After Olivia Brown, a college student, was stabbed and gunned down in New York's Lincoln Houses, a city housing project, the administration of progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio sought dismissal of a wrongful death suit by putting forward an intriguing argument.
You see, argues the progressive administration, Brown should have known that the housing project was dangerous. She went there (to see her mother!) at her own risk. Such heartlessness from progressives?
The suit, filed against the Housing Authority by Olivia Brown's mother, Crystal Brown, claimed that inadequate security led to her daughter's death. According to Crystal Brown, Michele "Mohawk" Graham who was charged in the murder should not have been even been permitted to stay at the housing project because of alleged felony arrests.
“I’m suing Housing because the woman who killed my daughter should have never been on these premises. She has a criminal history. She has felony arrests. Why wasn’t she kicked out?” Crystal Brown told the New York Post. Meanwhile, the Housing Authority argues that the shooting was "spontaneous" and "unavoidable."
The twenty-three year old Olivia, according to her mother, attended community college and worked for UPS. The New York Post reports that Ms. Brown is asking for unspecified damages to cover costs of the funeral and medical bills. Shot in the arm and groin, Olivia had been rushed to the hospital before she died.
Although I don't know about the merits of the lawsuit or the details surrounding Olivia Brown's death, beyond that it was terribly sad, I do appreciate the administration's refreshing, if unintended, candor: Lincoln Housing is a dismal failure. Lincoln Housing, like too many government housing projects in this country not only fail the poor but are often dangerous places to live.
The media appears uncomfortable reporting this truth. A recent article in the Atlantic extols the (hidden) successes of public housing. It quotes Professor Edward Goetz. “The story of American public housing is one of quiet successes drowned out by loud failures,” the University of Minnesota professor wrote in his book New Deal Ruins: Race, Economic Justice and Public Housing Policy.
Undoubtedly, there are people such as Maddie Garrett, cited in the Atlantic article, who have found public housing a safe and comfortable place to live and raise their families. But more often people are trying to rear children with gunshots ringing out and gangs prowling the premises. Lincoln Housing and Crystal Brown, not the satisfied Maddie Garrett, are the norm.
Whatever the impetus for public housing, it has turned out to be largely a giant build-a-ghetto project. Residents living there worry about their safety and struggle to keep their children from the influences of crime and addiction which fuel a cycle of poverty. Rather than being a safety net for those in need, public housing is a structure that perpetuates problems and serves neither its intended beneficiaries nor the taxpayers who fund it.
The United States is home to a vast array of well-intended programs from the Great Society that seem to have failed in their goals of eradicating poverty, and even more tragically, may make it more difficult for people to rise. But rarely do progressives have to admit this sad reality. Rarely does an administration actually have to acknowledge that the projects are so dangerous that you risk death going to visit your mother in one.
Ironically, just a few days before Olivia Brown was murdered in 2013, de Blasio and four other then-mayoral candidates (Christine Quinn, John Liu, William Thompson, and Anthony Weiner) staged a "sleepover" at Lincoln Housing to demonstrate that they would work to reduce crime and make life better there. I feel certain that the passel of progressive icons, who likely travelled with security, were safer in the crime-ridden project than Olivia Brown was.
When, as mayor, de Blasio visited the neighborhood again in 2014, Crystal Brown was among the protesters there to tell him that nothing had changed. “I’m too angry to be scared," she told a reporter on the occasion of the second visit. "It’s dangerous here. There are people out there terrorizing residents, robbing and stealing.”
Indeed, the first step to dealing with a problem is to admit it exists. The Housing Authority admitted what we all know in response to a lawsuit. I'm sure they're ready to take it back, especially, when they realized how it sounded, and maybe de Blasio is planning another sleepover in Lincoln for his next campaign, But for one moment the Housing Authority spoke the truth: the government has built dangerous ghettos for the poor. They try to present such projects as compassionate, but real compassion will come by reforming such failed government programs with a focus on providing a better system that doesn’t perpetuate poverty, but provides an escape from it.