Now housing and commercial real estate have come to occupy the heart of America’s property regime, replacing slavery. And damage to real estate, far more than damage to ostensibly free black people, tends to evoke swift responses from the state. What we do not prosecute nearly well enough, however, is the daily assault on black people’s lives through the slow, willful destruction of real estate within black communities. The conditions in West Baltimore today are the direct consequence of speculative real estate practices that have long targeted people with few to no options.
On the heels of any ghetto economy based on extraction comes the excessive policing necessary to keep everyone in place. Cities that are starved for income have found ways to raise revenues by way of fines and fees exacted from poor, underemployed African-Americans and migrants of color. These include property taxes and court costs. In Maryland, in particular, these come in lieu of property taxes that many of the state’s largest employers are not required to pay. The dangers of tax burdens and other unseen costs are as deadly to urban households as police brutality or fires set by “thugs.”
In “The Wire,” Lester Freamon understood that following the money took our eyes off the street and up the chain of real political power. We have a right to expect that our administrators will use the bully pulpit to speak about the policies, systems and structures over which they preside.