February 14, 2012

Urban Capital

Post by A. R. Jenkins

During one of our recent road trips along the breathtaking California coastline, my sister and I treated ourselves to a rare recording of Malcolm X exhorting black communities to trade within their neighborhoods, a message and reminder of modern day opportunity for self-sufficiency through micro markets of exchange within local communities.

However, I am certain Malcolm did not intend blacks to sell exaggerated stories of violence to media and the world in efforts to achieve economic equality. This monetizing of black neighborhood violence ranges from selling your story to Journalists and book publishers as former black Baltimore Police Detective Kelvin Sewell did with “Why do they Kill? The Pathology of Murder In Baltimore.”    To the all too easy and all too common practice of playing on fear exploiting images of supposed, widespread, endemic violence to convince community leaders to swing votes your way in the waning hours of elections.

C.W. Nevius’ November 5, 2011 piece in the San Francisco Chronicle is an example of the latter, timed just that way, hitting the wires a mere 3 days prior to San Francisco’s contentious mayoral election. In this case, Nevius’ “urban war” story (a version of the “urban legend”) was by a candidate’s tour of one of the city’s public housing developments. The candidate used this “tour” to add a bit of reality TV “drama” as a backdrop for this war story.

Nevius opens the narration of this little urban triptic with a scene of a child playing with a chrome pistol pointed at another child’s head as if he just happened on to the city version of terrorist training camp, instead of a scene from the cops and robbers most kids still play. That is, when their thumbs and minds are not being callused from the repetitive action of shooting just about everything playing over the top video games.

Nevius also does not miss the opportunity to use the all too common “leverage;” (a good description since we are talking about generating capital), attempting to gain validity by inserting comments from an insider. In this case, the “inside trader” role is played by Malia Cohen District 10 Supervisor. She is black and willing to validate the war story. She pumps up the premise chalking everything up to a “cultural acceptance of violence” in the battle zone, resulting a “desensitizing of harm to others.”

This sinister alliance between media and representation, indicts the neighborhood (when it is really just a couple of knuckleheads.) The alliance is like Wall Street, engaging in a lucrative form of derivative trading, in this case the commodity is black neighborhood violence. People who should know better broker the “deal”. Adding to the nastiness of lazy journalism and lack of real representation, some residents open the door to these “money changers,” guiding the “tour” to blood stained sidewalks, piles of cartridge rounds. They act like rating agencies, puffing up the “value of violence” driven monetization.

However, lost to these traders in fear and myth brokering, is the fact of rapid decrease in area violence over the last couple of years. From 2009 to 2010, violent crime in the Ingleside, the scene of Nevis’ crime (entrende intended), dropped ten percent and in the third quarter of 2011 dropped by eighteen percent. But, hey, don’t let a little thing likereality get in the way of a good, too old, should be out of fashion, myth of black neighborhood as a war zone. It’s time for new voices telling real-life stories of long- standing resilience, creativity, and ingenuity, making a way out of no way in neighborhoods that some folks only see as territory supporting their own corrupt version of crime fighting industrial complex driven economy.

Communities deserve more, are more, than this narrow, inaccurate, strangely persistent distortion. Ideally, we’ve reached a tipping point, where the stories we read “capitalize” on true histories of people and place. We will all be “enriched” when they do.

Sources Per SFPD 2010 Ingleside COMPSTAT Report
Per SFPD 2011 Ingleside COMPSTAT Report

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