This late summer, the FBI finally indicted Louisville police for their roles in a conspiracy to falsify search warrants which led to the death of Breonna Taylor. It was a pyrrhic victory. The conspiracy was hardly limited to a few detectives. The whole political structure of Louisville colluded in events which precipitated her death.
Up until this moment, I could not bear to see Breonna Taylor’s face. At first, I didn’t read the full news about her death, I just saw the déjà vu headlines of another black person killed by police. But once I saw her cherubic smile… I cried uncontrollably. It remains my only reaction every time I see her. I feel loss.
Loss became rage when I saw various headlines linking Breonna Taylor’s death to broader gentrification plans by Louisville’s political and economic elite. Most of these articles presented these linkages as simple accusations and unsubstantiated “claims” from Taylor’s family.
It was not a “claim”—something asserted without evidence or proof. It was a tragic truth.
There was evidence all over the place that policing and gentrification went hand in hand like peanut butter to jelly, the Nicholas Brothers, and hip to hop. Everywhere one turned there was proof. You had only to ask any black person in a gentrifying neighborhood to know that the police had become the enforcers of harassment and removal. Here I am a bougie college professor, and even I knew that.
Not just intellectually, but also in a deeply personal way. I had only to step on the front porch of my father’s Durham home to see the police parked indefinitely on the long drive way, a quarter block up. There they “monitored” the comings and goings at the corner of Holloway St. and Bunn Terrace. The storefront church was across the street on the right and the corner store hangout across the street and to the left. Not long ago, I noticed the police had taken up a daily almost permanent residency across from the corner store. I knew exactly why they had chosen to show up. White gentrifiers had moved to the neighborhood and now they needed protection.
In fact, gentrification has moved swiftly through East Durham. Homes whose tax value equaled $70,000-$130,000 or less, now renovated went for upwards of $400,000 to $800,000 dollars. The presence of parked police only concretized for me abstract theory into ugly reality. The remake of East Durham – all Durham, really, depended heavily on police for removal and erasure.
Even cultural producers welcomed by the city were open to the vagaries of policing. Batalá , an international samba and reggae music movement, opened a branch in Durham. Batalá Durham is actually connected to over 40 other groups in 19 countries, with over 1,000 percussionists. Since 2015, it’s had a steady presence at Latino Heritage Night, Christmas Tree Lighting and Holiday Parades, Motorco, Raleigh International Festival, and Durham’s biggest cultural money-making event – The Art of Cool. The city gave Batalá a permit to practice for these events in Durham’s central park. But according to ABC News 11, police removed Batalá anyway.
What seems a personal story about my home, my neighborhood, and my city is but a fraction of a concerted and national phenomenon of policing for removal.
A few years ago, I began to document gentrification in Durham as a way to memorialize and preserve my people’s life and history. This work inevitably led me to examine other communities similarly grappling with this issue. The depth of my understanding tremendously expanded as I and my student Stephen Richardson, analyzed and categorized over 239 articles on gentrification. In fact, we noticed a concerted effort to remake black communities through multiple schemes. And at each point, the police enforced the intentions of the city and gentrifiers to re-create the space in their own white images.
There was no space for black people in the new neighborhoods, but to forcibly remove them required alterations in laws and zoning policies. Noise ordinances and police calls for disturbing the peace are a favorite, and even harassment over dog ownership. Local gathering places particularly became sites of complaints as well. Even if one was to assume that those spaces reflected criminal activities, why was gentrification driving policing versus crime itself? That corner in Durham looked the same long before the arrival of white residents.
In reality, the newness of the policing exposed the threadbare lie from cities and police that they shared a concern for community safety. Was I to believe crime started only when white gentrifiers arrived? For whom then was the protection and for whom then was the enforcement?
Me and my lone student were not alone in pointing out these obvious dynamics. Just one general search on the words “policing” and “gentrification” turned up a slew of blogs, studies, and articles on the inextricable connection between the two. As far back as December 2017, The Atlantic ran a piece that noted economically changing neighborhoods draw more police and create conditions for “surveillance,” and “potential misconduct.”
The Atlantic essay was hardly a revelation. Gentrified neighborhoods saw an upsurge in misdemeanor level policing, increased stops, low-level arrests, hyper surveillance, new-resident police calls, and more. And Breonna Taylor was not the only victim of police violence due to gentrifying communities. Activists linked the 2018 police killing of Saheed Vassell to Brooklyn’s turn over from inclusive, transnational community to exclusive upscale gentrified neighborhood. Although complaints were at the center of accusations about Vassell’s death, police played a far more nefarious role than call responders in other cases.
Municipalities pretend that they don’t direct or collaborate with police for economic gain. However, the shadowy ways they work together is no false assertion. Investigations of Ferguson, and the police killing of Mike Brown, revealed a devious set up between the city and police who multiplied citation quotas in order to fill city coffers and enhance the budget.
The reality is that whether it’s Durham, NC or Breonna Taylor’s Louisville, KY –the virulent spread of policing to protect and expand gentrification was inseparable. Both the city and new arriving white residents used police to steal black income and wealth through citations and ticketing, plus increased taxing; constant, petty harassments; and criminal seizure of homes. Meanwhile, case after case verifies police presence serves to protect newly arrived white gentrifiers to the detriment of current black residents. The truth is that plenty of evidence exists to substantiate that policing and gentrification absolutely led to the killing of Breonna Taylor.
The real question is who sent the police, and why are they not charged with conspiracy in the murder of Breonna Taylor?
 “Durham Police called to stop drum practice in park,” ABC 11 Eyewitness News, August 8, 2017, https://abc11.com/batala-durham-live-music-drums-noise-complaint/2287654/