by Jackson Faw
Developers’ efforts to put a Wal-Mart in the middle of a residential neighborhood at 800 Glenwood Ave. in Grant Park have created fears of ruining quality of life, threatening the beauty and spirit of the Atlanta BeltLine and have even become a focal point in a City Council race. Sadly, the issue has now brought charges of discrimination aimed at residents who oppose the big box retailer.
Charges of cronyism in the City Council race are both the least impactful — and the most easily dismissed — byproduct of the battle between the developers and residents. A challenger to District One incumbent Councilwoman Carla Smith raised unsubstantiated charges of coziness with the developers, despite the fact that Councilwoman Smith has been the neighborhood’s staunchest ally, including drafting legislation to try to halt the development through rezoning the proposed site.
Far more troubling are charges of racism voiced in an op-ed in the East Atlanta Patch by the Rev. Joe Beasley, director of the Rainbow Push Coalition: 'The bucolic benefits of the BeltLine’s plan may need to be re-examined closely for signs of discrimination against anyone who cannot afford the lifestyle it supports.' The Rev. Beasley contends that neighborhood efforts to stop the Wal-Mart are nothing more than “ another attempt by the haves to limit the economic empowerment of the have-nots.”
A sampling of racially charged statements from Rev. Beasley’s rant:
- "Disguise their prejudices”
- “Another attempt by the haves to limit the the have-nots”
- "Minorities are again on the losing end of the proposition"
- "Fortunate people”
- "Because it‘s what their new constituents in a majority black district oppose.
- "But who are they, really? And what do they know about economic depression?”
- "Self-centered individuals are turning their backs on their neighbors.”
- “Prosperity at bay for ordinary folks”
- "Jobs are scarce, particularly for African Americans. This cause needs a champion, not self centered opposition.”
With eleven racist quotes in one short essay, the reverend’s purpose is clear: piggyback onto a high profile story in order to propagate an agenda of hate and bigotry.
Imagine the outrage if this same piece was written by a white person today, in 2013, using the same inflammatory language Rev. Beasley uses, but from the opposite perspective. Here are direct quotes from the reverend’s piece, substituting “white” for “black” – it sounds like something that might have been written in the 1950’s when African Americans started to move into the intown neighborhoods that were, until then, traditionally white:
“I refer to the controversy surrounding proposed commercial re-development of a parcel of historical significance to the inner city’s longtime white residents.
There is a nasty spat underway there that appears to be about protecting the BeltLine. The truth is this is just another attempt by black folks to limit the white people. And, unfortunately, white people are again on the losing end of the proposition.
All around Atlanta, other traditional neighborhoods already have been transitioned by the black folks who moved here from somewhere else to live closer in our great city. They have bought homes and methodically displaced white families who always resided inside the city limits in large numbers — without regard for their fates.”Frightening language that conjures images of hoods and darker times. Thankfully, a message like this is intolerable today.
But to the heart of Rev. Beasley’s assumptions: would Wal-Mart really be the utopia for the underprivileged that he describes? The answer is a resounding “no.”
Since Wal-Mart won against charges of workplace discrimination in the landmark anti-discrimination lawsuit Wal-Mart v. Dukes in June 2011, workplace discrimination lawsuits have plummeted across the country. According to Propublica, since Wal-Mart’s victory over charges of discrimination against women and minorities, “jury verdicts have been overturned, settlements thrown out and class actions rejected.” Discrimination lawsuits have trickled to just a handful a year since Wal-Mart’s victory — a slap in the face of working class women and minorities.
In Washington, D.C., low-income workers recently lost another fight against Wal-Mart. In an effort to help its low-skilled residents earn a decent living, the City Council proposed legislation to force Wal-Mart to pay employees a living wage of $12.50 an hour in combined wages and benefits; Wal-Mart gave D.C. the finger and said it was pulling out of plans for a new store.
Those of us who oppose a Wal-Mart at 860 Glenwood do so for the obvious, stated reasons. The site calls for 1,200 parking spaces — that equates to 10,000 additional vehicles a day in the middle of a residential neighborhood which includes a high school. Lawyer’s claims that their developer client has a right to do what it wants with the property because it’s always been an industrial site, ignore the fact that the area was originally a public park and golf course.
I, for one, would have no problem for a development like this in an area that could handle the traffic and not destroy the BeltLine’s vision — like the Georgia Avenue corridor near Turner Field — a location, by the way, that would be even closer to my home.
I don’t know one person who opposes the 800 Glenwood development because of racial reasons. Thoughtless charges of discrimination do nothing but erode community trust and betterment, and are, for me, personally hurtful.
We are blessed to live in a city with a black Mayor and a
black Congressman, in a country with a black President — a country that we are all
working hard to move beyond skin-color-based hatred. Hopefully, shameful messages like the one Reverend Beasley
delivers will someday go the way of the ugly voices of hate and intolerance of
white people in past generations.
Mr. Faw, a community activist, is a resident of Peoplestown.