By Debbie Rabinovich
Urban renewal processes in Brooklyn, Charlotte resulted in the destruction of countless community resources – so much so that this period has been dubbed “urban removal” by former residents. Twelve Black churches, the Good Samaritan Hospital, the Lincoln and Savoy theaters, and the Brevard Street Library were just a few of the historic institutions that sustained the Black community in Second Ward and also served as national models of excellence. The community had no say in the plans for their neighborhood and around 9,000 residents and 216 black-owned businesses were displaced as the city razed 1,500 homes and the neighborhood surrounding.
The Brooklyn community paid the price of “progress” for the rest of the city and was never justly compensated or recognized – by the city, county, or by Charlotte residents who directly benefited from the removal of Black communities. Black generational wealth was stymied while white families were able to build the type of wealth that resulted in their names appearing on the streets, museums, colleges, and stadiums that were built over Brooklyn and other Black neighborhoods that were displaced all over the city. Historic injustice has exponential effects, which we see today in the rapid increase in land value in Second Ward as new building plans are being laid out. The paradoxical nature of development in Charlotte today begs the question: What does restorative justice look like?
Restorative justice was conceptualized as both material and social through six main issue areas at the Greenspon Center’s Brooklyn Village Listening Session: land, business, criminal justice, mental health, faith, and education. These areas are all deeply tied to each other and to the people whose lives were and continue to be rooted in Brooklyn. The Listening Session generated ideas to build justice in each issue area.
In Brooklyn, thriving properties were evaluated as “blighted” and targeted for demolition. This land is now prime real estate, valued at nearly a billion dollars. What does restorative justice look like?
- Start a formal econometric valuation process to compensate former residents fairly
- Rebuild spaces and places that community needs
- Community land trusts to prevent further gentrification
- Increase affordable housing allocation of new development from 10% to 20%
- Stabilize and strengthen existing communities
- Ensure the planning of accessible public space as part of the Brooklyn Village redevelopment, including public parks and public recreational centers designed inclusively
216 businesses were closed as their customers and owners were displaced. What does restorative justice look like?
- Support the start of new businesses that the community can use – both those displaced around the city and potential new residents of the area
- Business leadership and management programming for former residents
- Business grants and subsidized rentals for businesses that were forced to relocate
- Programs to fight low income and stagnant economic mobility
- Viable opportunities for economic redevelopment
A jail and courthouse were built where Brooklyn stood, replacing community assets with criminal justice institutions. What does restorative justice look like?
- Elect judges and DA who prioritize restorative justice instead of punitive justice
- Cash bail elimination legislation
- Recidivism reduction programs
- Ban-the-box legislation to help former inmates find fair employment
- Mass incarceration advocacy workshops
- Legal aid society office providing reduced and/or free services to low-income residents
The destruction of Brooklyn shapes communal and personal trauma. The continued erasure of this part of Charlotte’s history also deepens community wounds. What does restorative justice look like?
- More counselors to provide one-on-one and group counseling
- Mental and physical health facilities and/or clinics
- Creating and cultivating accessible healing environments
- A City-supported trauma-informed counseling degree program at local universities
Twelve Black churches, the spiritual homes of countless Brooklyn residents, were closed and white churches were opened where they once stood. What does restorative justice look like?
- Build churches to meet needs of the people
- Create more meeting places
- Create interfaith community coalitions (outside of clergy) to raise awareness about Brooklyn village
- Host memorial services across faith communities to commemorate closed churches
Numerous schools and libraries were closed, including the first Black library in North Carolina. What does restorative justice look like?
- Safe, low-cost out-of-school time programs and summer camps for residents
- Programs about what happened in Brooklyn around the city
- Opening of new schools and libraries for displaced population
- Increase funding/hours for libraries in parts of Charlotte where the displaced population currently lives
- Create a free and public educational exhibit on the history of the neighborhood as part of Brooklyn Village redevelopment
As Rev. Glencie Rhedrick powerfully stated at the Listening Session, restorative justice is a responsibility. Restorative justice is a call to imagine what Charlotte would be if Brooklyn was never destroyed and to ensure equity based on that vision. These ideas are a starting point for creating a just city, a Charlotte that can lead the way in terms of restorative justice and reparations in a country where every single city has committed grave injustice against its Black residents.