Jumaane Williams Says J'Ouvert Criticism is Racist; Housing in the Bronx

The Council voted “yes” yesterday on La Central, a massive new housing development in the Melrose section of the Bronx, near the Hub. The development will include almost 1000 units of affordable housing, maxing out at 100% AMI. The developers will build a YMCA and other amenities. Sounds like a great deal; a victory for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.

Questions arose about what made this development acceptable, as opposed to the Sherman Plaza proposal in Inwood that was struck down last month. Speaker Mark-Viverito spoke in generalities about individual projects and the needs of different communities, and the ability to leverage neighborhood opposition. Everyone praised CM Rafael Salamanca for getting such a fantastic deal for his district.

Indeed it is hard to understand the economics of La Central at first face. Area rents are pretty low, and 100% AMI is basically market rate anyway. How are the developers making money here, and why isn’t the administration celebrating La Central as a victory for its housing policy?

It all becomes clear when you understand that the developers are getting the land for free. The city owns the land where La Central will rise, which completely changes the economics of the development. Throwing in a free YMCA or a school is easy when construction and labor are the only costs. There is no basis for comparison between La Central and Sherman Plaza: it is a totally different structure.

There aren’t very many massive city-owned lots like this one left, so La Central is not a model for future developments. And the whole thing was planned under Bloomberg, so the current administration can’t really take credit for it.

Following the J’Ouvert disaster, CMs Jumaane Williams and Laurie Cumbo went on Inside City Hall to defend the event, and argue for its continuation. Or rather, they contended that the city is more or less powerless to do anything about J’Ouvert anyway, short of imposing martial law. It was a gesture of surrender. This was the first year that the city issued a permit for the event, but for what? J’Ouvert isn’t a parade: it is a mass assemblage of people milling around and party hopping. The NYPD erected more than 200 light towers and doubled its presence to 3400 officers. Nevertheless “gunplay” broke out and two people were killed.

CM Williams made the astonishing claim that criticism of J’Ouvert is racist. First he insinuated that people concerned about the seemingly inevitable murders are hypocrites who don’t care about gun violence except when J’Ouvert rolls around. “The people who have been working on this issue should continue to work on it. There are people who haven’t been working on gun violence issues…there are people in the media…we can’t continue to equate ‘No J’Ouvert’ as ‘No gun violence.’” Indeed: the J’Ouvert murders are symptomatic of the high rate of gun violence in Brooklyn’s African American and West Indian neighborhoods. Who disputes this? Do we have to shrug our shoulders and accept the one city-sponsored event that almost always winds up with people dead?

Williams then went on to say, “I can’t pretend that there haven’t been attacks on every aspect of cultural stuff, particularly when it pertains to blacks. There has been no violence at the Brooklyn Museum events, but there have been people trying to stop those events for years. There was no violence with the drummers in Harlem, but people have been trying to stop that for years.”

This statement from Jumaane Williams is possibly the most demented concatenation of non-sequiturs I have heard from a council member on television. There are two million black people in NYC, with a hugely diverse number of cultural events (or “stuff”) going on all the time. Is it really the case that the city’s white racist cultural/political class is “attack[ing] every aspect” of black cultural expression?

The Brooklyn Museum event Williams references are the “First Saturday” evenings at the museum, which used to be basically a dance party, and was retooled to be more performance oriented when some people said that a club vibe wasn’t really in line with the generally reserved milieu of a museum. Nobody picketed it or said anything racist. The Harlem drumming refers to the Marcus Garvey Park Saturday evening drum circles, which go on for hours and annoy some of the neighbors. There was some minor racially-tinged tension regarding the drumming a few years ago, and their spot has been moved a few times. Probably there are some neighbors who would prefer not to have to listen to drumming. But there has been no racist suppression of the drummers. Black culture lives on in New York--somehow.

Jumaane Williams was totally off-base implying that J’Ouvert criticism is racist. Let two years go by with no shootings or stabbings, and the criticism will cease.