Who Enjoys “The Right To The City”?


Because we believe intersectionality should be more than a tribal marker, we bring you this report from Baltimore by Lester Spencer (boldface mine):

It’s clear from the DOJ report that the Baltimore City Police Department routinely stops, harasses, detains, and uses force against black people. But if we view the report solely through a racism lens, it’s difficult to account for the two stories I detailed above (even with the allowance that it’s hard to make inferences based on individual anecdotes) [Spencer was not mistreated by police and very quickly let go].

Am I a super-negro? Am I on some secret list of Johns Hopkins professors? Better yet, was I simply stopped in both cases by “the good police officers”?

No. No. And probably not. What’s more likely is that the police officers quickly realized that I didn’t fit the profile of the black person they were trained to harass, detain, and use force against. I was black — but not a member of Baltimore’s “underclass.”

There’s a reason why the vast majority of police stops occur in the Western and the Central Districts: the Western is home to Baltimore’s poorest black neighborhoods, the Central is home to Baltimore’s business district. In effect, the city is producing and reproducing a population that has no functional purpose other than to be policed.

Seeing police violence as simply an expression of racism omits this crucial component. It overlooks that in Baltimore and elsewhere, repressive policing is animated not just by a racial dynamic, but by a class dynamic.

The race of the police officer doesn’t matter. The race of the mayor implementing the policy doesn’t matter. What matters is who enjoys a “right to the city” — and who gets thrown up against a wall and patted down.

Remember that, in 2015, Baltimore’s black mayor referred to her own citizens as “thugs”–which didn’t go over very well.

For some–too many–racism is a powerful explanatory principle that provides an interpretation (if not an accurate one) to the world around them. But there are plenty of people who are willing to use the consequences of this racism to gain at the expense of the middle and lower classes. Unfortunately, our technobrat pundits, despite claims of sophistication, do like their conceptual binaries.

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