By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Meet Willie J.R. Fleming. He calls himself a human rights enforcer, but Fleming is also the executive director of the Chicago Anti-Eviction campaign. As more people in Chicago die from senseless gun violence, Fleming is fighting back. During an interview with a Crusader reporter, on Tuesday, June 28, he blamed gun violence on the displacement of public housing—an act he called “economic cleansing.”
“I am more than certain this is the reason for violence. There are certain triggers to have this state of violence that we have,” said Fleming. “When you took the land from the people, you put in a resentment and anywhere you look around the globe, when it comes to territorial disputes…there were some armed conflict…where you have outsiders inside an already established community, there will always be some type of armed conflict.”
Born in Cabrini Green, Fleming watched the destruction of his development, but said the writing was on the wall years ago. Fleming said he watched managers of CHA deliberately neglect the maintenance of the complexes. When Mayor Harold Washington led Chicago, he called for $10 billion needed to repair pubic housing.
With seven-years experience under his belt as head of the Chicago Anti-Eviction campaign, Fleming said he was motivated to fight for the rights of displaced people after the destruction of the Cabrini Green housing development. Here, Fleming said he saw many people “get pushed out.”
In 2005, Fleming traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where he saw the devastation of one of the worst natural disasters in American history. Fleming said after the experience, he decided to become a “human rights enforcer.”
Fleming said Cabrini Green became a “bad area because of the lack of policing and resources, but when people want property, they allow for certain things to develop in communities so they can drive down the property values and have a reason to displace the people and move forward with their new development plan. They withheld resources.”
Fleming said when the Cabrini Green housing problems were demolished, gun violence and crime spread to other neighborhoods.
“You were not providing housing opportunities for people every- where,” he said. “You displaced crime, poverty and violence and that is what the plans for transformation did–the demolishing of public housing.”
Fleming pointed to the gun violence and the rising death toll and injured residents from senseless shootings in Chicago. Fleming said these tragedies are the results of demolished public housing.
He accused state officials for the “economic cleansing” of pubic housing developments. He said those buildings were close to transportation, waterfronts and universities. Fleming said buildings that are close to “key areas in any urban plan will be targeted for redevelopment. He cited Stateway Gardens, ABLA and the Ida B. Wells housing projects as examples of “economic cleansing.”
Fleming’s work in organizing people in Cabrini Green led him to help poor people who were losing their homes locally and internationally getting the United Nations involved with Chicago’s growing housing problem.
Fleming said many tenants who have been displaced used their Section 8 vouchers to move to Iowa, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Indiana, and Michigan. He said others moved to the Chicago suburbs, including Roseland, Austin, Washington Park and even Naperville.
“A lot of folks fell through the cracks ended up losing their Section 8 because their house went into foreclosure or the market fell. The homeowner wasn’t able to keep up with the property and the rents and subsidies they were getting from Section 8 weren’t enough to keep the property habitable,” Fleming said.
With gun-violence soaring in neighborhoods, Fleming said poor residents in Chicago are stuck in “war zones” that create dangerous situations for children who are afraid to go to school.
In 2009, Fleming expanded his fight from the homeless person to the people who are in danger of being thrown out of their home. He has helped evicted residents move back into their homes.
Fleming said the city’s plans for transformation and the demolition of public housing was “a rushed plan.” He said federal and local governments failed “to ensure that there was enough economic, social or cultural resources to help people transition from public housing living to private market living and that is why so many people fell through the cracks.”