The Genocide Happening In Northeast D.C.
If a nation forces an ethnic group of people in a set location and then releases deadly chemicals into that same location, poisoning that same community in the process, is it genocide? This is essentially what has been going on in my childhood neighborhood of Northeast, Washington, D.C, and all across African American neighborhoods in America.
In the early 1900’s, the mayor of Baltimore stated “Blacks should be quarantined in isolated slums.” This became the mission of the American government. Congress created the Federal Housing Administration(FHA) in 1934. Between the 1930s through the 1960s, black people across the country were prevented from buying homes and moving out of these slums. This was done through bombings, lynchings, and the policy called “redlining.” The Fair Housing Center of Boston, defines redlining as, “the practice of denying or limiting financial services to certain neighborhoods based on racial or ethnic composition without regard to the residents’ qualifications or creditworthiness.”
The FHA would color the black neighborhoods on maps, red, as a way to show that loans should not be given to those neighborhoods. This was done to prevent loans and other resources from going out to the black community. A 1943 brochure from the National Association of Real Estate Board included a list of people to prevent from buying homes in certain neighborhoods. One of the groups of people included on that list was “a colored man of means who was giving his children a college education and thought they were entitled to live among whites.” Historically, owning your own home has been the “American Dream.” It has been one of the main ways to build wealth in America. During the same time when black families were being denied the opportunity to build wealth for themselves, the FHA handed out billions of dollars to mainly white families in order for them to receive loans for homes. These government handouts helped launch millions of white Americans into the middle class.
To this day housing segregation still exists. A 2012 study done by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Urban Institute, reported that real estate agents showed blacks and latinos fewer homes and properties than whites. The study also showed that blacks and latinos were only shown homes and properties in certain neighborhoods. A study from 2018 confirmed this as well. Despite being banned 50 years ago, redlining is still affecting blacks and other minorities.
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In America, we have been conditioned to use euphemisms for what the country does to minorities. For example, instead of labeling it economic warfare, an act of war, or a military blockade,it is called“redlining”. The vast majority of low-income African American and Latino neighborhoods are simply the effects of 70 years of a military blockade by the United States of America. The process of blocking communities from resources, has been used as a weapon of war for thousands of years. When a country isolates and blocks a community from capital, credit, and even healthy food for 70 years, that is an act of war.
In the midst of the national conversation about gun control and “March For Our Lives”, there is another epidemic that is killing more people than guns. This epidemic affects predominately African Americans. Since the creation of “Black Lives Matter”, there has been a national movement to fight against police brutality, as there should. What does not get as much publicity is the type of violence against black Americans, that does not involve guns.
For nearly the past 30 years, toxic waste facilities have been polluting the air of two historically and predominately African American neighborhoods in Northeast Washington, D.C, called Langdon Park and Brentwood.
More importantly, these facilities are polluting and poisoning the bodies of humans, from the elderly to the children. Toxic waste facilities pollute the air with toxic chemicals that cause cancer, heart , kidney, and lung diseases, and psychological disorders. By just breathing the air in this neighborhood you are risking your life.
When I was a baby, my mother got wind of the fact that a company was going to burn soil using an incinerator right across the street which could have been fatal for the residents. Fortunately my parents were able to prevent them from allowing the incinerator to burn the soil on our street and neighborhood.
In the same article above, my mother stated that she and my father toured the facility and that they couldn’t even stand there, because of the fumes. This was even before the plan to burn the soil.
Other toxic waste facilities, including the one right infront of my childhood home, still stand in this neighborhood.
Within that same year 93–94, the EPA warned my parents that a chemical called “Cryptosporidium parvum” might have gotten into our water supply. It is labeled as the most deadly chemical for an infant to be exposed to. I was blessed, but the same year, this same chemical poisoned 400,000 people in Milwaukee, and may have caused several deaths.
This neighborhood is also home to the some of the most polluted and poisonous water in D.C. According to NBC 4 Washington, during the “DC Water Scandal”, from 2001–2004, in which the residents of the city were exposed to high levels of lead in the water, Langdon Park had one of the highest levels of lead.
One of these toxic waste facilities, brings thousands of tons of garbage every year from outside of the DC area. In a 2015 National Geographic article , about the same toxic waste center in DC, Morris L Shearin, Sr. (now deceased),pastor of Israel Paptist Church for 27 years , said,
“The trash is from Virginia, Delaware, wherever they can find it. It’s coming from everywhere, they will dump a load off on Friday and close the doors over the weekend. And when they roll that door up after the weekend, it is awful in this community.”
Another resident named Michelle Bundy, spoke about the issue in a 2014 city council hearing.
“The odor is so bad there are no words in the dictionary to describe [it],” she said.“We sit as hostages held inside our home during Indian summers 24 hours a day. Some of my neighbors are 85 years old and older, and they view this as a form of disrespect. They cannot sit on porches and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Our children are classified as underachievers, but they…cannot enjoy natural vitamin D. They cannot breathe the air.”
This is the reality and frustration of the residents of Langdon Park and Brentwood. In an interview during a local Fox 5 DC news segment, resident Betty Colson said,
“The rats are bad, the trucks are bad, the dust is bad, the dirt is bad, the noise is bad.”
Langdon Park resident Jeremy Wilcox told The Washington Post that “it’s like the city is telling us we’re undesirable. We are a dumping ground — — Ward 5 is a dumping ground.”
What is going on in Ward 5, in DC is not an isolated crisis. All across DC and America in predominately black neighborhoods, there are toxic waste centers polluting the environment. The official names for this epidemic is “environmental injustice” or “environmental racism.” This is the placement of toxic waste centers in predominately minority neighborhoods.
According to a 2007 study called, “Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty,” stated that, “more than half of all communities that live near toxic hazardous waste sites, were communities of color.”
A 2018 study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), called, “Disparities in Distribution of Particulate Matter Emission Sources by Race and Poverty Status”, found that African-Americans suffer the most from environmental pollution. The results showed that African Americans deal with a “54 percent higher health burden, compared to the overall population in America.” One might say “well this is just a poverty issue and not a race issue.” According to a 1987 report, race was the number one factor determining who would be polluted. A study done by the University of Minnesota in 2014, confirmed that this was still the case. The evidence is clear that environmental pollution is race related.
Recently, there have been black neighborhoods that have tried to fight this environmental injustice. In Louisiana, there is a town that lies along the Mississippi River, called LaPlace. The black residents in that area refer to it a “Cancer Alley “, due to the the prevalence of cancer in that community. Residents say the high rates of cancer stems from a toxic waste facility in that town. According to the EPA, this site produces 99 percent of America’s chloroprene pollution. The EPA says that it is a carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer. The residents have been fighting to get the facility shut down for years but have had little to no success. In Langdon Park and Brentwood, DC, the lack of political power of the residents, as well as the officials in DC, have allowed the toxic site to stay. Unfortunately in 2009, DC officials signed an agreement allowing the toxic facility to stay for 25 more years.
A larger issue embedded with environmental pollution is healthcare. Many low-income families lack healthcare. A community poisoned with several health issues, against their will, deserves free healthcare, opposed to potentially being charged for being a victim. To make matters worse, hundreds and hundreds of black impoverished residents are going to be kicked out of their homes in this neighborhood. In Brentwood, sits a massive affordable housing development called, Brookland Manor. The developers are planning to tear down the apartment and redevelop it. Some residents believe that the redeveloped apartments will be for predominately, affluent residents. Maybe once the demographics of this neighborhood changes, the toxic waste facility and dumping sites, may possibly get shut down. (Read more about how the residents in Brookland Manor are treated by the developers here.)
One might say “how can you prove America is intentionally poisoning Black neighborhoods?”
Intention does not have to be proven to charge a nation with genocide. As shown below in Article III from the 1948 Convention On The Prevention And Punishment Of The Crime Genocide, “complicity in genocide.” Corporations need the approval of local governments in order to building of toxic waste centers in Black neighborhoods in America. These local governments have approved this injustice for decades. The federal government has also continued to cut funding to prevent environmental pollution or has failed to end it.
As we continue to rally for the rights of many children to live, in hopes of protecting them from guns and mass shootings, hopefully we can protect children from toxic waste facilities too. As learned in this Daily Beast article here, pollution is indeed a violent crime. The violence must be stopped. The children and residents of Northeast DC, and other predominately minority, low income communities deserve to breathe and live in a healthy environment as well.
The question for fellow native Washingtonians is , “would a toxic waste center that poisons people, causing cancer, heart, lung, and kidney diseases as well as psychological disorders, be allowed in a predominately White affluent neighborhood such as Friendship Heights?”
Not only does environmental racism devastate the Black community’s health, it also robs us of wealth. Toxic waste centers lower the property values in Black neighborhoods, thus widening the racial wealth gap. Environmental racism, is one of the many reasons as to why billions of dollars are removed from the Black community through the racially biased housing appraisal system.
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