The New York Daily News reported today that two men and a woman were forced out of a Flatbush apartment at gunpoint last week by two women. Police reported to the News, “Precious Parker, 30, and Sabrina James, 23, knocked on the door of an apartment building on Ocean Ave. near Newkirk Ave. in Flatbush at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday and held a 34-year-old man, a 37-year-old man, and a 25-year-old woman at gunpoint demanding they move out or be killed.” Following the home invasion, Parker and James stole “$800, an iPhone and personal information from the tenants” and eventually squatted in the apartment after the residents left. Police arrested both women on Saturday, found a gun on them, and charged them with robbery and unlawful imprisonment.
But the News article is not simply one centering around a home invasion, rather it also insinuates that the motive was bigger than a simple desire for money or property, that, in fact, the motive for the crime was gentrification. The News quotes an anonymous law enforcement source who claims, “the trio may have been targeted because of their race, as one of the women said she didn’t like ‘that white people were moving into the area.'” And while the News doesn’t expand on that statement, the article’s commenters were quick to jump in, calling for Parker and James to be charged with hate crimes and wondering “Where are the RIOTS, LOOTING AND MURDERING IN THE STREETS for this BLACK ON WHITE HATE crime????” (Side note: Is anyone a greater fan of the caps lock key than anonymous commenters? Doubtful.) Gawker also picked up the news story, but commenters there approached it from a different angle, declaring that they too were “sick of white people” even though they’re white themselves. On the Facebook page for Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, some could be found lamenting the ongoing “honkyfication” of the outer-boroughs.
It’s impossible to say at this point what the real motivation behind the home invasion was, and if it was racially motivated or not. But behind all the outraged—faux and otherwise—cries for hate crime charges to be filed and behind all the oh so witty jokes about how even white people hate white people, is the simple truth that the upheaval in neighborhoods like Flatbush caused by gentrification is a very real and life-threatening thing for many long-time residents. The Federal Reserve released data earlier this month demonstrating that nearly all the wealth (including property holdings) in this country is owned by white people: “White families hold 90% of the national wealth. Hispanic families hold 2.3% of the national wealth. Black families hold 2.6% of the national wealth.” And because it has long been established that the key indicator of upward mobility is not the income a person makes but the wealth he or she inherits (accumulated family wealth), this data is nothing less than an indication of the seemingly insurmountable distance between the races in this country. In other words, those trust fund kids in Williamsburg that are so easy to joke about? They’re no joke.
Now perhaps none of this has anything to do with the crime that happened in Flatbush last week. And, obviously, nobody deserves to be driven from their home in such a horrific, terrifying manner. But rather than joke about the perils of “honkyfication” or go on and on about hate crimes, perhaps it would be better to reflect on the reality for so many of the people who are being priced out of their homes, who have no place to go, no familial safety net to catch them as they fall. This is a very real problem that we face as a city and as a country as the wealth gap continues to grow and the already marginalized among us get pushed further and further to the edge.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen