Donald Trump keeps calling inner cities “hell” but their real problem is gentrification

Trump’s hellish descriptions of the inner city are mythical and racist.
Trump’s hellish descriptions of the inner city are mythical and racist.
Image: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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In an apparent attempt to win over a chunk of the African American vote, Donald Trump has almost obsessively talked about fixing the country’s “inner cities”–which he has said are more dangerous than “war zones.” At last night’s debate, he brought them up in his very first answer–to a totally unrelated question about being a positive role model.

There are a ton of problems with this. Firstly, lumping African American voters into a homogeneous group who all ostensibly live in hellish conflict areas is not the best way to win over members of said group, as demonstrated by the angry reactions he drew on Twitter last night:

The term “inner city” itself has been widely discredited as a thinly veiled way of saying “black”– as was demonstrated when Paul Ryan got in hot water for using it two years ago. This is borne out by it use in academic literature, which has declined dramatically in the last 20 years.

But, beyond the inherent racism in that line of rhetoric, Trump’s argument is based on such a serious misunderstanding of American cities that it’s fair to question whether he ever sees more of New York than the vistas from his Manhattan penthouse.

Far from being war zones, between 1995 and 2014 both violent crime rates and murder rates in US cities actually halved.

In fact, what’s really disenfranchising people who live in cities is the levels of gentrification caused largely by white people moving back to cities from the suburbs, and making rents unaffordable for the people who have long lived there. Last year Governing magazine, which analyses state and local government, found that in America’s 50 biggest cities, around 20 percent of low income areas had experienced gentrification since 2000, compared to just 8.6 percent in the 1990s.

This coincides exactly with a rise in house prices, which have forced black people to move out of the cities that had been their homes. A report on gentrification in New York by NYU’s Furman Center this year showed that in New York’s gentrifying areas average rents increased by 30.4 percent between 2000 and 2010-2014, compared to a 16.1 percent rise in non-gentrifying districts. At the same time, these neighborhoods saw a 7 percentage point drop in their black population and 1.8 point increase in their white population. Similarly, the proportion of people with college degrees grew by 15.6 percent in New York’s gentrifying neighborhoods.

Quite clearly, the problem is not that Donald Trump’s so-called “inner city” areas are too dangerous but that they’re being appropriated by the wealthy and filled with their trendy bars and cafes, pricing out the local communities–which are often made up of ethnic minorities.

Trump’s solution to this invented problem? Ramp up “stop and frisk” tactics by police–yet another policy that marginalizes African Americans, and, as Quartz has written before, is ineffective. This New York city official: