The Covert Violence of Gentrification

Progressive movements are experts at policing their own behavior. Vast amounts of energy are spent reminding each other to stay peaceful and nonviolent in the face of state violence inflicted by political and economic forces. So often we sabotage our own momentum for fear of being too aggressive in our methods.

We retreat and wonder what we did wrong. We struggle to craft the right framing of our own narrative. Language is scrutinized. Introspection drifts into derailment. While purging ourselves of any controversial or ‘violent’ language, we often forget the ways systemic violence plagues peoples’ daily lives.

Bicycle/pedestrian advocates have escalated their vernacular with the introduction of the term ‘traffic violence‘; rightfully understanding that the thousands killed each year by cars were victims of a lethal system that rewards motorists with social privilege.

Applying this vocabulary to other spheres seems productive, especially where it concerns issues of housing justice. It’s not entirely new, but it bears repeating. Say it with me now: Gentrification Violence.

Just as unemployment is kept artificially high to lull workers into accepting low wages for fear of losing their job, so too is the supply of affordable housing kept artificially low to help drive profit speculation and to ensure workers tolerate high rent.

Is such a practice violent?

It’s violent in at least two distinct ways. Forcing people to become economic refugees harms people emotionally and psychologically. This stress can make recovery even harder. This structural violence is the more pervasive, yet less visible component of gentrification.

There’s also the more conspicuous reading. If you refuse eviction and attempt resistance without community support, the police will show up – armed and prepped to forcibly arrest you.

This is not rhetoric. All over this country, police enforce the codes of corporate real estate – executing laws that protect housing as commodity and prevent shelter from being shared as a human right. 2013-03-22T190447Z_326259041_GM1E93N07JH01_RTRMADP_3_BRAZILRio de Janeiro police evict indigenous residents and arrest protestors prior to the 2014 World Cup.

And the methods they use have become increasingly troubling.

From the Portland Occupier, dated November 2012:

Just after her husband had driven away to take their granddaughter to school on November 6, Heather Sirotak found herself confronted by 40 officers, some brandishing guns. When Sirotak tried to reach her husband Will, an officer took her phone away. Later, Will was prevented from returning to the house, as all streets leading to it had been shut down. This is becoming the new face of evictions. On October 30, three deputies from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office showed up at the home of Patricia Williams and Darren Johnson to enforce an eviction notice. There was a standoff, and the deputies decided they needed backup, calling in over 30 Portland Police officers. When members of the community came to support Williams and Johnson, police in riot gear were called in. Police used pepper spray on the protesters, and one person was arrested.

This brand of violence isn’t appreciated enough. Media outlets have become mouthpieces for real estate. Even NPR has jumped on the pro-gentrification bandwagon, insisting that displacing the poor is just fine, because incoming residents won’t be poor.

It was just reported by Willamette Week that New-Gentrifiers-On-the-Block AirBNB have spent over $47,000.oo this year alone lobbying Portland city hall to get the kind of sweetheart deals other cities have “cracked down on”.

Simply put, AirBNB is raking in profits by sucking up whatever ‘affordable’ housing is left.

Mayor Charlie Hales and council don’t seem bothered by local neighborhood associations opposing the deals that this $10 billion dollar ‘sharing economy’ company has received. 

Truly, being forced to move due to rising rent or tenancy termination notice is humiliating, terrifying, and expensive as hell. For thousands who can barely afford their rent, having the extra cash on hand to pay for deposit plus moving expenses – often miles away from their former home – simply isn’t feasible.

Nationally, black women are being kicked out of their homes at rates that match incarceration rates of black men.

If there’s to be a successful movement against politicians and dictator developers driving out working families, such a movement requires a sharp vocabulary. Educating people about the immorality of gentrification and how exactly it works is paramount. The powers pushing this displacement are organized and wealthy.

The relationship between poorer renters and wealthy owners needs to end. Such an abolition requires a sophisticated, disciplined right to the city movement.

See you in the streets.

Thumbnail image: SWAT commandos carries out an armed eviction in Idaho Springs, Colorado – 2012.


    1. Thanks for the positive feedback. Here’s a bit more from the embedded link in the article:

      “Structural violence refers to systematic ways in which social structures harm or otherwise disadvantage individuals. Structural violence is subtle, often invisible, and often has no one specific person who can (or will) be held responsible (in contrast to behavioral violence). I also hold that behavioral violence and structural violence can intertwine — some of the easiest examples of structural violence involve police, military, or other state powers committing violent acts; of course one can blame the individual soldier, but the factors that lead to a soldier killing a civilian are far more complex than that explanation would imply.”

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