Gentrification’s Violence and the Conundrum of the Neighbor

Bill Wylie-Kellermann

My mentor and friend Bill Wylie-Kellermann, wrote an exceptional reflection on living locally in Detroit and practicing restorative justice in the face of hate crimes.

Looking for real justice: What we can learn from a Corktown attack
is a well-crafted example of radical Christian witness in place. I encourage you to read Bill’s whole essay. Here’s an excerpt below:

Last Friday, Steve DiPonio, a resident of Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, pleaded not guilty in Wayne County Circuit Court to felony charges related to the October beating of a homeless man, Charles Duncan, also of Corktown.

DiPonio, according to witnesses, first used his pickup truck to harass several men, including Duncan, bedding down for the night in an alcove of Holy Trinity School, flashing his lights and revving the engine. Then, it is alleged, he beat Duncan repeatedly with a baseball bat, tied his feet with a rope and pulled him toward the truck, threatening to drag him to the river. Neighbors intervened. The prosecutor’s office might well have charged this as a hate crime. Both the weapons and the symbolism bear a terrible weight.

As pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal at Michigan and Trumbull, both of these men are known to me. I count them each as neighbors. I’m struck that when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he told a parable about a man beaten and left for dead by the side of the road (Luke 10). In our story at hand, I notice a parable of community and hospitality as well.

Charles Duncan has made his home variously in Corktown for at least a decade. He is a regular guest at our soup kitchen, Manna Community Meal. Charlie is a chronic alcoholic, subject to seizures, but a truly gentle person, even if he can get exercised over the fate of certain Detroit sports teams. The homeless folks of Corktown are by no means all alcoholics, but then neither are all the alcoholics in Corktown homeless. He is currently in rehab. And through the District Court preliminary hearings, he has, by my lights, been courageous to keep appearing for all the proceedings. Grant him this heart: He stands up and refuses to be terrorized. He insists by his witness that you don’t have to own property or even rent it to be a member of this community. He declares himself our neighbor.

Steve DiPonio is also our neighbor. For many years, he’s lived down the street. He cares honestly and perversely about Corktown. He is a skilled handyman in neighborhood projects. He participates vocally, even loudly, in community meetings, and was formerly part of the Corktown patrol (think: Neighborhood Watch with yellow lights and walkie-talkies). He was not on the patrol the night of the beating, and has since been removed from its rolls. However, the assault with which he is charged fits into a larger pattern of violence against and harassment of homeless people in the neighborhood. Homelessness is being criminalized and profiled. By looking at someone on the street, it’s presumed one can tell who belongs in the neighborhood — and who doesn’t. Harassment is extended to young people of color as well.

… What happened to Charlie may be seen as the blunt end of gentrification. Poor folks will be pushed to new margins. Homeless people for neighborhoods without homes.

Read the rest here.

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