(L-R) Sheba Alexander and Jeanette Carter, Ivy City residents; Parisa… (Courtland Milloy/The Washington…)
If a white-run government tried to put a bus depot next to the homes of ailing, low-income black residents, there would be an outcry. Environmental racism, we’d charge.
But what do you call it when D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) proposes the same thing? Residents of Ivy City call it “environmental injustice.’’
It’s an accurate description, yet it lacks the sting of a race specific indictment — nothing to convey the betrayal one feels at being on the receiving end of a toxic black-on-black dumping.
After months of telling Ivy City residents that he wanted to make their neighborhood in Northeast “green and sustainable,” just like the blossoming going on in the newly gentrified parts of town, Gray has apparently done a complete about-face.
“More fumes, more noise, more traffic. Not a tree as promised,” said Andria Swanson, president of the Ivy City Neighborhood Association. “About 20 percent of our residents have respiratory problems, like asthma and sleep apnea. Some don’t have air conditioning and must keep their windows open for ventilation. Diesel fumes will be pouring in, and we’ll have even more people getting sick and possibly dying.”
Doxie McCoy, a spokeswoman for Gray, said that the mayor’s administration has met with Ivy City residents several times and has taken their concerns into account. “We did not ignore anyone,” she said. “Mayor Gray is very sensitive to environmental issues, and this is reflected in his sustainability plan for the city. But he also has to balance that with the best placement for different facilities.”
Surely, there’s an ecologically appropriate name for all the soot, gas and noise emitting from city hall. Black politicians often win office by claiming to have extra sensitivity to the needs of the black community. And yet, in the span of just a few months this year:
●A former Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative for Ivy City went to jail for credit-card fraud.
●Ivy City’s representative on the D.C. Council, Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), was supposed to be helping them with the fight against the buses, but he went to prison for stealing money earmarked for needy children.
●And as Ivy City’s lawsuit to block the bus depot was heard for the first time Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court, disgraced ex-council chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) — who had also pledged to help — was in another courtroom being sentenced for bank fraud.
“We just don’t seem to have a lot of leadership in this city,” said Parisa Norouzi, co-founder of Empower D.C., a community organizing group that helped residents file the lawsuit.
Ivy City is a 1.7-square-mile neighborhood just off New York Avenue and not far from the Maryland line. It was founded by African Americans in 1872. It used to be a vibrant place to live — with the historic Alexander Crummell School (named for the abolitionist) serving as its civic heart.
Today, the neighborhood has three liquor stores, two carryouts, a raunchy nightclub, a group home, parking lots for school buses and public works vehicles, a halfway house and a juvenile-detention facility.
Although scores of residents are clustered throughout the mix, there is no recreation facility, playground, library, job center (unemployment is near 50 percent) or day care. And the Crummell school is shuttered.
“Precisely because Ivy City is a low-income African American community, city officials think it is okay to treat them poorly,” Norouzi said.
Mayor Gray’s plans call for relocating at least 65 charter buses from their berths at Union Station while that facility undergoes a $7 billion renovation. Meanwhile, plans to renovate Crummell have been put on hold. The hopes of Ivy City residents were lifted when city officials showed them digital images of what the renovated building would look like — the classic structure, built in 1911, looks brand new and sits on a lush, green, landscaped lawn.
But those plans are now on hold, the land paved over and fenced off — to be used as the bus parking lot.
“We’re being thrown under the bus,” said Jeanette Carter, a long-time Ivy City resident. “Mayor Gray talks a lot of making D.C. ‘one city,’ but we are still the people of the Forgotten City.”
Sheba Alexander, another Ivy City resident, said: “I moved to Ivy City with my newborn thinking that with all the promises that the mayor was making, this would be a nice place to live. How could he think buses are more important than children?”
The city has not commented on the case, but it has filed court papers arguing that no laws were broken in selecting Ivy City for the bus depot.
There’s got to be a name for this kind of environmental travesty, when residents are promised sustainable green only to end up with unsustainable Gray.
For previous Courtland Milloy columns, visit washingtonpost.com/milloy.