Black Excellence

It’s Feeling A Lot Like Gentrification. Again.

gentrification, gentrification in new york, black excellence, gentrification in black neighborhoods

I stopped hearing gunshots after I moved away from Brooklyn. And it terrified me.

I’m a 31 year-old Navy veteran from Chicago. I moved to South Harlem nearly three years ago, after living three years in Bushwick. I love it here. So much diversity. The amount of gentrification is really aggressive, though. I mean, first we got the Whole Foods. Then the little Hipster coffee shops that, rather than serve Americano or Cappuccino, have cups of “Relax” and “Bliss” but costs $25. And I swear, someone gentrified the church down the block from me. Which I didn’t think was possible. For a good year, or so, only black people emerged from its doors; all a sudden, nothing but white people went in and came out. Like, did they take the pictures of black Jesus down, too? Is nothing sacred?

gentrification, gentrification in new york, black excellence, gentrification in black neighborhoodsBut the most striking thing about my new place is the police presence. The way they treat African Americans is harsh.

Normally, the greatest transgressions of these people of color will be standing around, outside the club, near the bodega, or on the corner near the chicken joint.  

More often than not, I’ll hear cops shouting something at groups of blacks from their police car speakers:

“Is everything okay? Yeah? Well, move along.”

“Don’t stand there.”

“You can’t stand there, citizen.”    

We didn’t get that when I first moved to Bushwick in 2012. Instead, I’d often hear someone shouting about how they got their weed stolen:

One guy would say, “I’mma tune him up, son!”

Another would yell, “You want me to bring the goons?”

And the first guy would say, “Nah, B…I got this.” And then somebody would get shot. I really miss that. It felt safe. Nobody was coming after me. I didn’t steal weed. Why would I need to? I lived above Jamaicans.

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I grew up in the Chicago of the 80s and 90s, when the Bulls were outstanding and Michael Jordan was God. There was a system of doing things. If the Bulls lost, there would be a riot on the South Side, where I lived. Nothing huge, just some overturned cars. But if the Bulls won? The riot would be massive! People would steal cars, swipe stereos, smash some storefronts. The obligatory shootings…I mean, it’s a celebration, obviously somebody has to take a few bullets during such a momentous occasion. And then some buildings would get torched. You know, typical party stuff.

And in a small way, Bushwick, Brooklyn, reminded me of that. Of course, I never imagined I would miss that kind of thing. Maybe you can never take the Hood out of the black kid. My white roommate probably felt that way when I bumped Tupac at 5 AM, or when I poured out some of my 40-ounce of Cobra malt-liquor in the backyard when reminiscing about “the homies.”

gentrification, gentrification in new york, black excellence, gentrification in black neighborhoods“That’s really wasteful,” he said one time. “Also, that’s how you get ants.” He just didn’t understand.

Every other week someone was getting shot. And there was a pattern. One week there would be a shooting two streets away from me, on Cornelia. Another week or two, there would be a shooting on Halsey. Then, one day, I woke up and tried to go down my street (Weirfield) and the yellow tape was stretched around the block. Never learned who died there, but I’m not sure if I was sadder someone was killed or that I had to walk the long way around the crime scene to go to the Bodega. 50/50, maybe.

The thing that made me feel safe is that the crime wasn’t that bad in comparison to other places, and I knew no one was gunning for me. Things would soon change when a wave of cops and Hipsters began to flood the neighborhood.

Only a few months after Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast back in 2012, I stopped seeing so many black faces on the J-train on my way home after school. Guys with plaid shirts and red beards, ladies with pint-sized pooches in pouches, and strangers with rucksacks stuffed with surfboards boarded with me. It was like the storm dragged away the original occupants and washed these newcomers ashore.  Once the rent went up and I began feeling like I didn’t belong in my own neighborhood, that I was being watched too intently, that’s when I knew it was time for a move.

Now, three years later, I have those same feelings. The more white people move in and the more of my neighbors move out, the less safe I feel. As the police continue to protect white people moving in, I can only wonder if I’ll be seen as a suspect just for standing outside the bodega. Makes me miss those gunshots all the more.

Alex Miller

Alex Miller is a freelance writer living in Harlem. His work has appeared in Forbes, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other places.