(227209)
Credit: Contributed

I recently heard that the Obama administration, led by U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, will implement a smoking ban in all federal public housing. When New York City public housing implements the smoking ban for its residents, 178,000 New York City Housing Authority apartments will be affected. In no way am I encouraging smoking. However, this draconian law directed at public housing residents unfairly targets low-income residents. The attempt to police behaviors of people in public housing is yet another unfair burden placed on residents already living in less than ideal housing situations.

When I first heard of this new ban, I immediately asked myself how such a ban will be enforced. New York City has 18 months to implement the ban and I fear the residual consequences will be direr than a cigarette could ever be. What happens when the ban is in effect and an NYPD officer goes to a housing project to enforce it? What if a resident refuses to put out a cigarette? Will the smoker be fined, arrested, tasered or shot? Most of us have seen the video footage of Eric Garner being choked to death for selling “illegal” cigarettes. Many of us have seen the last known footage of Sandra Bland asking a police officer why he is accosting her in such an aggressive manner. Many of us have followed the story of Akai Gurley, killed in the stairwell of his own home. The common thread between these three tragic stories, and the countless others that did not make headlines, is that each of these Black individuals died at the hands of the police or in the custody of the police for doing nothing more than selling cigarettes, possibly “talking back” and walking down a staircase. My concern is that this additional police presence in New York City public housing will only increase tensions between residents and the NYPD and tragic results will occur—over a cigarette.

We must also think about who we are as a democratic society. If we are to live in a seemingly equitable society, we cannot treat less wealthy residents of the city, the state or the nation differently than we do wealthier Americans. Yes, smoking is a less than ideal behavior, but so is living in public housing. Why are we not using more resources and brainstorming strategies to assist citizens in gaining sustainable employment, education and housing so that they can live and raise their children in a non-police state?

Indeed a smoke-free environment will ultimately save lives, but why is it that the federal government has chosen this particular population? Their efforts do not ring as genuine, and their strategy does not appear to consider the already strained relations between residents and those paid to decide which laws they will enforce.

Christina Greer, Ph. D., is an associate professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.