Monday, September 22, 2008

Tennessean Article Anecdotal on Race and Crime in Urban Neighborhoods

Janell Ross's piece in the Tennessean this morning on police calls and racial profiling is sketchy, provides no statistics or fact-based hypotheses for tensions in transitional neighborhoods, and generally rests on the interviews of a handful people in two very different neighborhoods: Germantown and Salemtown (hard to tell which, because Ross gives no specific locations outside of 7th Avenue, North).

Ross refers to a "Murder Mart" on 7th. That's a name I've not heard used by Salemtown residents before, and I can only think of one convenience store on that street. It's in Salemtown. The manager was shot during a hold up there not too long ago. I don't remember the Tennessean covering that story. Or one about a report on the Salemtown listserv that a young girl who lives here was solicited for sex outside the market.

That store is owned by a white man named Kenny Norman, who has powerful and wealthy family connections in Nashville, a detail Janell Ross did not mention in her story. In the past, there have been allegations that the market sold beer out its back door before receiving a license and it was raided by police for having illegal gambling devices. Neighbors have reported in the past to being harassed with cat calls from groups of men who loiter on the sidewalk and drink beer. It took police some time to obtain a no trespass waiver from the manager to keep loiters off the property after hours. One African American who lives near the market told me that she was tired of loiterers coming into and trashing her yard. I don't know if the market is the one to which Ross refers, but it has been a liability to our neighborhood.

I believe that a serious look at racial tensions in transitional neighborhoods would be a positive and progressive contribution to the dialogue, but Ross's piece does not give that look. Police have encouraged the Salemtown crime watch to make calls about any suspicious activity we see. I've made calls on a number of white people driving vehicles with Rutherford and Wilson County tags who park at suspected drug houses for five minutes each stop. I make calls about anyone I don't recognize as living here who are looking in windows, parking at night in the middle of the alley with headlights off, passing money and paraphernalia through car windows, standing on the corner propositioning passing cars. I've called the police about men exposing themselves on a street where children play to take a piss. It doesn't matter to me what race they are. African American neighbors here tell me they do the same. Last week an African American homeowner came over to warn me that someone had tried to siphon gas out of his vehicle.

According to Metro, Salemtown is a predominantly (over 83%) African American neighborhood with over 50% of the properties owned by absentee landlords. We have a huge number of rental properties, which means to me that our population is going to be just as transitional and mobile as the economic situation of the community is rapidly changing. So, there is going to be some misunderstanding that can be cleared up by neighbors working together on an effective crime watch. And frankly we have a lot of blight that attracts people of different races from outside of Salemtown. I would like to see more study done on economic racism and the location of blight and alcohol-hawking convenience stores in predominantly African American communities. Wealth can be a vehicle for he most insidious and virulent forms of racism.

Nonetheless, charges of racism are serious and should be seriously explored. It's too bad that the Tennessean's Janell Ross failed to contribute a serious exploration the issue.


  1. I wanted to THANK YOU so much for taking the time to write this piece. I can say that I read Janell’s nonsense and found myself enraged!!!!

    I moved to the neighborhood several weeks ago. I am located right down the street from this market in question.

    I am appalled at the “race card” that was written in the article. This article was poorly written and proves that Janell did NO research on her article.

    Let’s have no more RACIAL COMMENTS!! We are all “people”!!! I find it appalling in this day and age to be throwing out harmful words without any investigation. I love my Neighbors! I am a white female and as you have mentioned my Neighbors are predominantly African American. They are so delightful! I have talked to them on a daily basis. We know each other by name. I have taken in their groceries and handed them their mail. I have waived and made friends along my walks around the area.

    I say all this though and have to mention that this particular market scares me so much. On two occasions in the last week I have been unable to turn onto my street as your so called loyal customers at the market were throwing rocks at a lady across the street. Two days later a man was drunk at 10am in the morning and wouldn’t get out of the road.

    There are children in our community that deserve to be safe. The intersection of 7th and Garfield is anything but safe! Not safe for me as a young adult and certainly not safe for our community and our children.

    Last week my Neighbor caught her grandson skipping school and hanging out with the wrong crowd at the market. These young men solicit our communities children whist they are walking to school. I find it so interesting that we can have this kind of market where less then 2 feet away is a school zone.

    So Janell, why don’t you actually do some research before you write horrible articles attributing our distaste for the market to being that of a Racial nature!

  2. I will have to agree your article was a little more balanced than Janell's.

  3. Great article. The real story rarely is told in Nashville.

    John R Carlisle