Jordan One Year Later: What's Different, What's the Same

A City Pages Roundtable

Hours before Samuels boarded a plane to attend his brother's funeral in Jamaica, he and a group of volunteers were dismantling the tents and rolling up the sleeping bags used during the vigil. Though he could not participate in this week's roundtable discussion, Samuels did talk to City Pages for 45 minutes before he left.


City Pages: What has changed about the situation in Jordan over the past year and what has remained the same?

Don Samuels: What has changed definitely is the community's sense of empowerment. People are complaining just as much or more, even though things have gotten a little better. Which I think is great, because one of the problems we've had at City Hall and in the governor's office and the county office is that the threshold for pain in the impacted communities is so high that there is no sense of just how bad it is around here.

CP: What has remained the same?

Samuels: There is still a critical mass of people who feel disconnected from activism and change. The African American working class and the few middle class who are here are still disproportionately disengaged. The renter class is still almost totally disengaged. That leaves a lot of openings in the fabric of the community for the gangs to find a way to wedge themselves in, to take up permanent residence in blocks and homes and corners where there is disproportionate apathy.

CP: Are you satisfied with the response from the city in general and the city's police department in particular?

Samuels: No. I'm not satisfied about anything, frankly. Children are getting killed. You are sitting in front of a house where a gentleman in his late 50s or early 60s was forced to move five months ago because he called the cops on these guys and his windows got broken, he got harassed, and he finally decided his life was in jeopardy and he had to move. Because he called the cops and was an activist. Unfortunately, I must say that he did not engage with the larger movement of neighbors so he isolated himself in his activism, which is a dangerous thing to do. But the fact is that he was active and he was terrorized.

CP: Has the mayor done enough to follow through on the kind of action you need? We've had a bunch of people killed or maimed, and because you have upped the pressure, others seem to be on board, but when that type of reaction happens it always seems a little suspect. People are responding to these high- profile incidents, but what about the ambient mood of the neighborhood?

Samuels: That's a good way to put it. I think ambiently nobody is concerned enough, except for the handful of people who are active and the few people who leave. And I'm not going to blame the mayor specifically, but I think the mayor is part of the general malaise around that. I think it is the mayor's issue, I think it is the county's issue, and I think it is the state's issue. And I think it is the neighborhood's issue. If I have a family and one of my children is sick and everybody else is doing great, and you say to me, "Hey, Don, how is the family?" I say, "We're doing okay, but, boy, I tell you, we're depressed, we're down, because Gene is having to go to surgery and the poor little thing is in pain every night." That child is the one who determines how the family is doing. And right now the way the city thinks of itself and the state thinks of itself, we're doing as good as downtown is doing or our lakes are doing or our high-profile amenities are doing. But we really aren't doing any better than Jordan is doing and until we get that sensibility I have to say the ambient sensitivity is poor.

CP: What about the police department in terms of the attitudes of the rank and file toward African Americans? Most of the gang members are minority and most of the police officers are white.

Samuels: Well, race is always in the equation whether or not there are white officers. Even within a black context, you can be abusive. These gang drug dealers have totally internalized racism. They look at another kid across from them, who is black, well he is a nigger, he's shit, okay? They'll say, "You talking to me, nigger?" and put a gun to his head and blow his brains out. That is racism to me, racism against yourself.

So when a police force comes in and says, "We don't need intensive re-education, we don't need ongoing, hard, dirty work on racial attitudes," you are telling me that even though the black kid has internalized racism, to the point where he can kill another black kid, you are so morally superior and psychologically superior that it hasn't even affected you?

Even though you are white and you stand to benefit from racism, and even though you don't know any black people in your personal life, you don't live among them and the only ones you really interact with are in the criminal element--the minor, small percentage that are criminals--and you are telling me that in spite of all of those psychological realities, your mental superiority has equipped you to not be racist?

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