status of the District rather than the thirteen individuals who were shot – thankfully none fatally – in front of their homes.
We don’t know the motives of the shooters.
We don’t know who they were, or who they were shooting at.
We don’t know what drove them to fire into a crowd on Sunday night.
The backlash towards the quotes in the article came quickly and fiercely, decrying councilman Tommy Wells’ response (to initially assign blame to the nightclub, not the shooters), and the city’s overall indifference to the violence that can mar our city’s visage. In many cases, that backlash is well-deserved, especially with a paucity of evidence in the shootings
In the followup discussion on Twitter, I was struck by tweets from our Shadow Representative Nate Bennett Fleming, who suggested that the concept of decentralizing public housing was “similar to the ‘back to Africa’ arguments regarding dealing w/ country’s race problem…” (Note from the Author, 5:37pm: Fleming contends that he was only making a logical argument aligning removal of “the problem” as a solution, and was not making bias claims against the author or Commander Solberg, whose quote in the Post was seed for this conversation)
In the three years since I moved into the District, I’ve been called a Klan member for supporting a pizza place in Brookland, and compared to slaveowners for supporting a multi-use development in Brookland.
This is part of a discourse I am increasingly uncomfortable with: how quickly we move to dehumanize each other in the pursuit of winning arguments. It is a trend that I find objectionable because it is only interested in keeping that division alive and present and painful, instead of all of us advancing together as one.
It seems that every civic interaction I’ve had since moving into the city has been fraught with this dialectical guilt, this heavy assumption of a historical burden. I am not arguing that we should ignore this history, or that it has no effects, but rather that we must find a more productive, open-hearted means of engaging with each other than leaping to heated ad hominem.
The point of this is to say: we all want an end to violence. We all want beautiful, livable neighborhoods, and good schools for our kids, and seniors to age in place if that’s their desire. These are things we all share in common. I don’t know anyone in our community that doesn’t want these things. There’s a lot of baggage in our history – heavy, heavy stuff – but sometimes your neighbor is just your neighbor, and they’re just trying to help.