Op-Ed | City needs to stop turning a blind eye to the South Bronx

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BY WALTER NASH

My family has lived in Mott Haven for over 75 years.

During this time, we’ve been fighting to break the cycle of crime our community has faced. Just this month, a man was murdered directly in front of the Diego Beekman housing development.

This type of crime is an everyday reality for our community. As a longtime resident, I can attest to the fact that until real investment comes, we will see this cycle continue. Yet the City is determined to lock us up in this reality — literally — with a new jail built in a place where we were hoping to see a grocery store and other community resources.

This is why we had no choice but to sue the City over their proposed South Bronx jail site.

Like our fellow advocates in Lower Manhattan and in Queens, our suit shows that the jail was approved through a series of illegal steps at the expense of a low-income community of color that is the poorest congressional district in the nation.

Many have said that a new jail in the South Bronx provides an opportunity for the city to make much-needed community investments in the area, which has long been neglected. However, we have yet to see any of the investments the administration promised.

The South Bronx has faced systemic racism and a lack of resources for decades. Today, the South Bronx has been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with our caseload nearly three times as high as neighborhoods in the Upper East Side or parts of Manhattan. Yet while the city faces a debilitating budget crisis, the administration remains committed to delivering an $8 billion jail the community opposes, while punting on its responsibilities to invest in the community to create meaningful change.

This is exactly what we mean when we say that the administration has ignored us. The administration has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the community during every step of this process.

Before the administration announced their plans to build a jail in the South Bronx, Diego Beekman, an affordable housing complex located directly next to the site of the jail, proposed a plan to tackle disinvestment in the community, foster economic empowerment, create housing, and invest in our community institutions. This community-led plan is created by South Bronxites for South Bronxites, and it reflects the type of investments the community needs to thrive.

But the administration rejected the plan in order to build a jail.

Of course, being ignored by the City isn’t a new phenomenon. Our community has been overlooked and the wishes of my neighbors ignored for decades. But the City’s decision to drive forward with this plan underscores just how unconcerned they are with process and the community’s needs, and stands in contrast to the social and racial justice objectives they are aiming to address.

While the fate of the City’s plans to close Rikers remains unclear, with the recent ruling halting the Lower Manhattan jail site as an example, we need to stay the course to ensure that the will of Mott Haven residents isn’t once again ignored. We need real, meaningful investment that can lift up our neighbors. As we move forward with the suit, we remain committed to fighting for the future of our community.

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