publisher colophon
  • Blues Geographies and the Security Turn:Interpreting the Housing Crisis in Los Angeles

This article examines the political and cultural struggles over housing and human rights in Los Angeles. It analyzes the racial and spatial dynamics of the housing crisis and subsequent global economic crash, and underscores the significance of the politics of scale. It argues that struggles for the human right to housing in Skid Row, in Los Angeles, represent a continuity of campaigns to contest racial capitalism’s organization of space. As grassroots activists and artists have shown, the resolution of crisis by racialization, neoliberalization, and securitization is not inevitable. They have produced alternative definitions of events, which could produce alternative outcomes.

As I see it, history moves from one conjuncture to another rather than being an evolutionary flow. And what drives it forward is usually a crisis. . . . Crises are moments of potential change, but the nature of their resolution is not given.

—Stuart Hall, "Interpreting the Crisis," Soundings

On a cordoned-off block stretching between Fifth and Sixth Streets and Gladys in downtown Los Angeles, which on most days houses a soup kitchen, a vacant lot, and a single-room occupancy hotel, Chuck D and Public Enemy performed for free at the Operation Skid Row music festival. The festival, which took place on January 15, 2012, the weekend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, was co-organized by Chuck D and the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), a housing and human rights organization. Over fifteen hundred people crammed the street to listen to Public Enemy alongside the music of LA hip-hop performers such as Freestyle Fellowship, Medusa, Kid Frost, Yo-Yo, and Egyptian Lover as well as artists from the neighborhood like the Skid Row Playas. Chuck D proclaimed, "This day of action will promote the human right to housing and reinforce the hip hop community's responsibility to social justice causes."1 In the face of threats from the Los Angeles Police Department to shut the festival down, Public Enemy opened with one of their signature songs of defiance, "Shut 'Em Down."2 They did so before an audience of Skid Row residents and community organizers; members of social movement organizations like the Bus Riders Union, Critical Resistance, Food Not Bombs, and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence; and fans from across the city. This effort to connect the hip-hop generation to the struggle for human rights was significant for its timing and location. During the fifth year of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, this festival highlighted the material conditions in Skid Row—an area in downtown Los Angeles where black people are 75 percent of the population and which has the highest concentration of poverty, policing, [End Page 653] and homelessness in the United States.3 More than just a day of entertainment, the Operation Skid Row musical festival helped circulate an insurgent critique of the housing crisis.4

Figure 1. Chuck D and Public Enemy performing "Fight the Power" at Operation Skid Row Music Festival promoting the human right to housing. Skid Row, Los Angeles, January 15, 2012. Image by Ernest R. Savage III.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

Chuck D and Public Enemy performing "Fight the Power" at Operation Skid Row Music Festival promoting the human right to housing. Skid Row, Los Angeles, January 15, 2012. Image by Ernest R. Savage III.

Community organizers have taken up a dramatic fight over the meaning of the crisis by calling for the human right to housing in Los Angeles, the "First World capital of homelessness."5 The Operation Skid Row festival was one manifestation of this effort. It gave voice to struggles for housing rights in the historical and geographic context of the gentrification and securitization of Skid Row, by which I mean the routinized militarized policing of racialized space.6 In doing so, it enabled the circulation of what Clyde Woods calls "blues geographies" to explain the sociospatial relationships between poverty, policing, and policies designed to punish the poor and people of color being articulated by grassroots artists and activists themselves.7 The blues represent the material conditions experienced by the working class, and of how they have resisted them.8 Indeed, the poetic visions produced by vernacular artists articulate "truths of working-class African American life."9 In this case Operation Skid Row confronted the truth of the crisis, that "the social formation can no longer be reproduced on the basis of the pre-existing system of social relations."10 This effort to highlight housing struggles in downtown Los Angeles during the crisis of global capitalism shows how expressive culture provides counternarratives to the dominant definitions of events.11 [End Page 654]

Figure 2. Chuck D and Flavor Flav at the Operation Skid Row music festival. Skid Row, Los Angeles, January 15, 2012. Photo by Nicholas Dahmann.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 2.

Chuck D and Flavor Flav at the Operation Skid Row music festival. Skid Row, Los Angeles, January 15, 2012. Photo by Nicholas Dahmann.

The "blues moment" represented by the crisis has compelled artists and activists to struggle over the definition of material conditions.12 Public Enemy's performance of songs like "Fight the Power" at Operation Skid Row reflects and constitutes the struggle for hegemony—in that these lyrics do not simply reflect the crisis; they call attention to it and, in doing so, attempt to change it.13 The performance contributed to the ability of people who have been displaced, dispossessed, and 'dissed—because of the deleterious consequences of neoliberal housing policies—to elevate their struggles for freedom to a higher scale.14

The politics of scale are crucial for the evicted, poor, and homeless residents of Skid Row, who are engaged in a dynamic social movement against the "securitization of the city."15 With the number of homeless in Los Angeles higher than in any other city in the country—affecting between sixty thousand and one hundred thousand people—the struggles on Skid Row during the housing crisis have faced the deployment of racialization and criminalization, which have operated in tandem with gentrification and capital accumulation.16 Using Woods's concept of "trap economics," I argue that these processes work together in trapping black and poor people in space to protect the interests of capital and the state.17 Such traps on Skid Row include the mass arrest of residents for activities such as loitering, jaywalking, public urination, and public drunkenness under the guise of public safety—or the mass eviction of residents from [End Page 655] single-room occupancy hotels in the name of reclaiming downtown through condo and loft conversions for high-end real estate development.18 This strategy of "accumulation by dispossession" has been sustained and justified by racial narratives, which purport that poor people of color are individually responsible for their own loss of wealth, a consequence of their attitudes, behaviors, and cultures of ineptitude.19 As Operation Skid Row underscores, the deployment of racialization and securitization to resolve crises at different scales requires us to situate trap economics in a complex dialectic of race, class, and regional factors.20

This article asks and answers the following research questions about these racial, spatial, and class dynamics: What has been the relationship between the housing crisis in Los Angeles and the global financial crisis? How have the dominant representations of the crisis provoked grassroots resistance and criticism at different scales? How have grassroots activists and artists adapted the black freedom struggle's historical tradition in confronting the current crisis? What kinds of ethical responses to crisis are made possible when conceived from the perspective of the social movement for the human right to housing?

Drawing inspiration from Operation Skid Row and the grassroots struggle for housing in Los Angeles I make four principal arguments. First, the racial and spatial dynamics of capital accumulation underscore the need to theorize the politics of scale in housing struggles during this precise historical moment. The struggle for the human right to housing demonstrates the importance of the "politics of signification" in spatial politics, and that is the antiracist and class struggle in ideology over the meaning of the "production of space."21 I seek to demonstrate how the politics of signification are intimately linked to struggles for "spatial justice."22 In doing so, I hope to challenge how struggles over the definition of events have been depoliticized through disavowals of the race and class dimensions of the crisis.23 After all, the housing crisis results from policies that have responded to shifts in the organization of global capital since the high tide of black freedom and labor struggles in the twentieth century, which have ensured a racially and spatially differentiated organization of the landscape in U.S. cities into the twenty-first century.24

Second, while there are multiple methodological approaches to analyzing the current crisis, as Stuart Hall suggests, one of the most productive ways is to analyze it as a conjuncture, which is a historical moment in which political, economic, ideological, and geographic forces take a distinct shape.25 Like Hall, I argue that while neoliberalism may be an inadequate term, it is the best language we have to define the current conjuncture dominated by finance capital, while helping us periodize the relationships between capital, the state, [End Page 656] and social movements.26 Through a conjunctural analysis of the struggle for housing rights, we can better understand alternatives to the "political settlement" that has come to dominate the U.S. political and cultural economy in which housing, education, and health care are assumed to represent commodities rather than a social wage.27 A conjunctural analysis suggests that this settlement has been defined in terms of race, law and order, and security during the "long late twentieth century," the period between 1965 and the current crisis.28 While this may seem like a long period, it is important to remember that a "conjuncture is not a slice of time" but, as Hall puts it, "can only be defined by the accumulation/condensation of contradictions."29

Third, I argue that racial discourses have been deployed to endorse a neoliberal security regime that justifies economic restructuring, prison expansion, and securitization through appeals to whiteness.30 I use the concept of neoliberal racial and security regimes to theorize the modalities of political, economic, and cultural relationships among spaces of uneven capitalist development, criminalization, incarceration, and domestic countersubversion in the past half century.31 This line of argument enables us to understand how the housing crisis has become an especially significant moment in the process by which race and class anxieties created through economic crisis came to be represented in terms of security.32 It can also help us assess how dominant representations of the housing crisis have reinforced the logic of the current political settlement.33 It suggests that security ideology represents the withdrawal of the social wage as symptomatic of a decline of the nation-state at precisely the moment when military, prisons, and policing have become central to the political economy of U.S. empire.34 Such an analysis exposes how the logics of "political whiteness" have shaped neoliberal security ideology.35

Finally, remaining attentive to structural underpinnings of the current conjuncture, this article also examines the perspective of events articulated in the expressive culture and political visions of social movements in Los Angeles during the long twentieth century.36 It argues that contemporary housing and homeless struggles represent a continuity of campaigns waged by civil and human rights organizations to contest racial capitalism's organization of space in Southern California.37 These grassroots activists and artists show that the resolution of crisis by racialization, neoliberalization, and securitization is not inevitable.38 They have produced alternative definitions of the situation, which could produce different outcomes. To develop these arguments this article proceeds in three parts: it looks at dominant depictions of the current crisis, then turns to the historical confrontation in Los Angeles between housing struggles and emergent securitization, and concludes with a consideration of what we might learn from Los Angeles about the prospects for alternative futures.39 [End Page 657]

Narrating the Crisis: Racialization, Neoliberalization, and Securitization

Poor communities of color have been particularly affected by the "subprime mortgage crisis," as it has come to be signified in mass-mediated discourse.40 These communities were targeted for predatory and faulty subprime loans, and later represented as the primary culprits of the crisis. As people of color had experienced systematic racial exclusion in access to home loans because of historical practices of redlining, they were also increasingly given access to faulty subprime loans as capital deepened its strategies of financialization.41 Before the foreclosure crisis took hold as a national phenomenon, black people lost between $71 and $93 billion dollars in assets because of subprime loans between 2000 and 2008, while Latinos lost between $76 and $98 billion.42 The crisis only compounded a reliance on credit by the poor and people of color.43 As mortgage rates increased while real wages went into decline and unemployment rates skyrocketed, it became increasingly difficult for people to make their payments.44 A wave of foreclosures followed, leading to what United for a Fair Economy describes as "the greatest loss of wealth to people of color in modern US history."45

The subprime mortgage crisis led to a collapse in several Wall Street banks, which in turn had the effect of spreading the crisis worldwide from its historical and geographic roots in U.S. urban spaces. While the ramifications of the financial crisis have been global, Southern California has been an "epicenter."46 By 2010 California experienced more foreclosures than any other place in the country, with a half million cases.47 At the national scale, over half the foreclosures were experienced by African Americans and Latinos, a rate two to three times higher than for whites.48 It also created a spike in homelessness.49

The history and ongoing practices of racial segregation and policing in Southern California have concentrated the deleterious consequences of the capitalist crisis in and through the "racialization of space and spatialization of race."50 Racial segregation traps poor people of color in spaces that have been targeted by finance capital for predatory lending of subprime loans. This spatial apartheid exists alongside other parasitic finance institutions, which exploit the poor and people of color through high interest rate loans.51 Taken together, such practices can be read as capital's efforts to trap people in space to extract wealth.52 Finance capitalists and their deputies have exploited the geography of poverty and spatial apartheid. In doing so, they have widened the "racial wealth gap." At the same time, mass evictions have been deployed as a solution to the foreclosure crisis in the very segregated neighborhoods that had been [End Page 658] targeted for subprime loans. The very lenders that peddled subprime loans accumulated capital by displacing and dispossessing poor people of color.53

Yet in narrating the housing crisis, commentators such as the vice president of the Manhattan Institute, Howard Husock, represent the poor, people of color, housing activists, and state regulation of finance capital as the "culprits" of the crisis: "One cannot say with any certainty whether the more important cause of the current housing crisis was affordable-housing mandates or the actions of investment banks and ratings agencies." Husock simultaneously asserts that denying loans to people "based on the race of the residents or other factors unrelated to their ability to repay loans is clearly wrong," and that there is no longer a need for state regulation of finance capital. In this way, he appeals to the fantasy of a raceless meritocracy where loans can be made the "old-fashioned way, on the merits of individual households."54 Such narratives make well-established appeals to colorblindness by suggesting that the problem is "risky borrowers," thus naturalizing the sociospatial relations that produced the situation. In doing so, they function to displace class anxieties created through the uneven development of racial capitalism.55

Traditional intellectuals in neoliberal think tanks such as the Manhattan Institute—which I show are closely aligned with the mayor, police department, and finance capital in Los Angeles—have engaged in an ideological struggle to legitimate their "revanchist" solutions to the crisis.56 As rationalizers of "securitized urbanism," such think tanks—which also include the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundationhave narrated the housing crisis as part of an effort to advocate for policy that restructures space in the interest of capital's security.57 The state's response to the crisis—bailing out the bankers who caused the problem rather than implementing concrete housing and jobs programs to meet the needs of the poor and the working class—suggests the extent to which neoliberal think tanks and finance capital shape federal policies. It also reflects the inability of liberalism to address the race and class antagonisms at the heart of the crisis.58 By analyzing the specific forms that capital and the state's response to the housing crisis has taken at different scales, we can better understand how such responses to the crisis have been in keeping with hegemonic tendencies in the conjuncture.

To understand the race and class underpinnings of the current crisis, we also need a long historical view of how dominant "geographical interests" have shaped what Denise Ferreira da Silva calls the "security turn."59 As the crisis of Fordism and U.S. hegemony took hold in the late 1960s, appeals to the idea of internal security threats served to displace social antagonisms through moral panics around race and crime.60 Race and class insecurities created by the crisis [End Page 659] of Fordism were tactically exploited by politicians to justify the expansion of policing and prisons as solutions to the crisis.61 Security ideologies have imposed new ways of seeing this transformation of the political economy.62 They placed notions of safety and security at the center of the political imagination during a period marked by rising unemployment, inflation, declining rates of profit, and economic restructuring.63 As contradictions have emerged, the traditional intellectuals of the security apparatus have articulated ideological "cement" of racialization and securitization to "fix" ruptures in the social formation.64

One of the most persistent ruptures has been created by deindustrialized workers of color themselves: from the Watts insurrection (1965) to the Los Angeles rebellion (1992) to the persistent struggles waged on Skid Row in the current crisis, surplus workers have been at the center of political struggles over public space and access to wealth.65 They have promoted visions of social change marked by a commitment to justice, cultural dignity, and human rights that clash with the vision of those who seek law and order, security, and social control.66 Yet the political struggles of the poor as they engage in social protests, uprisings, and struggles for survival have been represented in state and mass-mediated narratives as increased lawlessness, crime, and irrational violence.67 These racial narratives have treated the dissent of surplus populations—who are disproportionately composed of people of color—as irrational expressions of discontent against a rational neoliberal security state. In turn, they have naturalized gentrification, mass incarceration, and the securitization of the city.68

Extending Ruth Gilmore's conceptualization of the production of carceral landscapes, we can better understand how racial capitalism and the neoliberal security state's solution to protests arising among the surplus population has been to produce securitized spaces.69 Mass-mediated representations of the surplus populations engaged in social protest as symbols of violence and criminality have legitimated the direction of resources away from the social wage and toward securitization.70 This shift in the state form has been accompanied by a form of racism articulated by an authoritarian populist bloc—with historical and geographic roots in Southern California—whose persistent refrain has been to disavow any link between pervasive and persistent white supremacy and the impoverishment of poor people of color.71 This bloc has coalesced around an "anti-statist" libertarian ideology that represents public housing, health care, jobs, and education as bureaucratic restrictions on the putative freedom provided by capitalist markets and entrepreneurism.72 Such racist and populist rhetoric has been effective in winning consent to expanding the state's coercive security apparatus.73 The housing crisis and the economic meltdown that followed need to be interpreted as the logical result of a half-century-long [End Page 660] political project bent on destroying the welfare state, criminalizing dissent, and expanding militarized policing, prisons, and the security apparatus to violently enforce consent to the abandonment of the social wage by capital and the state.74

This neoliberal ideology has promoted austerity measures and urban structural adjustment as commonsense solutions to crisis, and therefore widespread cuts in public expenditure for education, health care, and housing. It has also represented the resulting racial hierarchies as natural and inevitable.75 These representations underscore how the political logics of whiteness have shaped the transformation of the "urban security landscape."76 While cuts in the social wage have disproportionately affected the working class community of color, the representations of this statistical reality in mass-mediated discourses have regularly obscured how class structures racist hierarchies. That is, the numerical majority of the impoverished have been poor whites, but as Cedric Robinson puts it, "The stigmata of poverty, the 'deviancy' of crime—and much of the political responsibilities of critical dissent" have been transferred to black people and other people of color.77 Consider, for example, the fact that while the black poor make up the disproportionate percentage of the U.S. homeless population at between 40 and 56 percent (making them 3.5 times more likely to be homeless), poor whites also make up between 32 and 39 percent of the population at the national level. Ideologies of whiteness have redirected attention away from engaging with the multiraciality of poverty and homelessness.78 They have shifted attention away from the declining material conditions for the working class in general and in doing so rationalized what Jodi Melamed calls the "new racial capitalism."79

The linkages between uneven capitalist development, revanchist attacks on the social wage, prison expansion, and the deployment of racial discourse to justify the consolidation of "securitocracy" constitute the terrain that I argue is most fruitfully understood as neoliberal racial and security regimes.80 Racial discourses have sustained the proliferation of "more or less permanent 'states of exception' and emergency,"81 and have become essential to the practices of the contemporary capitalist state.82 At the same time, security ideologies have legitimated the denial of aggrieved and insurgent communities' human rights and naturalized authoritarianism through populist appeals.83 This populist ideology seeks to prevent multiracial class alliances by scapegoating the poor, people of color, LGBTQI communities, immigrant workers, and radical organizers (which are not mutually exclusive categories) to displace anxieties caused by economic crisis and restructuring. It endorses the mass criminalization of dissent, a central facet of militarism.84

While security narratives have provided justification for transforming the political economy, this rhetoric rests uneasily alongside pervasive poverty, [End Page 661] precarious employment, punitive housing policy, and persistent prison expansion that produces "group-differentiated vulnerabilities to premature death."85 Thinking conjuncturally, we can begin to discern the structure of social relations that are otherwise difficult to observe.86 The current crisis can also enable a fidelity to the unfinished business of freedom struggles from the long twentieth century.87

The Housing Question and the Security Turn

And when it comes to housing—why we could use the 300,000 housing units authorized annually in the administration bill among Negroes alone and we'd still be in a terrible fix for a decent place to live.

—Paul Robeson, Paul Robeson Speaks

The federal government should be subsidizing housing activities on such a scale that all American housing meets at least minimal standards of adequacy. Housing is too important to be left to private enterprise without only minor government effort to shape policy. We need the equivalent of a Medicare for housing.

—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

In 1948 the legendary singer, actor, and internationalist Paul Robeson performed in Los Angeles at a fund-raiser for the Civil Rights Congress (CRC).88 The concert, along with many others like it, was organized to support the CRC's campaigns against racism and segregation and to build solidarity.89 The CRC organized social protests challenging racist restrictive covenants, segregated schools, and police violence.90 Historically trapped in areas with poor housing, black workers in Los Angeles had limited access to quality education and meaningful employment.91 The fight for jobs, relief for the unemployed, and public housing was therefore a struggle against the more general exclusions of racial capitalism.92 Such fights had been persistently waged by labor and civil rights organizations since the Great Depression.93

By the late 1940s and early 1950s groups like the CRC increasingly faced political repression. Against their efforts to end police brutality, racist violence, segregation, and civil and human rights violations, the Subversive Activities Control Board declared that the CRC represented a "communist front."94 Such political repression was part and parcel of the postwar red scare that marked the emergence of Cold War racial liberalism. Despite these attacks, the CRC continued to organize to demonstrate how racism persistently violated the human rights of black and brown working people. Perhaps the most prominent example of this effort at the international scale occurred in 1951 [End Page 662] when the executive director of the CRC William Patterson submitted the study We Charge Genocide at the United Nations in Paris—at the same time as Robeson submitted the document to the U.N. in New York.95 In a speech he delivered in New York City on November 12, 1951, at a release event for the study, Patterson explained that it represented the struggle against what he called the "premature death" created by racist violence and segregation.96 U.S. state officials prevented the U.N. from considering the petition. Then the national security state intensified its systematic campaign of repression against black radicals and the Left—such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Patterson, and Robeson—which included surveillance, arrest, show trials, denial of passports, exclusion from employment, and incarceration. Appeals to moral panics around communism helped win consent to coercive securitization and the diversion of expenditures away from the social wage.97

With its strategically located means of cultural production in Hollywood and postwar expansion of the military-industrial complex, Southern California became an epicenter of the Cold War counterrevolution.98 California countersubversives launched an organized political attack on labor and civil rights activists.99 These counterinsurgents recognized that black workers entering the defense industry who were experiencing racial segregation would be sympathetic to efforts to promote equality, the redistribution of wealth, and civil rights.100 Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan rose to prominence through carrying out domestic counterinsurgency campaigns that practiced "anticommunism as governmentality."101

As Gerald Horne's research shows, efforts by civil rights organizers and the multiracial Left to resist segregation were demonized by anticommunists.102 The promotion of public housing as a solution to housing shortages was represented in the "counterinsurgent narratives" as a "creeping socialism."103 Even where black workers gained access to public housing, quotas were used to limit it. At the same time, deindustrialization began wiping out jobs in segregated neighborhoods. Waves of foreclosures followed.104

In November 1964 Proposition 14 was passed by California voters, which undid the Rumford Fair Housing Act that had sought to restrict racial segregation in housing.105 This was key in fanning the flames among residents, who perceived it as the latest in a long history of efforts to trap them in segregated neighborhoods. Indeed, the "housing question" was a major motivating factor among black workers' engaged in the events of 1965.106 As Daniel HoSang puts it, "Persistent housing segregation—and the segregated schools, workplaces, and social settings it produced and naturalized—fueled the fires of Watts."107 [End Page 663]

Figure 3. Paul Robeson and the Civil Rights Congress submitting We Charge Genocide petition to the United Nations Secretariat, New York, December 17, 1951, Daily Worker/Daily World Photographs Collection, Tamiment Library, New York University.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 3.

Paul Robeson and the Civil Rights Congress submitting We Charge Genocide petition to the United Nations Secretariat, New York, December 17, 1951, Daily Worker/Daily World Photographs Collection, Tamiment Library, New York University.

The Watts rebellion occurred just days after the passage of the historic Voting Rights Act, drawing national attention a visit by King to Los Angeles to meet with the participants in the dramatic events.108 In the wake of this encounter, King and his colleagues worked to articulate alternatives to the slums. He concluded that the insurrection represented the emergence of a new moment in the struggle, and there was no turning back. He came to the ethical position that "something is wrong with capitalism. . . . there must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism."109 He intensified his organization for redistributing social wealth, arguing that the civil rights movement was engaged in the class struggle.110 As he carried out this organizing, he was shunned by prominent Cold War liberals and ultimately assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, writes Vincent Harding, "in the consciously chosen company of the poor."111 [End Page 664]

James Baldwin, a key figure in the "Blues literary tradition," was living in Hollywood and working on a film version of The Autobiography of Malcolm X when he learned about King's murder.112 "An old world is dying," Baldwin wrote, "and a new one . . . announces that it is ready to be born."113 In penning these words, Baldwin echoed Antonio Gramsci's theory of crisis and change. As Gramsci famously put it, "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear."114 As Gramsci had grappled with the meaning of fascism's ascendancy with the Italy of the 1920s, Baldwin also took stock of the particularly morbid systems that appeared with Reagan's rise to the governor's mansion in California during the 1960s.115 Baldwin remembers,

that was a very ugly time—the time of the Black Panther harassment, the beginning (and the end) of the Soledad Brothers, the persecution and trial of Angela Davis. I saw all that, and much more, but what I really found unspeakable about the man was his contempt, his brutal contempt for the poor.116

In making this intervention in the conjuncture, Baldwin extended the radical critique of white supremacy, capitalism, and the national security state articulated by activists such as Du Bois, Patterson, Robeson, and King.117 His words could not have articulated more vividly the importance of the politics of signification.118 They underscore the pressing need for scholars of neoliberalism to analyze its historical and geographical roots in the racist counterrevolution against the Second Reconstruction."119 They provide a blues archive for scholars to tap in examining the roots of the conjuncture.120 Since Reagan's office became a war room for the development of revanchist solutions to crisis, the neoliberal effort to undo the access won to the social wage won by black freedom and labor struggles has occurred under the guise of restoring security.121 These reactions to social crisis created the conditions of existence for the current material conditions.122

The Epicenter of the Crisis

We are seeing a backlash because we dared to rise up, dared to struggle and dared to put this country on notice about the inequality.

—Bilal Ali, Freedom Now!

Instead of providing the solution to homelessness—which is housing—Los Angeles and other cities choose to use the police to harass, move, and incarcerate homeless people. . . . Black people by far are the most impacted by homelessness.

—Deborah Burton, statement at the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review (Geneva, Switzerland), Freedom Now! [End Page 665]

In the aftermath of Reagan's election as president, there was a pervasive and persistent assault on federal funding for affordable housing. Activists and policy analysts have shown that contemporary mass homelessness emerged as a result. At the same time, city officials passed laws criminalizing homelessness and poverty.123 In turn, Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles has become an "open-air prison" for people deemed disposable.124 As Laura Pulido's research demonstrates, the production of this securitized space has been shaped by the "geography of past racial regimes."125

Since the late 1970s and early 1980s the Los Angeles city council has promoted the "containment" of homelessness on Skid Row as a way to trap black and poor people in space.126 Deindustrialized black workers from South LA were forced to migrate to Skid Row as part of their survival strategy to gain food, shelter, and other basic necessities—because there was a concentration of social services in this section of the city. According to the legal scholar Gary Blasi, Skid Row went from being 67 percent white and 21 percent black in the 1970s to majority black by the end of the 1980s.127 During the 1990s California ranked forty-ninth out of fifty states in terms of providing public housing. Currently Skid Row has the highest concentration of homeless people in the city and the most concentrated poverty in the United States.128 By analyzing the experiences and political struggles of the poor and disproportionately black low-income residents and homeless people in the first world capital of homelessness, we can gain clarity on the dynamics of racialization, gentrification, criminalization, and capital accumulation during the continuation of what Mike Davis describes as a "cold war on the streets of Downtown."129

Since the 1990s Skid Row has undergone gentrification. This development agenda has required the suppression of antigentrification and housing struggles. In an alliance with finance capital, the local state has provided police presence downtown to facilitate the production of new condos and lofts. State repression has been deployed to criminalize resistance to these developments. For example, real estate speculators and developers have transformed single-room occupancy hotels that were rented for about $500 a month into condos and lofts that rent for between $2,000 and $5,000 a month. As housing and land prices rose, state officials, local real estate developers, and journalists have appealed to moral panics about race, crime, and law and order to justify reclaiming this area of the city from its black and poor residents for the gentry moving into the new lofts and condos. In transforming the landscape by constructing art museums, coffee shops, restaurants, dog grooming services, and other amenities for gentrifiers and owners, the city made gentrification a centerpiece of its efforts to compete with other cities in attracting capital. Policing has been [End Page 666] central to this urban strategy of capitalist development, and homeless residents and housing activists downtown are persistently subject to arrest as a result.130

This criminalization of homelessness, poverty, and dissent in Los Angeles has occurred alongside the rise of mass incarceration in California. These political, economic, ideological, and geographic processes should be understood in their totality. Like mass incarceration, the securitization of the city has attempted to solve social and economic crises.131 In 2006 Los Angeles city officials launched a strategy of policing the poor they called the "Safer Cities Initiative." With the ideological and political support of the Manhattan Institute and the criminologist George Kelling of Rutgers (who was paid at least a half million dollars in consulting fees), the LAPD unleashed an unprecedented deployment of police power in the less than one square mile of the Central City area, which, as Gilmore and Christina Heatherton argue, has become a laboratory for applying new policing technologies as spatial solutions to social and economic crisis.132 This political project has required ideological legitimation.

Developed by the Manhattan Institute and implemented at the local scale by Mayor Antonio Villagaroisa and Chief William Bratton, the Safer Cities Initiative represents an update on the revanchist policies that Bratton helped usher in with then New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s. Bratton assumed control of the LAPD in 2002. By 2003 he implemented "broken windows policing" in Skid Row. The broken windows metaphor is revealing, since broken windows are not repaired—they are replaced—much as black, brown, and poor people are literally removed from space.133 Like the security policies that criminalized dissent during the early Cold War, this policing strategy has a revenge-driven logic.134 It represents the homeless, poor residents, and housing rights activists as enemies of the local state. It has been part of an ideological and political campaign to legitimate Los Angeles' own version of policing the crisis.135

Consider, for example, a recent article that appeared in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal penned by current LAPD chief Charlie Beck along with Bratton and the coauthor of the so-called broken windows theory Kelling, arguing that the Safer Cities Initiative represents a significant effort "to reduce crime, lawlessness, and disorder." In turn, they assert that the problem they seek to solve has been "lawlessness" rather than "homelessness."136 Yet such "lawlessness" can be read in an inverse and negative procedure as the dissent of homeless and housing activists challenging systematic human rights abuses in the "revanchist city," which combines vengeful security politics with the elite desire for "taking back" space from aggrieved communities.137 [End Page 667]

Revanchism provides the ideological underpinning for the security turn. Skid Row residents—the homeless, low-income renters, the evicted, the unemployed; in short, the surplus population—have endured increasing authoritarianism because of the revenge-driven policing and security policies downtown.138 This intensified securitization has included the installation of security cameras to purportedly "curb Skid Row crime," making "the downtown area the most heavily monitored part of the city."139 In promoting an image of LA as "safe" for gentrifiers, the local state has enacted a strategy of regulating public space. Read in this context, the efforts of the mayor's office to depict the police as protecting the homeless from criminals—when poor and homeless residents actually need protection from police—provides a vivid example of how ideologies of safety and security have hidden the human rights situation in Skid Row.140

Drawing on the moral and ethical legacy of the Second Reconstruction, the Los Angeles Community Action Network has organized among black, brown, and poor people downtown to contest securitization and press for their civil, housing, and human rights. For example, in 2009 United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing Raquel Rolnik visited Los Angeles among other U.S. cities to assess the housing crisis, which was cohosted locally by LA CAN. She found that the "subprime mortgage crisis has widened an already large gap between the supply of and demand for affordable housing. The economic crisis which followed has led to increased unemployment and an even greater need for affordable housing."141 She concluded that gentrification and the foreclosure crisis have been the leading causes of the spike in homelessness. Accordingly, renters and homeowners alike have been affected. Poor people who lost their housing are increasingly forced into homelessness.142 This increase is also directly related to the promotion of austerity measures and the militarized policing of urban space.143 Perhaps this is nowhere more evident than downtown LA.144

In 2010 Skid Row resident and organizer with LA CAN Deborah Burton traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to deliver a statement to the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review about the human rights abuses represented by mass homelessness in Los Angeles. She explained that rather than provide housing, Los Angeles city officials "use the police to harass, move, and incarcerate homeless people." "My organization," Burton declares, "LA CAN, works in partnership with dozens of other organizations built and led by impacted residents. We are building power. We will make progress. We can win. But the task is huge and we will need the international communities to join us in pressuring the U.S. government." The words of black working-class women [End Page 668] radicals like Burton underscore the importance of the ideological and political struggle for human rights and a social wage.145 Focusing on the visions promoted by African American women activists—including their critique of state repression and their strategies for responding to the crisis through direct action protest and multiracial alliance building—helps us understand the stakes in their demand for human rights, which Rhonda Williams describes as "a key element of poor women's political movement ideology." Central to this social vision has been the human right to housing. Much like the black freedom struggle has worked to overcome geographic boundaries by "jumping scales" and making their appeals in terms of human rights, so too have public housing residents, low-income renters, single-room occupancy (SRO) tenants, and members of the disproportionately black homeless and marginally housed population claimed the human right to housing to circulate their struggles at different scales.146

The right to housing has been ensured by article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights penned in 1948, yet it is still not enforced.147 Certainly, criticisms abound of the limits of the human rights framework for challenging the fundamental social relations of racial capitalism, militarism, and imperialism.148 As the community organizer J. R. Fleming observes, there is a contradiction where the U.S. state will deploy its military to purportedly enforce the doctrine in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, while human rights violations persist in domestic spaces such as post-Katrina New Orleans and Skid Row Los Angeles. Under these circumstances he considers the work he is involved in as "human rights enforcement."149 This intervention underscores the argument that the study of human rights violations should be extended to include gentrification, the destruction of public housing, mass homelessness, militarized policing, and mass incarceration.150

The struggle for the human right to housing provides a democratic program to challenge the political economy of the new racial capitalism. In promoting civil and human rights, LA CAN has exposed racism as a central contradiction in the state form. By organizing based on a platform of civil and human rights LA CAN has articulated a social vision that shows how antiracism is in the interest of the working class as a whole.151 Implementing their "Blues development program" of the abolition of homelessness, the production of public housing, full employment, and an end to the Safer Cities Initiative would require a shift in the urban political economy away from militarism and toward a social budget that would entail radical social transformations.152

Through their political campaigns, direct action protests, and community meetings as well as their newspaper Community Connection and innovative [End Page 669] use of new media such as blogs, documentary filmmaking, and Facebook, LA CAN documents and challenges the pervasive and persistent violations of human rights experienced by homeless and poor residents. As part of a citywide alliance, the LA Human Right to Housing Collective, they organize themselves to contest the racialization of poverty and homelessness, the criminalization of dissent, and the securitization of Skid Row. By organizing directly with the primarily black and Latino poor at multiple scales—local, regional, national, and international—in a struggle for survival, they have generated antisystemic protest. This organizing demonstrates in practice that the demand for the human right to housing is more than simply reformism.153 Rather, the efforts of LA CAN and their allies represent a new human rights movement. They are engaged in a struggle for economic justice in a context where neoliberal urbanism protects the interests of the elite.154

Figure 4. Deborah Burton, Statement at the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland, 2010. Photo by National Economic and Social Rights Initiative ().
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 4.

Deborah Burton, Statement at the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland, 2010. Photo by National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (

Housing and human rights organizations across the country and world—including LA CAN, Mayday New Orleans, the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, [End Page 670] Picture the Homeless in New York, and Abahlalibase Mjondolo in South Africa—have underscored the importance of the politics of scale in this global social movement against disappearance, displacement, and dispossession.155 As Clyde Woods argues, their social visions are being used to "build a new society dedicated to replacing trap economics with sustainable communities built on the foundations of social and economic justice."156 This social movement compels us to reckon with the unfinished business of the Second Reconstruction.157 The collective memory of these struggles can inform efforts to fire the political imagination and jump scales in the struggle against the securitization of the city. Learning from Los Angeles suggests that the same material conditions that made the region the epicenter of the crisis also make it an epicenter for grassroots challenges to authoritarian populism.158

To confront the current crisis we need to listen to artists like Chuck D and grassroots community organizations such as the Los Angeles Community Action Network demanding human rights. The Operation Skid Row music festival provides a particularly compelling example of how artists, activists, and intellectuals articulate alternative solutions to social problems. These blues geographers speak eloquently to the inequalities people endure because of racism, poverty, and homelessness. They suggest another city is not only possible but a burning necessity.159

Jordan T. Camp

Jordan T. Camp is a visiting scholar in the Institute of American Cultures and the Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. His work appears in American Quarterly, Kalfou, Race & Class, and In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina, and he coedited (with Christina Heatherton) Freedom Now! Struggles for the Human Right to Housing in LA and Beyond. He is completing his manuscript "Incarcerating the Crisis: Race, Security, Prisons, and the Second Reconstruction" and coediting (with Laura Pulido) Clyde A. Wood's manuscript "Development Drowned and Reborn: The Blues and Bourbon Restorations in Post-Katrina New Orleans."


. Many thanks to Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva for their critiques of and suggestions for this article, to the anonymous American Quarterly reviewers for their insightful recommended revisions; to Paula Dragosh for her careful edits; to Gary Blasi, Craig Gilmore, Sarah Haley, Robin D. G. Kelley, George Lipsitz, Ani Mukherji, John Munro, and David Roediger for helping me sharpen the argument; and to Bilal Ali, Eric Ares, Deborah Burton, Becky Dennison, Steve Diaz, General Dogon, Gerardo Gomez, Karl Scott, Joe Thomas, Pete White, and the other members of LA CAN for our discussions about the human right to housing, which have helped me tremendously. Special thanks to Christina Heatherton for our constant conversations about the housing question.

1. Quoted in Steve Diaz, "Operation Freedom and Freedom Now!" Community Connection, January-February 2012,

2. Ernest Hardy, "Public Enemy Puts Spotlight on Skid Row," Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2012,

3. Gary Blasi and the UCLA School of Law Fact Investigation Clinic, Policing Our Way Out of Homelessness? The First Year of the Safer Cities Initiative on Skid Row (Los Angeles: UCLA and USC Center for Sustainable Cities, September 24, 2007),; Christina Heatherton, ed., Downtown Blues: A Skid Row Reader (Los Angeles: Los Angeles Community Action Network, 2011); Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton, Freedom Now! The Struggle for the Human Right to Housing in LA and Beyond (Los Angeles: Freedom Now Books, 2012). [End Page 671]

4. Nicholas Dahmann with the Los Angeles Community Action Network, "Los Angeles: I Do Mind Dying, Recent Reflections on Urban Revolution in Skid Row," Los Angeles Public Interest Law Journal 2 (2009-10): 210-19.

5. Mike Davis, A Planet of Slums (New York: Verso, 2006), 36.

6. Neil Smith, "New Globalism, New Urbanism: Gentrification as Global Urban Strategy," Antipode 34.3 (2002): 427-50; Craig Willse, "Neo-liberal Biopolitics and the Invention of Chronic Homelessness," Economy and Society 39.2 (2010): 155-56; Ellen Reese, Geoffrey Deverteuil, and Leanne Thach, "'Weak-Center' Gentrification and the Contradictions of Containment: Deconcentrating Poverty in Downtown Los Angeles," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 34.2 (2010): 310-27.

7. Clyde A. Woods, "'Sitting on Top of the World': The Challenges of Blues and Hip Hop Geography," in Black Geographies and the Politics of Place, ed. Katherine McKittrick and Clyde Woods (Cambridge, Mass.: South End, 2007), 49.

8. Clyde A. Woods, "Traps, Skid Row, and Katrina," in Heatherton, Downtown Blues, 51.

9. Clyde A. Woods, "The Challenges of Blues and Hip Hop Historiography," Kalfou 1.1 (2010): 33-34.

10. Stuart Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left (New York: Verso, 1988), 96.

11. Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York: New Press, 1994), 207.

12. Clyde A. Woods, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? Katrina, Trap Economics, and the Rebirth of the Blues," American Quarterly 57.4 (2005): 1005. On the struggle in language and expressive culture to define material conditions, see Hazel V. Carby, Cultures in Babylon: Black Britain and African America (New York: Verso, 1999); Daniel Widener, Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010).

13. George Lipsitz, "The Struggle for Hegemony," Journal of American History 75.1 (1988): 146-50.

14. George Lipsitz, Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 108.

15. Neil Smith, "Contours of a Spatialized Politics: Homeless Vehicles and the Production of Geographical Scale," Social Text, no. 33 (1992): 54-81; Neil Smith and Deborah Cowen, "'Martial Law in the Streets of Toronto': G20 Security and State Violence," Human Geography 3.3 (2010): 37-39.

16. Davis, Planet of Slums, 36.

17. Clyde A. Woods, "Les Misérables of New Orleans: Trap Economics and the Asset Stripping Blues, Part 1," American Quarterly 61.3 (2009): 769-96.

18. Heatherton, Downtown Blues.

19. David Harvey, The New Imperialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 137-82. For a trenchant critique of the ideology of "underclass" as a justification for capitalist restructuring and the militarization of space, see Robin D. G. Kelley, Yo' Mama's DisFunktional! Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Boston: Beacon, 1997).

20. Stuart Hall, "Gramsci's Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity," Journal of Communications Inquiry 10.5 (1986): 24; Laura Pulido, Black, Brown, Yellow, and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

21. Stuart Hall, "Decoding," in Culture, Media, Language, ed. Stuart Hall, Dorothy Hobson, Andrew Lowe, and Paul Willis (1980; New York: Routledge, 1996), 138; Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1991).

22. Edward W. Soja, Seeking Spatial Justice (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010); Gaye Theresa Johnson, "Spatial Entitlement: Race, Displacement, and Reclamation in Post-war Los Angeles," in Black and Brown Los Angeles: A Contemporary Reader, ed. Josh Kun and Laura Pulido (Los Angeles: University of California Press, forthcoming).

23. Daniel Martinez HoSang, Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

24. Robert D. Bullard and Charles Lee, "Introduction: Racism and American Apartheid," in Residential Apartheid: The American Legacy, ed. Robert D. Bullard, J. Eugene Grigsby III, and Charles Lee (Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies Publications, 1994), 7.

25. Stuart Hall and Doreen Massey, "Interpreting the Crisis," Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture 44 (Spring 2010): 57-71.

26. Stuart Hall, "The Neoliberal Revolution," Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture 48 (Summer 2011): 10. [End Page 672]

27. Hall and Massey, "Interpreting the Crisis," 58; Cindi Katz, "Vagabond Capitalism and the Necessity of Social Reproduction," Antipode 33.4 (2001): 724; Vijay Prashad, "Second-Hand Dreams," Social Analysis 49.2 (2005): 191-98; Doreen Massey, "The Political Struggle Ahead," Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture 44 (Spring 2010): 6-18.

28. My use of the term long late twentieth century draws on Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times (New York: Verso, 2010), yet has the more limited goal of referring to the current conjuncture. It therefore parallels the efforts to specify the race and class dynamics of the "long early twentieth century," or the period between 1890 and 1945 elaborated in David R. Roediger, Working toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White (Cambridge, Mass.: Basic Books, 2005), 3-34.

29. Hall, Hard Road to Renewal, 130.

30. Jordan T. Camp, "'We Know This Place': Neoliberal Racial Regimes and the Katrina Circumstance," American Quarterly 61.3 (2009): 693-717. My analytic debt to Cedric Robinson for this conceptualization should be obvious. See Cedric J. Robinson, Forgeries of Memory and Meaning: Blacks and the Regimes of Race in American Theatre and Film before World War II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), xii. It also owes a great deal to Stuart Hall et al., Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order (London: Macmillan, 1978); Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990; New York: Verso, 2006); Kelley, Race Rebels; Nikhil Pal Singh, Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004); Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); and David Theo Goldberg, The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2009).

31. Hall, Hard Road to Renewal, 123-60; Neil Smith, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008); and Smith, The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City (New York: Routledge, 1996), 75-89; Harvey, Brief History of Neoliberalism, 87-119; Ruth Wilson Gilmore, "Globalisation and U.S. Prison Growth: From Military Keynesianism to Post-Keynesianism Militarism," Race & Class 40.2-3 (October 1998-March 1999): 171-88.

32. Cindi Katz, "Childhood as Spectacle: Relays of Anxiety and the Reconfiguration of the Child," Cultural Geographies (2008): 15-17.

33. Hall and Massey, "Interpreting the Crisis," 58.

34. Nikhil Pal Singh, "The Afterlife of Fascism," South Atlantic Quarterly 105.1 (2006): 71-93; Avery F. Gordon, "The U.S. Military Prison: The Normalcy of Exceptional Brutality," in The Violence of Incarceration, ed. Phil Scraton and Jude McCulloch (New York: Routledge, 2009), 174; Stephen Graham, Cities under Siege: The New Military Urbanism (New York: Verso, 2010), 94; Deborah Cowen and Amy Siciliano, "Schooled In/Security: Surplus Subjects, Racialized Masculinity, and Citizenship," in Accumulating Insecurity: Violence and Dispossession in the Making of Everyday Life, ed. Shelley Feldman, Charles Geisler, and Gayatri A. Menon (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 104-21.

35. HoSang, Racial Propositions, 20-23.

36. See Widener, Black Arts West; Gaye Theresa Johnson, "A Sifting of Centuries: Afro-Chicano Interaction and Popular Musical Culture in California, 1960-2000," in Decolonial Voices: Chicana and Chicano Cultural Studies in the 21st Century, ed. Arturo J. Aldama and Naomi H. Quiñonez (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 320-23.

37. On racial capitalism, see Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (1983; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

38. For a convincing argument that, rather than witnessing neoliberalism's end, we need "neoliberalization" as a category of analysis, see Neil Brenner, Jamie Peck, and Nik Theodore, "After Neoliberalization?" Globalizations 7.3 (2010): 327-45.

39. George Lipsitz, "Learning from Los Angeles: Another One Rides the Bus," American Quarterly 56.3 (2004): 511-29.

40. Paula Chakravartty and John D. H. Downing, "Media, Technology, and the Global Financial Crisis," International Journal of Communication 4 (2010): 693-95. On the ways in which in highly capitalized mass-cultural outlets provide consumers with mediated access to working-class people's lives they have no contact with and memories of places they have no connection to, see George Lipsitz, Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture (1990; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 5. [End Page 673]

41. Gary A. Dymski, "Racial Exclusion and the Political Economy of the Subprime Crisis," Historical Materialism 17 (2009): 149-79.

42. David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (New York: Oxford, 2010), 1.

43. Amaad Rivera, Jeannette Huezo, Christina Kasica, and Dedrick Muhammad, The Silent Depression: State of the Dream 2009 (Boston: United for a Fair Economy, 2009).

44. David McNally, Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance (Oakland, Calif.: PM Press, 2010), 125-26.

45. Amaad Rivera, Brenda Cotto-Escalera, Anisha Desair, and Jeannette Huezo, Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008 (Boston: United for a Fair Economy, 2008), v. See also Rakesh Kochhar, Richard Fry, and Paul Taylor, "Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics," Pew Research Center, July 26, 2011,

46. David Harvey, "The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis This Time" (paper presented at the American Sociological Association Meetings, Atlanta, Georgia, August 16, 2010),; Ashok Bardhan and Richard Walker, "California, Pivot of the Great Recession," Working Paper Series No. 203-210 (Berkeley: Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, University of California, March 2010).

47. Richard Walker, "Golden State Adrift," New Left Review, no. 66 (2010): 6-9.

48. David R. Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomena (New York: Verso, 2008), 229.

49. National Coalition for the Homeless, Foreclosure to Homelessness: The Forgotten Victims of the Subprime Crisis (June 2009),

50. George Lipsitz, How Racism Takes Place (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011), 20.

51. Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998), 362; Jacob S. Rugh and Douglas S. Massey, "Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis," American Sociological Review 75.5 (2010): 629.

52. Jordan T. Camp, "Housing Is a Human Right: California's Forty-Years Struggle, an Interview with Daniel Martinez HoSang," in Camp and Heatherton, Freedom Now, 94; Pulido, "White Privilege and Urban Development," 561; Graham, Cities under Siege.

53. Rugh and Massey, "Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis," 634; Lipsitz, How Racism Takes Place, 9.

54. Howard Husock, "Housing Goals We Can't Afford," New York Times, December 10, 2008,

55. James D. Sidaway, "Subprime Crisis: American Crisis or Human Crisis?" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26 (2008): 195-98.

56. Smith, New Urban Frontier, 211; Jamie Peck, "Liberating the City: Between New York and New Orleans," Urban Geography 27.8 (2006): 68.

57. Neil Smith, "Urban Politics, Urban Security" (paper presented at Harvard Graduate School, Cambridge, Mass., September 29, 2010),; Don Mitchell, The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space (New York: Guilford, 2003), 15-16.

58. Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History, 229.

59. Denise Ferreira da Silva, "No-Bodies: Law, Raciality, and Violence," Griffith Law Review 18.2 (2009): 224-27. See also Goldberg, Threat of Race, 80-91; Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton, "The Housing Question: An Interview with Mike Davis," in Camp and Heatherton, Freedom Now, 85.

60. Hall et al., Policing the Crisis. For an analysis of this process in an earlier conjuncture, see Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 137.

61. Jimmie L. Reeves and Richard Campbell, Cracked Coverage: Television News, the Anti-Cocaine Crusade, and the Reagan Legacy (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994), 86-103.

62. Da Silva, "No-Bodies," 226.

63. James Donald and Stuart Hall, eds., Politics and Ideology (Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1986).

64. Hall et al., Policing the Crisis, 217; Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Craig Gilmore, "Restating the Obvious," in Indefensible Space: The Architecture of the National Security State, ed. Michael Sorkin (New York: Routledge, 2007), 144.

65. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), 640-48; Peter Linebaugh, "Karl Marx, the Theft of the Wood, and Working-Class Composition: [End Page 674] A Contribution to the Current Debate," Crime and Social Justice 6 (Fall-Winter 1976): 5; Gilmore, Golden Gulag, 77.

66. Mitchell, Right to the City, 128-29.

67. Paul Gilroy, 'There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack': The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

68. Smith, "New Globalism, New Urbanism," 433; Gilmore, Golden Gulag, 64.

69. Ruth Wilson Gilmore in conversation with Trevor Paglen, "From Military Industrial Complex to Prison Industrial Complex," Recording Carceral Landscapes, (accessed January 10, 2012).

70. Gilmore, Golden Gulag, 79.

71. On "authoritarian populism," see Hall, Hard Road to Renewal, 123-60; Reeves and Campbell, Cracked Coverage, 73. On the cultural politics of neoliberalism, see Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Boston: Beacon, 2003).

72. Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream (New York: Verso, 1986); Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001).

73. Hall, Hard Road to Renewal, 134.

74. Hall and Massey, "Interpreting the Crisis," 66; Gilmore, Golden Gulag.

75. Hall, Hard Road to Renewal, 188; HoSang, Racial Propositions, 264; Willse, "Invention of Chronic Homelessness," 164.

76. For a generative analysis of the relationship between whiteness and uneven development in the region, see Laura Pulido, "Rethinking Environmental Racism: White Privilege and Urban Development in Southern California," Annals of the Association of American Geographers 90.1 (2000): 12-40. On urban security landscapes, see Jeremy Németh, "Security in Public Space: An Empirical Assessment of Three U.S. Cities," Environment and Planning A 42 (2010): 2487-507.

77. Cedric J. Robinson, "Race, Capitalism, and Antidemocracy," in Reading Rodney King: Reading Urban Uprising, ed. Robert Gooding-Williams (New York: Routledge, 1993), 77.

78. David Wagner and Pete White, "Why the Silence? Homelessness and Race," in Camp and Heatherton, Freedom Now, 43-44; Robinson, Forgeries of Memory and Meaning, 276.

79. Jodi Melamed, Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 38.

80. Paul Gilroy, "True Humanism? Civilizationism, Securitocracy, and Racial Resignation," Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism Salon 1 (2009),; and Gilroy, Darker Than Blue: On the Moral Economies of Black Atlantic Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010), 73, 92, 156.

81. Graham, Cities under Siege, 94.

82. Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

83. Gilmore and Gilmore, "Restating the Obvious," 143; Vijay Prashad, "The New Populism," Frontline, November 6-19, 2010,

84. Gordon, "U.S. Military Prison," 174; Ashley Dawson and Malini Johar Schueller, eds., Exceptional State: Contemporary U.S. Culture and the New Imperialism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007), 16.

85. Gilmore, Golden Gulag, 28; Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History, x-xvi, 169-230.

86. Gerald Horne, Fire This Time (New York: Da Capo, 1997), 41.

87. Nikhil Pal Singh, "'Learn Your Horn': Jack O'Dell and the Long Civil Rights Movement," introduction to Climbin' Jacob's Ladder: The Black Freedom Movement Writings of Jack O'Dell, ed. Nikhil Pal Singh (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 57.

88. Gerald Horne, A Communist Front? The Civil Rights Congress, 1946-1956 (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988), 333.

89. Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003), 175; Shana L. Redmond, Anthem: Movement Cultures and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (New York: New York University Press, forthcoming).

90. Josh Sides, "'You Understand My Condition': The Civil Rights Congress in the Los Angeles African-American Community, 1946-1952," Pacific Historical Review 67.2 (1998): 233-57.

91. Horne, Fire This Time, 7-9, 213-14.

92. Christina Heatherton, "Relief and Revolution: Southern California Struggles against Unemployment, 1930-1933," Rising Tides of Color, ed. Moon-Ho Jung (Seattle: University of Washington Press, forthcoming). [End Page 675]

93. Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1990); Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York: Verso, 1996); Penny M. Von Eschen, Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1933-1957 (New York: Cornell University Press, 1997); Singh, Black Is a Country; John Munro, "The Anticolonial Front: Cold War Imperialism and the Struggle against Global White Supremacy, 1945-1960" (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2009); Dayo F. Gore, Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War (New York: New York University Press, 2011); Eric McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011).

94. Horne, Fire This Time, 8-9; and Horne, "Civil Rights Congress," in Encyclopedia of the American Left, 2nd ed., ed. Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 135.

95. Civil Rights Congress, We Charge Genocide: The Historic Petition to the United Nations for Relief from a Crime of the United States Government against the Negro People (1951; New York: International Publishers, 1971); "U.S. Accused in U.N. of Negro Genocide," New York Times, December 18, 1951; Biondi, To Stand and Fight, 156, 200.

96. William L. Patterson, "'We Charge Genocide!'" Political Affairs 30.12 (1951): 43-44; and Patterson, The Man Who Cried Genocide: An Autobiography (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 169-208.

97. W. E. B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century (New York: International Publishers, 1968), 361-95; Biondi, To Stand and Fight, 153; Von Eschen, Race against Empire, 187; Angela Y. Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture (New York: Seven Stories, 2005), 43-45, 89.

98. Horne, Fire This Time, 367n4.

99. Widener, Black Arts West, 54.

100. Don Parson, Making a Better World: Public Housing, the Red Scare, and the Direction of Modern Los Angeles (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).

101. Singh, "'Learn Your Horn,'" 21.

102. Horne, Fire This Time, 7-8; HoSang, Racial Propositions, 81.

103. Ranajit Guha, "The Prose of Counter-Insurgency," in Selected Subaltern Studies, ed. Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 45-86. See Parson, Making a Better World, 198; HoSang, Racial Propositions, 68.

104. Horne, Fire This Time, 47, 222-23, 249-50.

105. HoSang, Racial Propositions, 53.

106. Friedrich Engels, The Housing Question (1954; Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1979); Horne, Fire This Time, 219.

107. HoSang, Racial Propositions, 87.

108. Horne, Fire This Time, 219.

109. Quoted in Vincent Harding, introduction to Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1968; Boston: Beacon, 2010), xi.

110. Quoted in David J. Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From Solo to Memphis (New York: Norton, 1981), 214.

111. Harding, introduction, xxi; Von Eschen, Race against Empire, 188.

112. On the "blues literary tradition," see Clyde A. Woods, Development Arrested: The Blues and Plantation Power in the Mississippi Delta (New York: Verso, 1998), 175.

113. James Baldwin, No Name in the Street (New York: Random House, 1972), 196.

114. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 276.

115. Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream, 160.

116. James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948-1985 (New York: St. Martin's, 1985), 672.

117. Singh, Black Is a Country, 6, 8, 13, 214.

118. Hall, "Decoding," 138.

119. Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction and Beyond in Black America, 1945-2006 (1984; Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007). [End Page 676]

120. Woods, "'Sittin' on Top of the World,'" in McKittrick and Woods, Black Geographies and the Politics of Place, 47-48.

121. Richard Walker, "California Rages against the Dying of the Light," New Left Review, no. 209 (1995): 43,

122. Hall and Massey, "Interpreting the Crisis," 59; Walker, "California Rages against the Dying of the Light," 43.

123. Michael Anderson, Paul Boden, Michael Callahan-Kapoor, boona cheema, Nicholas Dahmann, Becky Dennison, Jennifer Friedenback, Marlene Griffith, Ruth Pleaner, Jeremy Rosen, Briana Winterborn, eds., Without Housing: Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness, and Policy Failures (San Francisco: Western Regional Advocacy Project, 2010).

124. Camp and Heatherton, "Housing Question," 83

125. Pulido, "White Privilege and Urban Development," 561.

126. Gilda Haas and Allan David Heskin, Community Struggles in Los Angeles (Los Angeles: School of Architecture and Urban Planning, UCLA, 1981), 13-19; Davis, City of Quartz, 232.

127. Christina Heatherton and Yusef Omowale, "Skid Row in Transition: An Interview with Gary Blasi," in Heatherton, Downtown Blues, 36.

128. The Labor/Community Strategy Center, Reconstructing Los Angeles from the Bottom Up (Los Angeles: Labor/Community Strategy Center, 1993), 31-32; Blasi, Policing Our Way Out of Homelessness, 1-9.

129. Davis, City of Quartz, 234; Walker, "Golden State Adrift," 5.

130. Wagner and White, "Why the Silence?" in Camp and Heatherton, Freedom Now, 45; Smith, "New Globalism, New Urbanism," 442; David Harvey, "The Right to the City," New Left Review, no. 53 (2008): 34-35; Daniel Martinez HoSang, "The Economics of the New Brutality," Colorlines, December 10, 1999,; Reese, Deverteuil, and Thach, "'Weak-Center' Gentrification," 311; Heatherton and Omowale, "Skid Row in Transition," 38-40.

131. Smith, "New Globalism, New Urbanism," 433; Gilmore, Golden Gulag, 130.

132. Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Christina Heatherton, "Fixing Broken Windows without Batons," in Camp and Heatherton, Freedom Now, 1. See Gari Blasi and Forrest Stuart, "Has the Safer Cities Initiative in Skid Row Reduced Serious Crime?" (Los Angeles: UCLA Law School, September 15, 2008),

133. Fred Moten, "The Meaning of 'Broken Windows,'" (talk presented at Eso Won Books, Los Angeles, June 23, 2005); Neil Smith, "Giuliani Time: The Revanchist 1990s," Social Text, no. 57 (Winter 1998): 1-20.

134. See Manhattan Institute, "Safe Cities Initiative,"

135. Hall et al., Policing the Crisis; Blasi, "Policing Our Way Out of Homelessness," 23; Alex S. Vitale, "The Safer Cities Imitative and the Removal of the Homeless: Reducing Crime or Promoting Gentrification on Los Angeles' Skid Row?" American Society of Criminology 9.4 (2010): 867-73.

136. Charlie Beck, William J. Bratton, and George L. Kelling, "Who Will Police the Criminologists? The Dangers of Politicized Social Science," City Journal 21.2 (Spring 2011), On the failures of the "broken windows" metaphor on theoretical and empirical grounds, see Bernard E. Harcourt, Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001); Mitchell, Right to the City, 195-222.

137. Guha, "Prose of Counter-Insurgency," 1; Smith, New Urban Frontier, 220, 222.

138. Smith, "Giuliani Time," 10.

139. Richard Winton, "LAPD Adds 10 Cameras to Curb Skid Row Crime," Los Angeles Times, September 15, 2006,

140. George Lipsitz, "Learning from Los Angeles: Producing Anarchy in the Name of Order," in Camp and Heatherton, Freedom Now, 33-40; HoSang, "Economics of the New Brutality."

141. Raquel Rolnik, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as a Component of the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living, and on the Right to Non-discrimination in This Context (Geneva: Human Rights Council, February 12, 2010), 8.

142. Don Mitchell, "Homelessness, American Style," in Heatherton, Downtown Blues, 42.

143. Mazher Ali, Jeannette Huezo, Brian Miller, Wanjiku Mwangi, and Mike Prokosch, State of the Dream 2011: Austerity for Whom? (Boston: United for a Fair Economy, 2011).

144. Anderson et al., Without Housing, 6, 42. [End Page 677]

145. Gore, Radicalism at the Crossroads; Katz, "Vagabond Capitalism," 709-28. Deborah Burton, "Statement at the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review, Geneva, Switzerland, 2010."

146. Rhonda Y. Williams, "'We Refuse': Privatization, Housing, and Human Rights," in Camp and Heatherton, Freedom Now, 15; Jacqueline Leavitt, "Women under Fire: Public Housing Activism in Los Angeles," Frontiers 13.2 (1993): 109-30. On "jumping scales," see Smith, "Contours of a Spatialized Politics," 54-81; Bobby Wilson, "Scale Politics of the Civil Rights Movement" (paper presented at Association of American Geographers, New York, February 2012). On the human rights abuses represented by the disproportionate numbers of black homeless people and their experiences with policing on Skid Row, see Doudou Diène, Report Submitted by the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (Geneva, Human Rights Council, April 2009), 20.

147. "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" (Geneva: United Nations Department of Public Information, 1948).

148. See, for example, Randall Williams, The Divided World: Human Rights and Its Violence (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).

149. Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton, "Human Rights Enforcers: An Interview with Willie J.R. Fleming," in Camp and Heatherton, Freedom Now, 106.

150. Clyde A. Woods, "Life after Death," Professional Geographer 54.1 (2002): 64.

151. Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream, 310; Kelley, Yo' Mama's DisFunktional, 155.

152. Clyde A. Woods, "Development Drowned and Reborn: The Blues and Bourbon Restorations in Post-Katrina New Orleans," ed. Laura Pulido and Jordan T. Camp (in progress); Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream, 311.

153. See, for example, Community Connection, September-October 2011, See Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream, 309; Mitchell, Right to the City, 21.

154. Robin D. G. Kelley, "Ground Zero," in Heatherton, Downtown Blues, 13, 15.

155. Camp and Heatherton, Freedom Now!

156. Woods, "Traps, Skid Row, and Katrina," in Heatherton, Downtown Blues, 55.

157. O'Dell, Climbin' Jacob's Ladder, 113-16, 263-293.

158. Lipsitz, "Learning from Los Angeles: Another One Rides the Bus," 511-29; Robin D. G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon, 2002).

159. Daniel Widener, "Another City Is Possible: Interethnic Organizing in Contemporary Los Angeles," Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Perspectives 1.2 (2008): 189-219. [End Page 678]

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.