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Gentrification from the lens of Dan Scott & Spike Lee

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Read additional commentary by Jamala on Dan, Spike Lee and gentrification  at BlackCommentator. The commentary includes video of Spike’s remarks at Pratt Institute.

I, too, sing St. Louis: The Dan Scott Saga

(This year is the 250th birthday of the City of St. Louis. This is the first of several articles throughout the year that share the stories of residents who have been excluded socially, politically and economically from the progress of the city. The series’ title is a take off from Langston Hughes’ famous poem,” I, too, sing America.” These citizens have been looked upon as second-class citizens, and their contributions or potential contributions have been blocked, discounted or stolen.)

Dan Scott_St. Louis PD photo

You probably would have never heard about Dan Scott had it not been for a rare and heavy-handed move by Alderman Joe Roddy and the St. Louis Courts. The story has gone national as yet another sad example of how this city chooses to deal with race relations.

After Scott’s arrest in May 2012, Judge Michael Stelzer set bail at $10,000 cash, gave Scott a curfew and ordered that he wear an ankle bracelet. He was banned from his home, youth programs and rental property for 17 months while waiting for his trial. All are located in the Forest Park Southeast (FPSE) neighborhood. Scott was charged with 5 counts of harassment and two counts of obstructing government operations and faced up to six years of prison. This act was designed to kill his spirit, destroy his livelihood and criminalize him.

The crux of Scott’s real crime seems to be his unorthodox youth programs that attract black youth, especially males. A native St. Louisan, Scott move into his current neighborhood some 17 years ago during the height of gangs and the crack cocaine epidemic. With his own meager resources, Scott reached out to youth to teach them marketable skills to make an honest buck. His crimes are passing on his skills and talents to misguided youth in a neighborhood that was barren in programs and services for teens. In addition to being a rehabber, Scott is also a seasoned chess player and boxer. His youth “complex” includes a community garden, a boxing gym, a library and hang-out space.

For years, the passionate and energetic Scott was the darling of the hood. He owns five pieces of property there and once headed up the neighborhood association. He will proudly show you photos of himself with St. Louis mayors, police chiefs, successful business people, famous artists—all who gave him moral encouragement or financial support for his programs. When one of his kids made the Jr. Olympics in boxing and didn’t have the funds to travel, area businesses kicked in the dollars to make sure he got to the regional. Scott has not been able to save all his youth from the violence of the streets but many have grown up, steered clear of the criminal justice system and graduated from high school; some have even gone  on to college.

As the FPSE neighborhood that Scott had helped to stabilize during the rough times began to gentrify, Scott began to sharply raise issues about how public funds were being used and how long-time residents were being locked out from the progress. He quickly went from hero to villain to a criminal.

The specter of WashingtonUniversity’s money and might looms large in FPSE. Many multi-million dollar projects have emerged over the last few years and groups of black youth—even if they’re quietly playing chess–are a threat to the plans.

And speaking of scared, the one misdemeanor charge that Scott was convicted of recently was one count of harassment based on an encounter with artist Grace McCammond. McCammond, who is white, received a contract with WashingtonUniversity to paint fire hydrants in the area. Scott asked if his kids could do the prep work for $5 a hydrant. The encounter in front of Sweetie Pie’s Restaurant made her “frightened and fearful of her safety.”

In a time of Stand your Ground killings by “fearful” white people who felt threatened by a black male, this takes the Scott case to a whole new level. The history of white women who felt threatened by a black man also has an ugly history in this country. The bottom line is that when whites are threatened, the outcomes for black people are not good.

Ald. Roddy could’ve played this much differently but in St. Louis, examples must be made of those who challenge racism and white authority. Scott believes Roddy lined up the NSO, the police and the courts to reinforce that example when he could’ve set an example of how participatory democracy works at the neighborhood level, how to include all who want to make a positive contribution.

Here’s what must be done for the year that Dan Scott will be on probation, doing his 40 hours of community service and undergoing anger management sessions. We must keep a watchful eye on this volatile situation. A year is a long time for someone on probation trying to avoid manufactured violations. We cannot allow Dan Scott to be isolated and we must find ways to encourage his positive interaction with a community where he has invested considerable sweat, time and resources. For starters, someone needs to step up to pay for the anklet monitor he was forced to wear for 17 months at $8.50 a day and $30 a month for service fees. In the long term, this city must learn how to take the high road when faced with situations of race and class and not default to the plantation model that maintains inequality, segregation and discrimination on both the personal and institutional levels.

 

 

Comments

Lynn
Reply

You have captured this man’s plight so well. The people who pursued those false charges should be brought up on charges themselves and made an example of. Otherwise they will continue to do it to others in the name of “progress”.

Alice
Reply

Please stop believing everything you read about this man. He is a fake. Do some real research and talk to the people he has affected. Respect the victims and try to see why they want him out of the community. His “complex” is nothing but a run down building. Please come to the community and go inside the buildings he own. He is no re-haber he is a slum lord. He doesn’t own the community garden that lot belongs to the city and is leased to a community organization that in turn maintains it> Do your research it’s not that hard. People don’t kick people out of their community for being too nice. Make an effort to talk to people and get their side of the story. Look at the local hot dog vender and his saga. He uses those kids to do his dirty work. He had them tear up a community garden. Again, do your research and come and talk to people!

jamala
Reply

“Alice,” I did talk to people and I did go inside the buildings. There were neighbors and supporters of Dan who felt like their side wasn’t being heard. Views like yours had already been captured in the mainstream media. By the way, I am not a reporter; I am a columnist who does political commentary. I am committed to truth not necessary balance. So far, no one has refuted what I actually wrote.

Serge
Reply

That neighborhood is fake. I took a look at apartments there. The prices are too high for what you get and seem to be dominated by a couple of leasing companies. What has happened to affordable apartments? It seems like they are catering to some upscale crowd that is willing to pay $1100 for a small 1 bedroom that has zero character- think West County. That is a house payment! Ending up going a little further south – Shaw – way better area and apt.

LaRhonda
Reply

The point that I get from this story in general (regardless of what individuals may have experienced from Scott) is that we are STILL experiencing extreme racial disparaties in the justice system in St. Louis. A year of probation because a woman is scared when a man asked her a question? That is insane to me and as a Black woman extremely frightening! Jamala, I don’t have the means to offer finanical assistance but I’m certainly willing to support!

Lynn
Reply

Just found this in The Post Dispatch letter to the editor:
Regarding “Probation for man banned from Forest Park Southeast” (Feb. 22):

For decades, Neighborhood Enterprises has managed rental housing in Forest Park Southeast and Botanical Heights (formerly McRee Town). I occasionally talked with Dan Scott and saw work he did in Forest Park Southeast. I was amused and amazed at the thick/tall stone wall he erected on one of his properties and his work with a community garden.

Mr. Scott may need anger management, but it is the city, represented by Alderman Joe Roddy and the court, which abused its power. They evicted him from his home and neighborhood for 17 months and demolished his stone walls on the pretense that they were a threat to public safety.

At public meetings I have spoken against bills sponsored by Alderman Roddy that allow eminent domain to take homes and businesses for private development. In return, Mr. Roddy called me a slumlord and accused us of renting apartments without getting occupancy permits. In 30 years, to my knowledge, Mr. Roddy has never been in a building we manage or called me to discuss any real or alleged problem with a building we manage. In 2011, on the 40th anniversary of Neighborhood Enterprises, the Board of Aldermen awarded us for our work.

Jim Roos • St. Louis

President of Neighborhood Enterprises

Glenn Miller
Reply

I know this article is pretty old, but I want to take the time to raise this issue up again. I am a current Tennant of Dan. 4344 Chouteau Ave. Under his care, my gas and Water have been cut off. Not by the city might I add. I am not behind on my rent. I am not a troubled loud disrespectful tenant. He wanted me to pay for a water bill under his discretion. When I refuse to without proper channels, I walked into my kitchen, to prepare dinner for my sick 5 year old, only to discover the water is off. I called the water company directly, to find no order was sent from the city to disconnect. I even asked if he was aware, to which he never answered with a direct yes or no. Days later, he barged into my apartment that I am still renting and have Paid for, to question me as to why I haven’t paid him for the bill. I asked him to leave, since I was given no notice he would be in my home for whatever reason. Hr refused, and later than night when I left, he came back and broke furniture, opened my windows, and turned off the gas. Please tell me how this man is a victim?? I am a current student doctor, working to help better my community, and the people I love. He is no hero. He is an opportunist, a bully, and a slumlord.

Mr.Servrdaily
Reply

I don’t think anyone is aware of the extreme violent nature of that neighborhood during the first 15-17 years after Dan made the decision to move there from the quite Shaw Neighborhood where he has always lived peacefully. No one can imagine the massive amounts of shit, and I mean real human shit, that had to be cleaned up on a consistent basis. Dan once stopped me from punching a lady in the head. She had broke in the apartment he was buying and took a liquid shit right on the floor we had cleaned the day before. Dan has been a guiding light to that neighborhood. I don’t think it would be were it is today if Dan hadn’t started that wheel moving so many years ago to make that a place families could live in peace. I’ve seen Dan provide productive things for the neighborhood kids to participate in. He provided jobs and sometimes he was able to provide those workers with living quarters. Mind you, Dan would live in the exact same place. When he moved there, understand that every other building was abandoned. Business’s wouldn’t dare open the doors up in that neighborhood. Dan did. He went head to head with all those knucklehead thugs in that neighborhood. There was an unspoken everyday struggle for him to constantly stay safe from some kid blowing his head off for nothing. He was living in a war zone. I am not kidding when i say war zone. I remember a little girl getting killed while riding her bike in the middle of a drive by. I could do those stories all day. My point is, how would one go about, going into a war zone, and then living there. He always has seen the neighborhood had potential and had SLU students living in his buildings way before anyone even fathomed about just taking a walk down Chouteau. How do you expect Dan to be a sheep in that neighborgood? The whole hood was inhabited by gun wielding wolves. I think my first day there I picked up a used drug needle from the livingroom floor. Dan was born and raised in St.Louis. He is a life long, tax paying, St Louis resident and a dedicated contributer to every StLouis neighborhood he has lived. He is a product of that violent neighborhood. I think everyone he ever helped out down there with his limited bag of resources, had given up on him. He stayed and made the most he could out of that terrible situation. I don’t think one person has stuck with him through out the whole time he has been working there. All he has been attempting is to live there. I don’t blame anyone of those that left him there. It was a dangerous situatuion.. He provided a path for people to walk. Just Like a proud parent taking care of their kids, you get no trophys for that. Dan did those things because he saw a potential in those neighborhood kids and positive light at the end of that forgotten neighborhood tunnel. So I don’t live there, but for the people that do, I will do it for you. Thank you Dan Scott. If that lady had been painting over that gang graffiti on the hydrants and it had not been Dan who walked up to her, u can best believe the only conversation she would of had would of been gun fire. No doubt in my mind. I think then, she would be in better position to gauge something like intimidation and fear a little better. Just saying. Stay up D. They can slow u up, but they can’t stop you.

P.S. I am truly sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. Hope your doing okay? Give me a call if u read this 254-258-9614

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