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The Landscape of Wall Street’s Creative Destruction

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Posted on Aug 2, 2013
Ivan McClellan Photography (CC BY 2.0)

By Laura Gottesdiener, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

A locksmith drilled off the home’s locks and dozens of officers burst into the house with flashlights and handguns.

“Who’s in the house?” they shouted. Aside from Frazer, a widow with a vocal devotion to the Man Above, there were three other residents: her 85-year-old mother, her adult daughter, and her four-year-old grandson. Things began to happen fast. Animal control rounded up the pets. Officers told the women to get dressed. Could she take a shower? Frazer asked. Imagine there’s a fire in your house, the officer replied.

“They came to my home like I was a drug dealer,” she told reporters later. Over the next seven hours, the officers hauled out the entire contents of her home and cordoned off the street to prevent friends from helping her retrieve her things.

“I have no idea where some of my jewelry is, stuff I bought when I was 30 years old,” said Frazer. “I am sixty-three. They just threw everything everywhere, helter-skelter on the front lawn in the dark.”

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The eviction-turned-raid sparked controversy across Atlanta when it occurred in the spring of 2012, in part because Frazer had a motion pending in federal court that should have stayed the eviction, and in part because she was an active participant of Occupy Homes Atlanta. But this type of militarized reaction is often the outcome when communities—especially those of color—organize to resist eviction.

When Nicole Shelton attempted to move back into her repossessed home in a picket-fence subdivision in North Carolina, the Raleigh police department sent in more than a dozen police officers and an eight-person SWAT team. Officers were equipped with M5 submachine guns. A helicopter roared overhead. In Boston, one organizer with the community group City Life/Vida Urbana remembers the police acting so aggressively at an eviction blockade in a Haitian neighborhood that the grandmother of the family had a heart attack right in the driveway.

And sometimes it doesn’t require resistance at all. On the South Side of Chicago, explained Toussaint Losier, a community organizer completing his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, “They bust in the door, and it’s at the point of a gun that you get evicted.”

Exiles in America

There have been widespread foreclosures—and some organized resistance—in predominately white communities, too. Kevin Kirkman, captain of the civil division of the Lee County sheriff’s office, explained, “I get so many [eviction] papers in here, it’s unbelievable.”

More than 75% of the residents in North Carolina’s Lee County are whites. But Kirkman still sees the ripple effects of mass foreclosure here. “You’re talking about a mudslide where a lot of things are affected. You’re talking about taxes, about retail sales if people move, about food services, about gasoline. You see what I’m talking about? When you lose a family in the community? Some people leave the community. I have seen people leave the state of North Carolina.”

He added, “I’m going be honest with you, my feeling is that I would not do these evictions.”

Still, the difficulties white America has faced during the foreclosure crisis don’t compare with what Wall Street and the banks have inflicted, physically and psychologically, on African American neighborhoods. As countless leaked documents, insider dispositions, and Department of Justice filings demonstrate, those neighborhoods were systematically and illegally targeted for the worst of the worst mortgages. As one former Wells Fargo mortgage broker explained in a sworn affidavit, “The company put ‘bounties’ on minority borrowers. By this I mean that loan officers received cash incentives to aggressively market subprime loans in minority communities.”

This pushing of predatory loans was all the more insidious because these same communities had been starved of mortgages for decades as a result of the Federal Housing Authority’s refusal to guarantee loans in communities of color. As Mike Fannon, development associate for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, explained, “The same banks that denied capital now injected too much toxic capital and decimated the local economy.”

The effect, according to a 2012 National Fair Housing Alliance report, has been “the largest loss of wealth for these communities in modern history.” Between 2009 and 2012 African Americans lost just under $200 billion in wealth, bringing the gap between white and black wealth to a staggering 20:1 ratio.

There is also a longer trajectory of racial exclusion at play here, a history that makes the foreclosure crisis yet another chapter in an epic and enduring quest for home. From enslavement to sharecropping, redlining to restrictive covenants, the United States has too often been an inhospitable land for people of color. Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King echoed W.E.B. Dubois in declaring that the African American still “finds himself in exile in his own land.” Today, it’s hard not to see that reality painted across the 2010 census data, where the maps measuring the concentration of vacant houses and the maps measuring the concentration of African Americans, while not exactly the same, are uncomfortably close to a match.

As Ben Austen wrote in the New York Times Magazine, “The U.S. Postal Service, which tracks these numbers, reported that 62,000 properties in Chicago were vacant at the end of last year, with two-thirds of them clustered as if to form a sinkhole in just a few black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.” The same phenomenon holds true in cities across the country. And once a house is empty in such neighborhoods, all too often, no one is moving back in.


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