Natacha Robert spoke of the Detroit bankruptcy as a method of ethnic cleansing. “Between the 1920s and the 1950s Detroit’s African population continued to grow, and by the 1970s Detroit became America’s largest majority-Black city,” said Robert. “Detroit was very important for the development of a Black middle class and the union movement due to the thriving automotive industry. Many Africans worked within the automotive industry and were able to make enough money to buy homes and maintain a living. After World War II, many Africans lost their factories jobs to returning veterans of the war, most of whom were white. The city also experienced a period of deindustrialization beginning in the 1940s, with divestment from the auto industry. As whites fled to the suburbs, Detroit became a majority Black city with a dwindling tax base.”
Yaa Asantewaa Nzingha, an educator, focused on ethnic cleansing of Black educators from American school systems. She began by quoting Dr. Amos Wilson: “The paradox I have to deal with daily in my classroom is the amount of lying that must take place in the name of education; the amount of outright deception that goes by the name of education; how truth must be nailed to the cross in classroom after classroom; how people tremble, quake and suffer from anxiety when truth and reality is brought up by their teachers; how people are pushed out of the universities and punished because they dare talk about truth; how people think they should go to school only to be made comfortable.”
She continued, “It is only appropriate I start with myself, Yaa Asantewaa Nzingha. During my 30 years as a public school educator, I have experienced hostility, harassment, demotions, suspensions and termination because of the role I played in ‘successfully’ educating children of African descent. My most devastating blow came January 2001, when I was terminated from my teaching position at Junior High School 113, in Brooklyn, N.Y. for teaching Black youth they were Africans. While covering my theater class, a white Jewish teacher, Mr. Levine, became troubled when he asked a 13-year-old Black male to do a skit where he would role-play a thief and go to the corner store, steal candy, potato chips, etc. to bring back for the girls in order to impress them. The young man responded by saying, ‘My drama teacher, Nzingha, teaches us as Africans we shouldn’t fall into the low standards America has set for us, but have high standards as African people, therefore, I do not feel I should have to act out the part of a thief.’
“The teacher wrote a letter to the principal stating that teaching children to call themselves Africans was not only lowering their self-esteem, but teaching them hopelessness. The principal, Katherine Corbett, sided with Mr. Levine, and after years of praising my curriculum and teaching techniques ordered me to discontinue my current methods of instruction and no longer include ‘anything’ in my curriculum that dealt with issues of rejection, racism, peer conflict, personal conflict, or the atrocities of slavery. I was eventually banned from the school and terminated by, at that time, District Superintendent Dr. Lester Young Jr. My incident triggered a host of attacks on other teachers in the same school who taught youth their culture, history, ancestry, origin, etc. The ethnic cleansing of Black educators is not unique to New York.”
Nzingha documented several teachers similarly situated around the country and the long history of not educating or mis-educating Black children in the U.S.
On the Issue of the manipulation of “natural disasters,” Cleatress Brown discussed New Orleans, Flint Mich., and Puerto Rico. “As stated by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, a disaster can be defined as ‘a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society,’” she said. “In New Orleans, we have to ask just what are ‘natural’ disasters? The well-known and documented instability of the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain levees contributed significantly to the forced displacement of the Black community and ethnic cleansing of the city, now thoroughly ‘gentrified.’ Even Black residential communities unaffected by the levee breach were permanently evacuated.”
Louisiana Congressman Richard H. Baker stated, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”
The Flint Mich. water crisis is another example of an unnatural disaster affecting the Black community. “As residents complained to authorities about the foul-smelling, undrinkable water flowing through their pipes, their complaints fell on deaf ears,” said Brown. The chemically tainted water began to have an effect on their children and unborn, resulting in miscarriages and premature births. Tap water was contaminated with high lead levels after the city turned to the Flint River to supply its water in April 2014. When they switched, officials didn’t use a corrosion-control treatment to maintain the stability of rust layers (containing lead) inside service lines.
In Puerto Rico, the U.S. is their real disaster. After Hurricane Marie struck Puerto Rico, Federal Emergency Management Agency foot dragging and mismanagement exasperated the situation on the ground. “Now six months later, the island population of ‘U.S. citizens’ are still waiting for full recovery aid, and the U.S. may send back those persons who evacuated to the ‘main land’ for refuge,” said Brown.
Tribunal jurist closings
Gibbs focused on the issue of NYC Housing Authority crisis. “There were a couple of issues that weren’t addressed, which I would like the organizers to give some thought,” she said. “Among them was the depopulation of public housing, which is the residence of many of our people. Warehousing apartments under the guise of repair, policies of selling off the parking lot land space, and the blatant destruction of housing like Cabrini Green in Chicago, the largest public housing in the U.S.”
Toussaint stated, “In the international arena, as Malcolm X said, we have to take our fight and make it a human rights issue. This is one of the reasons we want to change the discourse and language that we use, instead of gentrification we should talk about ethnic cleansing. With that we can see how a number of states have taken their plight to the international arena and have gotten redress.”
Goode’s summation reflected an overview and action. “These kinds of public forums are critically important to spread knowledge, to allow community to form and to allow the kind of organizing to take place to ultimately lead to solutions,” he said. “Today we had an opportunity to hear testimony, observations and analysis, data and history, all addressing the issue of ethnic cleansing and gentrification, how it has happened and what we might do to address it. We have heard evidence on how racism and capitalism are intricately connected and they operate in the field of housing. We have heard the testimony about everything it has to do with the occupation of space—from renting a home, to buying a home, to locating in a community and to participating in a community. We have heard how gentrification is a tool of the current political economy. We have heard how the neoliberalism policies of our current economic system plays a role in that gentrification process.”
He continued, “We listened to testimony concerning how federal agencies that are supposed to serve the interest of our communities have instead become the tools of capital enterprises that seek to exploit our communities. But we also heard that there were opportunities to work both within and without those agencies to turn some of its programs around to stem the tide that our communities are facing. We heard a great deal of testimony concerning the foreclosure crisis. We’ve heard testimony about how America has failed repeatedly to recognize housing as a human rights issue. We must look beyond the limitations of the language of our current legal system and adopt the language of international human rights … I would add only one more point to our deliberations today, and that is much of what we talked about today are situations that we have been responding to, and as they occur we must respond to them. But we must also reignite what I our civic imagination. Our capacity not only to respond to the struggles that face us, but to imagine a future that we want. This is our opportunity to think about and to articulate the kind of community that we want. We must also cultivate a vision and a dream so that our children will live in a different kind of world. As you all know, the struggle continues.”
For more information, contact the December 12 Movement at 718-398-1766, D12M.com or email@example.com or Facebook We Ain’t Going Nowhere – Tribunal.