Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Potomac Gardens, the Fence, and Power

This quotation from famous sociologist George Lipsitz in his brand new book How Racism Takes Place made me think of the tense discussions about the fence at Potomac Gardens public housing in Ward 6 (@ 13th and Penn. SE):
People of color do not use drugs with greater frequency than whites, but they are much more likely than whites to be arrested and incarcerated for drug use. Drug enforcement efforts target minority neighborhoods because the lack of political and economic power of people in these neighborhoods means that drug dealers find it easier to serve their diverse clientele who come from areas throughout the region by setting up shop on the street in minority neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are forced to tolerate drug dealing in the same ways that they have to endure toxic hazards, polluting businesses, and other criminal enterprises that wealthier and whiter neighborhoods would find intolerable. The selective policing that allows illegal activities to be shifted to interzones and ghettos inhabited by people of color extends to the policing of individual drug users.
At the recent fence meeting, there were discussions of a "drug market" on one side of the Potomac Gardens and how DC housing authority police had jurisdiction over Potomac Gardens thus creating an interzone between police jurisdictions. At the meeting, one Potomac Gardens resident said that she was just like everyone else in the room; she went to work and put her sons through college; she just didn't have enough money to afford non-public housing. Did she also not have enough political and economic power to get drug dealers out of her housing complex?


  1. Ok, which is it? Inner cities are overly policed and overly pursue and arrest street drug dealers...or street drug dealers exist in a interzone where there is little policing? Seems like the author is trying to have it both ways.

    Street drug dealers are arrested at a high rate because it is easy. A police officer can sit in a public space, see crime, and make arrests. To do the same for a residential neighborhood requires informants, getting probable cause to go into and search a house, in other words: its harder. (Also, aruguably, street dealers plying their trade in public are more of a nusiance and threat than residential dealers, and therefore deserve more police attention).

    The inner city provides an almost unending supply of underemployed, undereducated young men, ready to fill the spot of the guy who was just arrested. Street dealers could move indoors, (and avoid arrest), but that would mean a drop in business. For the person running the operation, thats not good business, and he is willing to sacrifice the unending stream of young men in order to maintain volume.

  2. Someone posted a comment earlier, but, when blogger went down for a day, the comment was lost. I'm sorry about that. If you want to re-comment, feel free.

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