A Tale of Two Neighbors
By Miranda Woods
Imagine the following people and scenarios, playing out in normal, everyday life here in Over-The-Rhine: It’s Thursday evening and Alex has just finished a long day at his job. As he does every Thursday afternoon, he decides to unwind with an ice-cold beer outside enjoying the still warm fall weather, so he takes his drink out to the sidewalk and has a seat to people watch.
How did you envision Alex? A young, white, gentrifying millennial relaxing with his beer in a sidewalk beer garden at a bar on Vine Street? Or as an older, Black man who’s lived his whole adult life in his Race Street house with no front porch? It’s Friday evening and there’s suddenly a loud commotion outside. A boisterous group of people is moving through the neighborhood and while the unwanted noise is soon gone as quickly as it arrived, there is bound to be more annoying, disturbing disruptions throughout the evening from others like them.
Did you imagine Black youth riding past on speeding motorcycles, revving their engines and accelerate through stop lights? Or rather the loud speakers blasting music from beer pedal carts with their unruly dunk white passengers singing off-key to songs often containing words they’re not supposed to utter? It’s Sunday morning and you awake to rumbling floor vibrations and the sound of loud music and lots of people.
Did you think it was the morning service at the Church of God, a Black church on Elm Street? Or another weekend festival happening in Washington Park, mostly patronized by white people? Far too often in this neighborhood we see a tale of two neighbors living lives with similar scenarios, but with vastly different consequences and outcomes.
And more often than not, for Black Over-The-Rhine residence who have lived here for a long time, those consequences are negative and come in the forms of criminalizing, over-policing, and sanctioning everyday life. This is not to say that these pertain to new laws that are being enacted currently to over-police Black people - although such laws do exist and that’s another story all in its own – but rather that the trend we are seeing in OTR is to only enforce these laws towards Black people.
The general tide of this changing neighborhood is to be against the original Black inhabitants and culture of Over-The-Rhine and find ways to bend and ignore rules, as well as create double standards when it comes to the new white colonizers. Let’s consider my beginning example of Alex wanting a beer. If Alex is the older Black man with no porch on his property, and he goes to sit in a plastic lawn chair on the sidewalk – as many do – to enjoy his beer, he can be arrested for having an open container or for public intoxication.
But if Alex is a young millennial gentrifier, he has a variety of ways to consume his after-work beer in public in OTR. Not only can he sit shielded behind the fences of the many beer gardens on the sidewalks of Vine and Main Streets, but he can also choose to go to Washington Park and buy a beer from The Porch, which will allow him to drink the beer wherever he’d like in the park. Of course, being that it is 2019 and Jim Crow-enforced 1959, there is no written law that overtly says buying a beer at any of the Vine Street bars or in Washington Park is only for white people, but when one beer starts at $8 you can decipher who the beer is really for.
The issue of noise in Over-The-Rhine highlights the hypocritical racial biases shown to Black people here. There have been white gentrifiers who have suggested at OTR Community Council meetings that Black churches need to be mindful of how loud and a nuisance their choirs can be to them on a Sunday morning. However, these same people think it is acceptable for 3CDC to throw festivals – complete with crowds, live music, and loud activities - nearly every Saturday and Sunday during warm weather months, from early morning and throughout the day into the evening.
Another colonizer at an OTR Community Council meeting recently suggested that the police should pursue high-speed chases of rowdy motorcycle groups of Black youth that ride through in the evening sometimes on their way downtown from Clifton. Never mind the fact that this type of police chase is a danger to public safety and illegal, any noise that disrupts the lovely, family-friendly neighborhood that redevelopment has created must be stopped!
That is, unless its noise made by those who came with the redevelopment on pedal carts. Or in walking tours filled with middle-age white men looking to invest in the neighborhood – can you imagine a group of 20-odd Black men walking together through OTR and how quickly they would be stopped and harassed by police for intimidating the good neighbors and making the neighborhood feel unsafe? All these scenarios really show is that with a little money and some corporate capitalist friends downtown, any law can be bent, and any exception to social norms can be made - as long as it benefits the white gentrifiers and further alienates and criminalizes Black people who have lived in the forgotten shadows in Over-The-Rhine for decades. These double standards are inherently racist and classist, and help to further stigmatize unfounded stereotypes about Black people such as that we are loud, ghetto, menaces to society, or always drunk. It’s time we bring these instances and others like them to the forefront and talk about their lasting effects on us as a community.