This week I found myself pondering about policing, gentrification and how both play into this city's power structure.
In my news feature, found on page 10, I discuss the implementation of new "walking beats" by CMPD in Plaza Midwood and NoDa, in which three police officers in each neighborhood will make the rounds on foot during the late-night and early-morning hours.
I first became aware of the new plan on Wednesday, May 31, when CMPD representatives held a press conference announcing the new strategy. On the surface, it seemed like a simple enough story, one that TV reporters would cover in three-minute clips and would be old news by the time we sent another issue to print a full week later.
But I immediately knew there would be more to this one.
The implementation of a community policing strategy in two rapidly gentrifying, if not gentrified, neighborhoods would surely elicit reactions from community leaders who have fought for years to see such efforts made in their own neighborhoods and districts — areas that are less safe, but take in less money for the city.
A quick look at Twitter found I was right, and questions weren't only being raised from the grassroots level. Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, who's running for Mayor Jennifer Roberts' job this year, took to social media to voice concerns about why these two neighborhoods were chosen while others are in such dire need.
Community leaders like amalia deloney (lowercase letters by amalia's request), were quick to raise questions about why "family-friendly" policing projects like the walking beats were being rolled out in neighborhoods like NoDa while more aggressive strategies like Operation Avalanche were launched in lower-income areas just a few miles away (to be fair, CMPD experimented with walking beats in the troubled Beatties Ford corridor in 2016).
I spoke with neighbors like Teresa Reid of the Belmont Community Association, who wondered why police can't walk a few blocks from NoDa to her neighborhood, where she's been asking for their help in cleaning up drug dealing, loitering and other issues for decades.
The depressing irony in Reid's pleas for help was that help is surely coming for her neighborhood, but at what cost?
Belmont now finds itself bookended by two sure harbingers of Charlotte gentrification, with Birdsong Brewing Company at its west and Catawba Brewing Company recently opening at its east. The hip, young, white crowd has already slowly started moving into the neighborhood, and within a year or two the foot traffic will pick up between the two breweries and any other tattoo shop or tavern that pops up in that time.
In this city's field of hipster dreams, the expression goes, "If you build breweries, safety measures will come."
The fact is, however, that families like Reid's who have been in Belmont for 20 years and often more, will be pushed out by calls to code enforcement or offers from real estate companies that appear too good to turn down but offer pennies on the dollar that will be available once the neighborhood is majority white.
The other inescapable irony facing me as I worked on this story was that I am one of the above-mentioned hipsters who will benefit from these new walking beats. I am a NoDa resident of eight years, and although it's hard to view myself as a gentrifier, as I will surely be priced out of the neighborhood by the coming Blue Line extension sooner than later, if I'm being honest with myself, the gentrification was done before I moved here.
I have been a victim of violent crime while walking home on North Davidson Street. I have friendships with multiple business owners who have been burglarized over the last year. I can hardly argue that the presence of three consistent police officers on foot will be bad for the neighborhood.
But I have also worked for years in the communities that get left behind, reporting on residents like deloney, who helped set up a community land trust in the west side to fight against the inevitable effects of displacement by urban sprawl, or leaders in Hidden Valley, where real estate companies have for years bought abandoned homes and left them empty, patiently waiting for the Blue Line extension to come through and bring the white people with it.
These are communities that have for decades gone without decent roads, schools and other infrastructure, but will surely see such things arrive just as they're priced out of the land.
So my question to folks like myself is this: As our city grows, how do we use what privilege we have to make sure whole communities don't get left behind?