[ The roads protesters block for Stephon Clark were the front line
of Sacramentos segregation wars.] [https://portside.org/] 

 THE LONG, PAINFUL HISTORY OF THE SACRAMENTO NEIGHBORHOOD WHERE
STEPHON CLARK WAS KILLED  
[https://portside.org/2018-04-03/long-painful-history-sacramento-neighborhood-where-stephon-clark-was-killed]


 

 Alan Pyke 
 April 3, 2018
ThinkProgress
[https://thinkprogress.org/sacramento-segregation-geography-stephon-clark-72d7800743ee/]


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 _ The roads protesters block for Stephon Clark were the front line of
Sacramento's segregation wars. _ 

 Protesters block Interstate 5 -- which was built on the bones of the
city's most diverse working-class neighborhood -- as part of a protest
against the Sacramento police department after two officers shot and
killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, in, Getty Images / Diana
Ofosu 

 

When thousands of angry Sacramento residents stepped out last Thursday
night in protest of the police killing of Stephon Clark in his
grandmother’s backyard, they didn’t walk the streets near where he
died. 

They mustered about 10 miles away outside City Hall, then took a move
the city police chief acknowledged was unexpected — up onto
Interstate 5 at the height of rush hour, locking up traffic for a mile
in every direction, then wheeling around off the freeway to coagulate
at the Golden 1 Center about an hour before the Sacramento Kings
planned to play the 73rd game of their NBA season.

The protesters returned to the same chosen ground repeatedly in the
week since that first freeway takeover and arena shutdown. Subsequent
actions have skipped the freeway ingredient but followed a similar
route, choking access to a second game earlier this week but leaving
the arena alone after police ratcheted up their presence there
[https://thinkprogress.org/stephon-clark-protests-sacramento-new-york-6a31e63c64bf/]
following Clark’s funeral.

The routes protesters chose have taken them past ghosts of a
particularly charged history — although not one many outside the
area would have any reason to know. Shouting for change as they
walked, they traced the outline of Sacramento’s laboratory of
segregation: the old West End.

The basketball arena sits just a block north of it. The short strip of
a 1400-mile superhighway connecting Mexico to Canada where they walked
crushed its westernmost edge. 

It’s a fairly short walk from City Hall to I-5 to the arena, if you
consult a simple street map. But the history the marchers charted in
that informal parade is long and ugly, diagraming a nearly 100 year
story of willful division, economic repression, and divide-and-conquer
white capitalism. 

Every time the Kings play, crowds flock unwittingly to the epicenter
of the racist housing policy and public works experiments that shaped
the city where Stephon Clark was born
[http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-stephon-clark-profile-20180328-story.html]
and, on Thursday, buried.

I-5’s pavement and the downtown areas adjacent were once home to a
thriving multi-ethnic enclave of working-class families of color,
intentionally destroyed six decades ago in the name of progress. 

Today, the city’s demographic map looks like a big X to researchers
like Jesus Hernandez of the University of California – Davis. The
east-west axis is overwhelmingly white, and the city’s minority
populations cluster in the north and south ends of the metro area, a
dotted line bissected by that white branch.

“You can use that X to measure every single social ill in the city.
Where the schools are, where the poverty is, who doesn’t have health
insurance, who’s out of work. You name it, you can map it by
this,” Hernandez said. “There’s an importance to the geography
where this guy was shot. Nobody wants to understand or admit how this
has taken shape.”

The knot of highways, restaurants, shops, office complexes, and sports
sprawl in Sacramento’s downtown today is the fruit of a slow,
semi-secret crusade that city leaders spent generations pursuing. The
crusaders won long before protesters chose to make a stand here in
2018. Their victory spawned communities like Meadowview, where Stephon
Clark was shot down
[https://thinkprogress.org/police-shoot-black-man-cell-phone-f29ffb8714e5/]
for the sin of holding a cell phone in his grandma’s backyard.

“That neighborhood was entirely pushed out and destroyed in the
1950s and ‘60s. It was very deliberate,” local historian William
Burg told ThinkProgress. “It came from a longstanding desire from
the city to reclaim those areas for the white business class.” 
It’s a story common to American cities. In Charlotte, St. Louis, Los
Angeles, and dozens of others, intentionally isolated communities of
color that found prosperity and the beginnings of intergenerational
upward mobility — the main thread of the American Dream — were
eventually torn down or paved over in the name of highways, stadiums,
and public attractions.

The closing couplet of those rhyming American stories is always the
same: The same neighborhoods policy and racism created become the most
deprived, and the most heavily policed.

“This is a lot bigger than the Kings or than one guy getting shot.
This is an intergenerational process of how we separate race and
space. And this is why the Clarks end up in Meadowview,” Hernandez
said. “The last guy that got shot [by police] here, he was up in the
north end of this same geography. You can predict where everything’s
going to happen by this geography.”

THE ONLY OPTION THEY HAD

The West End, where Hernandez’s parents met in the 1940s, used to
look very different. California’s capital city was once more of a
cow town, with railways and two rivers sewing together an early urban
core ringed with vast acres of farmland. In the post-frontier days,
the West End was where immigrant workers laid down community networks.


First, it was Japanese and Chinese laborers who dominated a few dozen
square blocks between the state capitol and the river. Later
migrations — sparked in particular by President Franklin D.
Roosevelt’s executive order opening military industry jobs to
African-Americans and by the 1942 Labor Importation Program
colloquially known as the Bracero Act — would bring waves of black
and Latinx families to the city. 
They, too, ended up calling the West End home — because it was near
the canneries, military factories, and field labor pickup hubs where
they’d come for work, sure, but also because nowhere else in town
would let them in. 

White Sacramento was determined to stay that way. City leaders made
racial segregation in housing a standard, almost automated practice as
far back as the 1920s, when a real estate developer named J.C. Carly
wrote racially restrictive language into contracts governing the
subdivisions he was planting in the innermost portions of
Sacramento’s abundant farmlands. 

“Sacramento became this magnet for migration, and they all get stuck
downtown,” Hernandez said. “They were thriving communities. But
because race was related to property value, it means all the property
values downtown were low.”

When Roosevelt’s new federal housing finance system came online a
decade after Carly started building out from downtown, the new system
replicated the same kind of racial barriers nationwide. Maps from the
1930s document the use of “redlining” in Sacramento — a
conscious choice to refuse federal insurance for home loans in areas
deemed too risky to back. Those neighborhoods were overwhelmingly
black, driving housing finance into white communities and keeping it
out of reach for everyone else.

The West End pops out in Sacramento’s redlining map from 1938
[https://joshbegley.com/redlining/maps/Sacramento-hi.jpg], a rectangle
with one corner cut out where the capitol complex juts into it.

Caption: A zoomed-in image from a 1938 redlining map shows
Sacramento's West End (center) and other neighborhoods that were cut
off from home financing systems key to intergenerational
wealth-building. CREDIT: University of Maryland/RACES
Over the decade after that map was drawn, the city as a whole saw what
passed for boom times in that era. Overall property values jumped by
46 percent across the city from 1938 to 1949.

But not in the West End. In that isolated pocket, where no one could
get a loan to fix up a house or buy a new one, they dropped by 30
percent. The combination put a “bullseye” on the neighborhood,
Hernandez said, in the post-war period when politicians around the
country started looking to overhaul inner cities they’d long
neglected.

By the 1950s, the West End was ripe for redlining’s grim twin, that
other vital tool to America’s racist housing history: Urban renewal.


“BLIGHT,” AND A WEST END EXODUS

In 1950, the West End was home to seven out of every 10 non-white
Sacramentans. 

The year before, Congress had passed the American Housing Act of 1949,
aimed at raising living standards in a wide range of housing types
across the country with federal assistance. The squallor, noise, and
crowding common to working-class life was supposed to be stamped out,
replaced with space, safety, and security. A city that wanted to raze
a block of slums could get federal help to do it, provided the plan
included replacement housing of a better caliber.

Sacramento’s white leaders had another idea. What if the West End
could be torn down and replaced, but with retail space and office
blocks instead of new housing?

Congress soon gave leeway to the original rules of President Harry
Truman’s “Fair Deal” housing program. Amendments in 1954 opened
the door to revitalization projects that made little or no attempt to
re-accommodate the people they displaced from neighborhoods deemed
“blighted.”

It’s a loaded word, “blight,” though its ideological freight was
long ago blanched into neutrality by the casual professionalism of
development jargon.

“The term comes out of eugenics, it comes from biology,” local
historian William Burg said. “All ‘blight’ means is this
property isn’t worth as much as we think it should be. And an
inherent property of redlining is that if a neighborhood is non-white
in its population then it’s worth less. The only way to remove that
blight is to remove the population.” 

When Sacramento leaders asked residents to approve a bond program and
associated tax hikes in 1954, it wasn’t billed as part of a racial
purge of the West End. It was to combat blight.

The sales pitch didn’t quite work. The 1954 bond issue got voted
down after torrid activism from West Enders. But the ballot win would
only delay the “progress” city fathers had in mind, not stop it.
California’s legislature approved a clever new financing gimmick for
renewal projects called “Tax Increment Financing.” 

Again, as former deputy state treasurer Mark Paul explained in a 2012
article, that word “blight” was crucial.

“A city redevelopment agency could declare a particular area to be
blighted–and then cap the property taxes that flowed from that area
to other local governments like schools and counties. The agency could
keep for itself any property tax growth above that cap,” Paul wrote
[http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2012/01/29/the-sacramento-blight-flight/ideas/nexus/].
“This changed the game. Suddenly, redevelopment could be financed on
the come, with the property tax money that otherwise would have gone
to the schools and counties. Other people’s money. Sacramento picked
up the weapon, and the fight was on.”

The willful eviction of Sacramento’s non-white populace from the
neighborhood it had built for itself was still sub-rosa in the
city’s planning pitch, even after the new financing tools took away
ballot box resistance. 

“Certainly the rhetoric was more about creating an appropriate
setting for the state capital, making it more attractive for shopping,
for visitors,” said Robin Datel, a geographer at Sacramento State.
“But of course they did spend some of that redevelopment money on
housing that was not affordable for the existing population.”

Just as tax-increment financing let Sacramento leaders bypass West End
resistance, Congress gave cities across the country another cheap tool
to tear up the “blighted” pockets of black and brown family life
they’d created generations earlier through redlining: Interstate
highways. For every dollar California spent building I-5, 90 cents
would come from Washington. Easy.

Sacramento already had a couple major state roads cutting up its core,
built to move people and goods between downtown and the suburbs. I-5
would connect them to a new major artery of commerce running the
entire height of the west coast. The simplest place to put the new
infrastructure in Sacramento — both logistically and politically —
was the West End.

The same strip of busy highway where protesters put their bodies in
the way of traffic last Friday was a key tool in the redevelopment
scheme.

THE DIASPORA THAT BUILT CLARK’S NEIGHBORHOOD

With the new financing systems circumventing populist opposition to
West End redevelopment and federal money gushing into the roads
project, the area’s doom was sealed. A forced exodus of West End
residents had begun.

The families that had once been pushed into that square half-mile of
racial and financial isolation were now expelled from it with haste. 

Their searches for new homes took them to a handful of suburban areas
that had been built without the racial restrictions Carly baked into
earlier neighborhoods. The two decades after Truman’s “Fair
Deal” saw drastic demographic shifts in neighborhoods that had been
as lily-white as anywhere else outside the West End.

Oak Park, for example, had been 93.5 percent white in 1950. Two
decades later, 48 percent of Oak Park residents were non-white. Today,
the neighborhood — which was just about the closest to
Sacramento’s core of any of the areas where West End redevelopment
exiles landed — is the locus of gentrification as tech firms bring
in new-money professionals who disdain the suburban lifestyle.

Most of the black, Latinx, Japanese, and Chinese families who needed
to make new homes after their old ones were torn down ended up much
farther out than Oak Park. Their legacies extend a dozen miles either
way from downtown, scraping out that sociologist’s X that Hernandez
sees reflected in everything from school graduation rates to subprime
lending.

You can see the same change 30 minutes south in Meadowview, once you
drive past a Walmart and a library named for Martin Luther King Jr.
and a school named for the guy who invited a blight-proof potato to
cure famine in Ireland. 

At the closest zoom possible from census data, the neighborhood where
Stephon Clark died was roughly 47 percent white in 1980. By 2010, that
share had dropped in half. That census tract was then 45 percent Asian
American and 23 percent black, according to figures in the University
of Minnesota’s IPUMS NHGIS database. 

“Because there were no race covenants out there, this was a place
minority families could move to,” Hernandez said. “Meadowview was
first a suburban white space, but then it was one of the very few
places where minorities could buy decent housing starting in the
1960s.” People of color were pushed south away from the core census
tracts where development was still bound by the race covenants from
J.C. Carly’s era.

It’s tough to capture a precise comparison to the time before
Sacramento blew up the West End, because census boundaries have
shifted dramatically with population growth since then. But in 1950,
the area of south Sacramento that includes Meadowview had about 5,300
people living in it — and about 4,700 of them were white. 

That shift — from 90 percent white before the urban renewal schemes
vivisected Sacramento’s ethnic downtown melting pot, to less than
one quarter white in 2010 — is evidence of how a century of racist
development policymaking yielded the environment that drives
Sacramento policing to be at its twitchiest and most fearful in places
like Meadowview where crime is relatively high and opportunity is
relatively low.

Protesters stand on a California Highway Patrol car on Interstate 5
during a human blockade of traffic days after Stephon Clark was killed
by police. (CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Public investments in schools, infrastructure, new business activity
all cling to the whiter east-west axis of the X where Hernandez says
most of the city’s investments in the future go.

“Most? Damn near all,” said Berry Accius, a community activist
who’s helped lead the protests that followed Clark’s killing.
“Say this, they don’t invest in the black community. As far as the
African-American community, all you have is liquor stores food deserts
and churches. And if it’s not gentrified now it’ll be gentrified
later.”

The shifting sands of segregation, diaspora, and gentrification that
have shuffled Sacramento’s minority population around aren’t magic
or happenstance. Hernandez emphasized that they happen by deliberate
design.

“This is a story of racial interventions in the marketplace. All the
things it takes for a market to work, we intervened. We created racial
rules for a marketplace. This is why you have poverty, why you have no
jobs there, why you have freeways cutting off these neighborhoods,”
Hernandez said. “That’s the story of Sacramento, and it’s not a
story of diversity.”

POLICING’S RACIAL GEOGRAPHY

Policing in Sacramento today reflects the same racial divides that the
city’s public policies and services have imposed for a century.

Roughly half
[http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article144743834.html] of the
316 jaywalking tickets issued in 2016 were to black people, the
Sacramento Bee reported last year, even though they make up just 14
percent of the city’s population. The stats prompted the paper’s
editorial board to wonder, “are people being rousted for walking
while black
[http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article145131739.html]?”

The year before, the city police reported that 41 percent of its 137
separate
[https://www.cityofsacramento.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/Police/Transparency/OIS-documents/Citizen-Race-Chart-2015.pdf?la=en]
use-of-force incidents on record had involved a black civilian.

Sacramento’s police force is dramatically whiter than the populace
it serves, with the fifth-largest such disparity of any major city
[https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2016/07/14/minority-under-representation-in-city-and-suburban-policing/]
as of a July 2016 analysis from Brookings. Three out of four cops are
white in a city where two thirds of the people aren’t. That’s a
fairly reliable predictor
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/05/25/study-fewer-black-civilians-are-killed-by-police-in-cities-with-more-black-officers/?utm_term=.078b98b85df7]
of fatal police violence against black people, as academics have long
understood.

The Sacramento Police Department has had a few of these incidents in
recent memory. City officers shot and killed a homeless man named
Dazion Flenaugh
[http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article125801354.html] in
April 2016, then killed Joseph Mann
[http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article180804391.html] under
similar circumstances three months later. In both cases the dead man
had a knife, a stark difference to Clark’s death. Those are just two
of the more
[http://www.chicoer.com/article/NA/20170802/NEWS/170809944] than
[http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article136372438.html] half
[http://www.kcra.com/article/after-suspect-is-killed-by-deputies-mother-speaks-about-mental-health/9629963]–dozen
[http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article134263829.html] black
men shot by law enforcement for the city, county, and neighboring
towns since 2015. None of those stories are as simple or as baffling
as Clark’s death, with 20 shots fired in a matter of seconds based
on a cell phone somehow mistaken for a pistol.

Encountering a police officer while black is perilous anywhere in
Sacramento, Accius said, but there is still a tangible geography to
those interactions.

“African-American communities are heavily policed, overly policed,
and then you have this certain attitude from police officers,” the
organizer said. “They really want you to believe, hey, they can’t
do anything wrong! But the only person that’s going to get killed in
their community by the police are the black people in the black
communities. Because they are looked at as savages. Animals get better
treatment than black people out here.”

The intangible perceptions and attitudes that individual police
officers carry with them on the job have a massive influence over how
they conduct themselves in tense situations. Some police agencies
around the country have begun to take seriously the concept of
“implicit bias,” a well-founded sociology principle which holds
that we all internalize stereotypes and act on them unconsciously. The
common cultural image of black men as particularly dangerous makes
police more likely to use force against a black person than they might
be in a similar interaction with a white person or a woman.

Neighborhoods, too, influence these unspoken biases of behavior. The
areas where Sacramento’s century-long land management practices have
pushed its black, Latinx, and Asian populations have reputations of
their own.

“Go to random people in Sacramento and mention the words Oak Park or
Del Paso Heights or Meadowview, and there will be instantaneous
perceptions, particularly if they’re older. They’re perceived as
dangerous, impoverished, socially alienated places, especially if
they’ve never been there or interacted with anyone who lives
there,” said Sacramento State’s Datel.

“I would find it hard to believe that the images that the word
‘Meadowview’ conjures up in anybody’s mind, including police,
are not a part of the emotion that they bring to what happened, to the
decision to shoot.”

It’s precisely such bias that the organizers behind the Clark
protests hope to combat — a first step of many toward reversing the
neglectful tide of public investment in non-white residents the
city’s ridden for a century.

“The good thing in Sacramento is our city council is progressive
enough to recognize the climate and really do something historic,
change the quality of policing in a way that could be modeled
elsewhere. What does a reform to police systems look like across
America?” Accius said.

“Envision that, where it’s truly about protecting and serving
everyone, _everyone_. Where it’s, OK, police are going to do what
they do, they have their biases like everyone else,” he said, “but
it’s not going to lead to a death.”

  

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