Hundreds of local residents and community leaders packed Union Temple Baptist Church Sanctuary in Southeast Washington D.C. Dec. 14 for what was billed as an emergency hearing to discuss gentrification, which some organizers said is an effort to remove Blacks from the nation’s capitol.
The meeting was convened by lawyer and activist Malik Shabazz, chairman of the Black Lawyers For Justice (BLFJ.). Shabazz said the meeting was called to “fact find and educate residents on problems associated with Washington D.C.’s rapid redevelopment.” At least 20 residents testified in detail about a wide range of problems, including school closures, disrespect by police and culture clashes with new residents.
Shabazz said the city’s Black population, at a high of 75% in 1990, has now declined sharply. As cranes and new construction projects alter the city’s skyline, neighborhoods and cultural traditions, some in the African-American middle class are finding rising property taxes prohibitive while poor residents are watching affordable housing erode, he said.
The Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Temple, said his members complain of police giving preferential treatment to new White residents. Wilson called new policies enacted in the District “a form of apartheid,” comparing the new power structure in D.C. to White minority rule.
“There is a conspiracy to drive us from the city,” Shabazz said.
He named city planning officials, real estate developers and even some Blacks in the city’s leadership of conspiring to move Blacks out. Shabazz said Black contractors and business operators are being targeted and becoming “a besieged minority” in their own city.
“It is becoming a crime for a Black Man to make some money in this town,” he said.
Shabazz said Black Lawyers for Justice is recruiting plaintiffs for a lawsuit against the D.C. police department for “harassing Blacks to protect the gentrifiers.”
BJFJ lawyer Anitra Ash-Shakoor was on hand to provide help for participants facing bankruptcy, foreclosures and other legal issues.
Shabazz said other meetings will be scheduled in early 2014. For more information, visit BLFJustice.org or call 202-434-4528.
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