By Mark Naison (February 4, 2017)
One of the many reasons I am appalled by Donald Trump’s world view are his comments about subjects I know first hand. A prime example of this is his apocalyptic promise to end “carnage in our inner inner cities.” Not only do these pronouncement ignore gentrification and the suburbanization of poverty, they come 25 years too late! Where was Donald Trump when there really WAS carnage in our inner cities in the height of the crack epidemic? No where to be found. How do I know? I was there, on the ground, in the some of the most affected areas in New York City and Donald Trump was no where to be found, and had nothing to say.
Let’s go back. The year is 1992. The murder rate in New York City is more than 2000 a year ( it has been under 400 for the last few years). Bullets are flying in drug wars between rival crews in many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. People are afraid to go to and from work, to go to the corner store, to send their kids to school. In one parish near Fordham, St Martin of Tours, 25 young me between the ages of 17-25 were killed in a single year. In Red Hook, a legendary principal ,Martin Daly was killed by stray bullets fired in a shoot out between drug gangs when he went into the projects to see why one of his students didn’t come to school
At that time, I became involved in two anti-violence initiatives. One of them, in the Crotona Neighborhood of the Bronx, was called “Save a Generation” The goal was to provide educational and employment opportunities for out of school out of work youth who were drawn into drug crews. In it, I worked with amazing religious leaders like Father John Flynn and Sister Barbara Leniger , the great leader of South Bronx churches, Lee Stuart, and Astin Jacobo, a dynamic tenant leader and organizer with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. We got some help from, the NY Achdiocese, Congressman Serrano and the Bronx Borough President. for the Americorps program we eventually created. Donald Trump was no where to be found.
The other program was called “Shield the Children” and it was organized by a group called “United Community Centers of East New York” after a drug dealer in the Cypress Hills Project used a three year old in a stroller as a shield in a gun battle. East New York was the closest thing we had to a war zone in NY during those years. Five students were shot to death in a single year in the local high school, Thomas Jefferson, drug dealers had once taken hostages in the local public library, and police only patrolled the neighborhood in cars. At one point, residents actually asked for the National Guard to be sent in to patrol their streets because they felt afraid to leave their houses. Where was Donald Trump when this was going on? No where to be found. The violence was far away from the precious Manhattan neighborhoods where his buildings were being erected
THIS was real carnage. And it took years of organizing by residents, and hard work by police, to get it under control. Once the violence passed, new immigrants moved into these communities, bringing their energy, their businesses and their hope. Today, East New York and Crotona are bustling though still poor communities with far lower crime rates than they had 20 years ago. They hardly need federal intervention, especially attacks on immigrant communities which threaten the very real progress already made..