Monday, December 28, 2009

Blynn makes racial politics get ugly in North Miami

For the first time ever, there was a shooting at the basketball courts that stand beside the tot lot near my childhood home in Keystone Point, a peninsular-island community of mid- and upper- class homes aside the intercoastal waters of North Miami.

Shootings are certainly troubling, and they're not just happening in Keystone Point. Just yesterday, a woman was shot in the parking lot outside the Aventura Mall. In North Miami, my local councilman, Michael Blynn's response to the shooting was to suggest that we shut the basketball courts, apparently because of the large number of black teenagers that congregate there. Should we shutter Aventura Mall as well, because it is known to attract a large number of "African-American teenagers"? Obviously not. Yet it is by that very same logic that Michael Blynn wants to close the North Miami basketball courts.

There are reasonable ways to deal with violence that secure our common spaces for the good of many, rather than squandering the space for the actions of a few. Our communal, recreational spaces are as or even more precious and than our commercial ones, and their protection is our entire city's responsibility. Yet my own City Councilman, Mayor Michael Blynn, is on the record that the park should be closed indefinitely. Why has he taken such an extreme position after one isolated incident?

Blynn first made his thoughts first heard at a Keystone Point Homeowners Association Meeting. The Miami Herald reported:

"Although North Miami Police Chief Clint Shannon described the shooting as an isolated incident, Blynn warned residents that crime 'cannot be controlled' and that their quality of life will be affected if the court remains open.

Blynn added, 'No offense, but the African-American unemployment rate has increased in this area.'"

In all fairness, the Herald reporter must have thought, this is pretty outrageous statement. When he contacted Blynn later by phone to give him a chance to "clarify," Blynn said:

"a worsening economy exacerbates crime and unemployed African-American teenagers are more prone to commit crimes than whites.

'Crime statistics indicate that certain people commit more criminal activities than others,' he said.

'That's just the way it is.'"

So let me get this straight. By Blynn's logic, since "a worsening economy exacerbates crime and unemployed African-American teenagers are more prone to commit crimes than whites" and "crime cannot ever be controlled," the only way to assure that our "quality of life" is "not affected" is by shutting down the basketball courts indefinitely . . . because many African-Americans recreate there?

I'm positively baffled. We live in a city with a Haitian-American mayor. Many of our councilmen are black men. My sister teaches at North Miami Middle School, where well over 90% of her students are people of color. Is Michael Blynn sending 130 of my sister's Middle School students a message that the Keystone Point basketball courts are not open to people of their kind? That they are unwelcome on "our" side of Biscayne Boulevard? I struggle to find any way of forgiving the facially discriminatory and racially hostile tone of his rhetoric. It seems to echo from an ugly, segregationist American past that once ghettoized our nation's cities. The heritage of segregation and slavery is one whose ill effects linger on in our uneven and underfunded public education system, and in the very disparate incarceration rates that Blynn cites to support his noxious reasoning.

Reasonable and well meaning people can disagree about how best to provide security at the tot lot. No doubt, many good suggestions will be provided in the coming days by a variety of community stakeholders including our local police, councilpeople, and fellow citizens of every race. Some are already being discussed. What isn't needed is reactionary rhetoric that divides and marginalizes whole swaths of our community. I hope my councilman will apologize and reflect upon the reasons why his comments are so deeply offensive to his own constituents.

Read the full Herald article here.
Take action: let Michael Blynn know this kind of divisive racial rhetoric is unacceptable in our community. Reach him here to let him know exactly how you feel.

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