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Racial Profiling Is Worse After H Street Development, Locals Tell Police Chief

by Andrea Swalec — December 12, 2014 at 11:35 am 4,824 31 Comments

Police Chief Cathy Lanier and First District Commander Jeff Brown

District police will work to improve community relations in response to reports of racial profiling and unwarranted stops, Police Chief Cathy Lanier said at a community meeting on K Street NE last night (Thursday).

Young black men who grew up north of the H Street NE corridor are constantly stopped by police and questioned about crimes, longtime residents told Lanier and First District Commander Jeff Brown.

Philip Johnson, a financial consultant who lives on the 800 block of 5th Street NE, said his 23-year-old son gets questioned by police an average of once a week when he’s home from college. Police stops of young black men seem to have increased as the H Street NE corridor has drawn newcomers, Johnson, 71, said.

“My son has to show his ID almost each time his feet hit the street,” said Johnson, who Lanier said she invited to speak at the meeting after they talked for an hour-and-a-half by phone.

“The colonists have arrived and we have an occupying army enforcing the rules,” he said.

Lanier said newcomers to the area are misinterpreting everyday scenarios as crimes, like reporting drug deals when they see young black men standing on a corner.

“You have a lot of people here who haven’t lived in an urban neighborhood who are calling police for a lot of new things,” she said at the meeting held at J.O. Wilson Elementary School.

Johnson agreed with that assessment.

“A couple of guys walk through an alley like they’ve done their whole lives, and the newly arrived neighbors think something untoward is happening,” he said.

Lanier said officers will reduce unnecessary stops by getting to know residents one by one, and by getting more officers out of patrol cars and onto bikes and Segways.

“The officers should know who lives in the neighborhood,” she said. “You see a car window open when it’s raining and you know whose door to knock on … That’s what a beat officer is.”

Brown defended police and said officers make stops based on information reported to them about suspects.

“The majority of the time, we’re responding to a description we received,” he said.

Mozella Boyd Johnson, another 5th Street NE resident, said an officer has repeatedly come to her home this fall, demanded information about her family and refused to provide his name. Her new neighbors apparently accused the family of selling drugs.

“These new people just got here two months ago, and we’re getting all this drama,” Johnson said.

Lanier said the treatment of Johnson’s family by a bike officer is under investigation. She promised continued conversations with locals about racial profiling.

“We’re not going to back away from the issues. I don’t want you to back away from the issues either,” she said.

Philip Johnson said he was open to a one-on-one meeting between police and his family, as Lanier suggested, but that he wasn’t sure a sitdown would prevent his son from being stopped.

“[Lanier] is saying all the good things, but the officers on the beat are not operating like she says.”

  • SLKCHIK

    As a newcomer to Buzzard Point and SW Waterfront, I too must agree with Lanier’s statement, “newcomers to the area are misinterpreting everyday scenarios as crimes, like reporting drug deals when they see young black men standing on a corner.” I once believed standing on street corners equated with drug dealing. Yes indeed some drug activity still takes place in our area both off and on street corners, but it’s not everyday and certainly not on every street corner. Prior to moving into an area you must keep an open mind and truly have a desire to learn how a community functions on a daily basis before coming to any false assumptions. As a white female living on Buzzard Point, I have come to admire the camaraderie that exists among the black community. They are a great deal more friendly and hospitable than the Caucasians. They also love to hang out with friends in their own neighborhoods, something that’s a dying past within the Caucasians. To date I have yet to see a group of white people hang out on a street corner laughing and having a great time. Perhaps we should take notes from our fellow black man instead of racial profiling them for actions we whites aren’t accustomed to seeing, for they really know what living the simple life is all about.

    • anon

      I think the reason why you do not see many whites hanging around on the street corners laughing, has something to do with the fact that a) we’re probably at work or b) we’re at roof top bar or c) a new restaurant. I’m glad you now live in a predominantly African American neighborhood and that you find many things to admire about them including “living the simple life.” The fact remains though that African Americans in DC cause more crime than any racial group in the city. They are vastly under employed or unemployed as a demographic. Call it years of state sponsored racism, crack epidemics, single parenthood, mass incarceration or whatever social ill, facts are cruelly facts. No one, regardless of race has any claim to any neighborhood in our city. If you can’t live here anymore because it exceeds your means, then leave. No one, regardless of class or race is allowed to engage in criminality, regardless of social circumstance. We all deserve safe neighborhoods to work and play, and if blacks have such a problem with over policing, then tell your fellow neighbors, that rather than hang on street corners, they gain marketable skills to make them competitive in DC’s professional economy. Not just be content with the “simple life.”

      • Ray

        Did you not read that the person highlighted in the article is an investment banker and his son is in college? People in urban areas regardless of race walk to work, stores, and public transit.

      • SLKCHIK

        Anon, while I agree with your statement that no one regardless of race or class is allowed to engage in criminal activity, I’m not in agreement with your statement of leaving DC if you can no longer afford to live here. We should all be allowed to live here or anywhere no matter if you work at McDonalds. That’s why having a certain percentage of low income housing is of utmost importance in all major cities. It is inhumane to force people out, especially those who have lived here generations upon generations. I’m sure if you were displaced due to your income or race status, you would not be very happy. Bottom line is there should be housing for all.

        • None

          Are you kidding? People should be allowed to live in places they cannot afford to live? Why? So they have more incentive to commit crimes?

          • Filthy Liar

            At some point people won’t commute into the city to work at Potbellies. We aren’t there yet, but if you price all the minimum wage workers out of the city, which we are close to doing, who’s going to make your food?

          • Jeff

            Potbelly will be forced to pay more money to attract people willing to work for them. Once people are paid more money, they’re able to afford to live in a somewhat closer place.

            It ain’t magic. We’re not going to lose service workers. Employers are just gonna have to pay more to get them.

          • Lucre15

            Subsidized housing effectively becomes a subsidy for employers and lets them get away with paying labor less. I wonder if you could show a link between subsidized housing and lower wages for low skill work. All else being equal, reducing the pool of low skill labor in the city through the elimination of said subsidies should raise wages for the remaining laborers. It would also enable resources to be freed up to pay for other social programs that could increase workers’ skills.

          • Observer

            Not just Potbelly. Basically all the people that would have been profiled and featured on Mike Rowe’s old show “Dirty Jobs.” They do the work that make civilized life for the rest of us possible. Cleaning, security, daycare, healthcare (aside from doctors), and on and on and on. Do we throw all those people out to Woodbridge or the Eastern Shore?

          • anon

            No necessarily, but what needs to occur is a market force that drives employers to pay low skilled labor more. Jobs that cannot be outsourced or automated have an advantage that the demand for such service will not diminish. Right now employers don’t have to pay more for those jobs since the supply of labor willing to fill those jobs at the rate employers are willing to pay is at an equilibrium. There are a variety of factors at play in this, one of which are government subsidies for adult single earner low income persons that supplement the delta in what employers pay vice what is required for their cost of living. If indeed no housing existed that would present employees incentives to take these jobs, demand would out pace supply leading to a higher equilibrium. Simply put, if it cost me more money to drive into the city to work a low income job, then I would choose/have to exchange my labor elsewhere for greater incentives.

        • anon

          Nobody is entitled to live in a neighborhood of where they want. I don’t understand why this is hard to understand SLKCHIK? A policy that allowed anyone to live where they wanted simply based on their whims would be utterly disastrous not to mention impossible to implement. Neighborhoods are constantly changing, that is normal. Anacostia used to be predominantly Irish immigrant working class but now is predominantly African American. Things change. It is neither humane or inhumane. Diversity is great for a city, its why I chose to live in one, but that doesn’t mean a person’s race also entitles them to live in my neighborhood. You must be able to pay fair market rent, that’s the only barrier of entry. Race does not predetermine who will be a criminal or not. The fact remains though, African Americans commit many more crimes in our city per-capita then any other race. I doubt they’re even over-represented in those stats since they make up nearly half of our population here in DC. Yet they are by far the most impoverished racial group and crime and poverty tend to trend together. Rather than focus on where poor people are living, if you really want to help the poor focus your energy on policies that increase the value of labor (like education and job skills training) and reverse income tax. We’ve been housing the poor in low income housing for generations…and sadly the same families are still there. Housing is not the solution for poverty.

          • SLKCHIK

            Indeed Anon, nobody should be “entitled” to anything based on race, creed or color. But keep in mind that just because you are a low income person, doesn’t indicate you’re a criminal or have a greater chance of becoming one. There are many low income families and individuals I’ve personally met in my neighborhood that are hard working people and have very united families. Money isn’t everything to everyone you know. Some choose to live simple lives and are happy with that. Not everyone has to be a rich person to live in a city. Who will pick up your trash and serve you at all of the high end restaurants you frequent? Not your fellow lawyer or doctor. Which brings me back to the fact that there must be housing for all income brackets, regardless of race, color or creed. Nobody should feel threatened to move out of their own neighborhood.

          • anon

            In no way do I want to imply that every low income person is a criminal. That being said SLKCHIK a wealth of social science research in fact does indicate that low income persons commit more street crimes like described in this article than those who are not (Harris & Shaw, 2000, p. 138, Stark, 1987, p. 894 just to get started). It really isn’t even a debatable notion in social science that poverty and crime trend together.
            Money definitely isn’t everything. But we live in a society that goods are exchanged based on value. Rents are being driven up in our city due to demographic change and restricted supply. That is leading to impoverished people unable to acquire higher wages to be forced out. While that sounds cruel, it would be equally cruel to deny somebody who has the means to live where they choose simply because they don’t have the historical privilege of having always lived there to be allowed to move there. That is just as unfair.
            There are a lot of low skill low wage jobs that have to be done in our city, but somebody touched on it earlier. Who would pick up the trash or serve food at Potbellies if you were forced to live miles from the city? Employers would find it difficult if not impossible to fill those jobs at below standard of living wages. Low income housing provides the perverse benefit of shifting the cost of paying a living wage from employers to the state by making it possible for low income wage earners to find housing close to their places of employment. Beyond that, the concentrated housing of low income persons has been disastrous to their abilities to advance their class standard. Again, trying to advocate for programs that do not address the root causes of poverty.

          • BigBadBear

            you sir are an idiot. First you say this (in reference to the people living in that neighborhod already, that have been for generations: “Nobody is entitled to live in a neighborhood of where they want.” Then you go on to say (in reference to the rich people moving into this neighborhood: “it would be equally cruel to deny somebody who has the means to live where they choose”.

            So the low income people who ALREADY live there and have been for decades are delusional for wanting to keep living in their existing home, meanwhile the rich are being opressed because they can’t just buy out everything and push all the existing residents out. hahahahahahahaha, oh man the double standard is amazing with you. Especially since this article isn’t about the existing residents trying to keep these people from moving in, it is about the new people bothering the police with bullshit calls that aren’t even crimes and wasting everybody’s time.

          • anon

            Clearly you haven’t read all my comments here. To summarize I never stated my first comment was in reference to the article, it was instead a counterpoint to SLKCHIK’s point regarding the humanity of urban demographic shift.

            You wrote a much longer comment below that I will respond to, but without the personal attack I’ll simply state I don’t think you understand my point.

            Its true, I stated nobody deserves to live in a neighborhood based on race, instead those who can pay the fair market rent should be allowed to live where they can afford to. I’m not sure how a statement that essentially equates to “you can’t have, what you can’t afford” amounts to idiocy, but we’ll have to agree to disagree. I think your opinion about low income people being forced out due to “rich” people is mostly based on emotion, which even I can empathize with, but can we agree that policies based on pathos can be a disaster even towards their intended beneficiaries?

          • Observer

            Some people are certainly entitled to get away with destructive criminal acts, just because they are supposedly clever and well-connected, and white. How many people have been gone to jail over the massive banking fraud that led to the Great Recession?

            Although that’s not a D.C.-exclusive story, it goes to your point about people not being entitled to commit crimes. People are entitled to commit crimes all the time. If you are wealthy, you get away with it, more often than someone not wealthy. With drug crimes, the fact is that you will get away with a lot more if you are white.

          • BigBadBear

            They aren’t trying to “live wherever they want”. You don’t see them
            complaining that they can’t live in Georgetown just because they “want”
            to. They were ALREADY IN the neighborhood in question. They are being
            pushed out by large developers buying up all the real estate and
            building high end condos that people in that neighborhood can’t afford.
            That brings in new people who have never lived in that neighborhood
            (who, ironically say they should be able to live wherever they want) who
            then want to change the entire atmosphere and community of that
            neighborhood. But I guess the people who have lived there for
            generations should be pushed out so that new richer people can move in
            and take over their area despite there being plenty of other places they
            could live that are already developed with high end
            accomodations…….and the people being pushed out are the greedy
            assholes who are trying to “do whatever they want”? And why are you
            talking about them being criminals. The whole point of this article is
            that the new yuppies are calling the police for things that AREN’T
            crimes. So I guess rich people can take over a neighborhood, make bogus
            police calls and waste the time and money of law enforcement (and
            therefore tax payers) over nonsense and it is the OTHER people who are
            in the wrong here. Your entire point is completely baseless and null and
            void. The only people in this article trying to “live wherever they
            want” are the people you are defending. Your comments lead me to
            believe that you are one of the people who recently moved to that
            neighborhood and have decided the people who already live there should
            bend to your whim of how things should be, if not this neighborhood, a
            similar one. Otherwise I don’t see why you would take the side you have
            or so blatantly misrepresent both this article and reality.

          • anon

            Your argument is essentially, if I’m poor and have lived here for X amount of years, I am essentially entitled to live in that neighborhood for as long as I want regardless of demographic or market changes. While an appeal to emotion, your argument is not only nonfactual, it would make for disastrous housing and urban renewal policy. While I empathize for those who want to stay where they’ve been, your economic class should not entitle you to the neighborhood of your choice. You pay the market rate, or you leave. While it sounds cruel, you’re in essence denying the right of somebody else to move where they can simply due to a lack of “historical renter” privilege. Again, how is that fair?
            As for the article, and your point that “yuppies” (which I’m sure is code for people of a certain class and race) are calling the police and wasting “their” time, I don’t think you understand the purpose of a police force. The police have to rely on community involvement to assist in their policing of neighborhoods. Since they can’t be everywhere all the time, the police actually rely on residents to report suspicions of criminality. I’m not disagreeing that new residents are confusing social norms of current residents for suspicious behavior, but it is the right of every taxpayer to expect their police force investigate their suspicions of criminal behavior.
            If residents believe they’re being unfairly targeted by the police, they can engage with their neighbors ,the police leadership, and each other regarding this. They can also be sensitive to the change in the demographic in their neighborhood and adjust their behaviors, or they can move out.
            So once again, my comments regarding housing choice and who should live where are not in response to the article but to SLKCHIK’s original point. Please see all my comments for an expansion on my points regarding that. Second as to the article, I think I’ve summarized here why its everyone’s right to call the police when they are suspicious of crime in their neighborhood, regardless of fear of racial disrespect and the alternatives residents targeted by the police can pursue if they take issue with this.
            Also, when you say “richer” people, I’m not sure you have your terms correct. Somebody who pays 1.8K to 2.2K in rent for a single bedroom apt in Navy Yards or H street, is in a completely different income bracket than those that pay 3 to 4k for a singe bedroom apt in Georgetown. If anything, most renters moving into class A condo’s and apartments are paying the market rate. Those rates are vastly different between NE and Georgetown. I can provide sources if you’d like, but I’m sure you can find them on this website as well.

      • Newshound12

        Your ignorance is breath-taking

        • anon

          Well, I would hate to live in ignorance of something. Could you please enlighten me as to what I’m ignorant about?

      • Observer

        “No one, regardless of class or race is allowed to engage in criminality”

        Well, then why does society lock up certain racial groups in vastly disproprtionate numbers when all groups have been shown to engage in certain crimes in similar numbers (percentage-wise)? A significant example is drugs. A black individual is far more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for a drug crime than a white individual, even though many whites also use illegal drugs. (Have you ever been on a high school or college campus?) Those arrests can upset a young person’s life completely. This doesn’t account for all criminal arrests, but it’s a fairly large portion, and it is blatantly biased. That was a primary motivation behind the recent marijuana legalization campaign, to stop the “justice system” from locking up so many people in a biased fashion.

        You don’t seem to be that concerned about crime, only crime committed by “undesirables,” particularly those of an “undesirable” ethnic background. What about the massive fraud committed by the big banks leading up to the Great Recession? That nearly destroyed the entire U.S. economy and threw millions of people out of work. No one has gone to jail and that certainly had a major effect on the lives of many people, millions of people. But apparently this is not a problem for you because it did not affect the upper economic classes nearly as badly. Wow. Those aren’t just harsh and cruel facts. It is blatant racism and a destructive attitude for the economic and social well-being of the U.S. Or is it a good thing to periodically destroy the lower classes and crush much of the middle class into submission?

        • anon

          Once again, I do not mean to, nor will I imply that any one race is more prone to crime. As I’ve stated earlier in this discussion though, poverty and crime trend together, that is beyond debate in published literature.
          To your point of drugs and drug related offenses, I’ll go beyond that and agree with you that there is a documented racial bias in the criminal justice system. My point has never been that a persons race predetermines their level of criminality.
          In our city (DC) the racial breakdown of poverty is such that there are significantly more African Americans living below the poverty line and on government subsidies. African Americans are arrested at far higher levels than Whites and while racial bias certainly accounts for some of those, it would be completely foolish not to mention wrong not to rule out class as a contributing factor. African Americans are simply poorer than everyone else on average in our city. These are issues that need correcting, but my original point with SLKCHK and others has nothing to do with crime or African Americans.
          I disagree that race entitles anyone where to live. Just because a neighborhood was “historically” African American, and is being gentrified does not mean that is bad, wrong or inhumane thing. If African American residents are being pushed out, they need to earn better wages. I don’t have the solution for that. But it would be inhumane to deny anyone with the means to pay, a place to live based on their desire simply because their race precludes them to live in an area.

      • Observer

        You are also defending the practice of creating crimes where none exist and justifying frequent police harassment of people because of their race. All of your Heritage Foundation analysis doesn’t change that. You are completely sidestepping the points brought up in the article.

        You harp on about black crime when that isn’t the point of the article. It’s about people reporting what are non-crimes. What happened to freedom of association? Is that only reserved for wealthy white newcomers and no one else?

        • anon

          My original point was a disagreement over SLKCHK’s assertion of the humanity in urban displacement, not the article’s point as you point out. I also criticized some specific point he/she that I felt were lazy and slight condescending.
          The police is a tax payer funded organization charged with enforcement of the city’s laws. Crime prevention is another responsibility of the police. Any citizen has the fundamental right to demand policing services if they have suspicions of criminality in their neighborhood. I don’t see the problem in residents calling on the police to investigate what they think is criminal behavior. If the suspects are indeed not engaging in such behavior then there isn’t a crime or a problem.
          Granted, I’m not going to pretend getting questioned by the police on suspicion of criminality isn’t a hassle. So guess what, if you don’t like it as a resident, and it keeps happening you have two options. Change the behavior that may be causing the suspicion (you can ask the police officer and they will tell you) or leave the neighborhood and find one where social norms are more in line with your activities.
          Just because behavior that African Americans think is the norm doesn’t give the right for residents to surrender their right as taxpayers to call upon their police force to investigate their suspicions because of fear of racial disrespect. Not only is that deeply unfair to those who pay for policing, but it leads to danger when real crime is taking place. Residents who feel they are unfairly subjected to greater policing have the right to leave the neighborhood, engage their neighbors or change their behavior.

      • del2124

        Being poor is not a crime. There’s nothing wrong with hanging out on a street corner. When people do that in rural America it’s called socializing.

      • Devon Gronka

        Or they are just hanging out in their neighborhood with their friends. I know it must be distressing for such a small-minded, miserable person to imagine people having fun with friends, but please, do try to open your mind a little bit.
        The people in the article were a financial consultant and his son who is in college (and hence ” gaining marketable skills to make them competitive”). These aren’t the unemployed layabouts you like to paint pictures of. But somehow your mind jumps to that stereotype when it is convenient despite the facts.

  • Guest

    It’s money that mobilizes these colonists to call the cops https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/09/liberalism-and-gentrification/

    • Guest

      Yes. I use this article all the time when I try to explain to people how painful it is to live in DC and watch how poisonous gentrification is to communities here.

      • SLKCHIK

        It’s the one sided, negative articles like the ones you post that spread hatred among classes and ultimately “poison” gentrification. Like everything in this world, gentrification has it’s pluses and minuses. But if we continue to view everything in life in a negative way as this article portrays, there will never be any unification or attempts at turning DC into a wonderful place full of culture mix for all to enjoy.

  • Filthy Liar

    It’s strange to me that people wouldn’t mind their own business. I mean yeah, if you actually see something illegal occurring call it in, but don’t let your own prejudices about what crime looks like stop you from seeing what is actually going on. H street isn’t an open air drug market.

    • Jeff

      That’s the problem- due to ignorance, they think they’re actually seeing something illegal.

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