“Do we crucify people because they’re a nuisance? Do we go up to them and say, ‘You don’t belong here for being young and loud, and being people of color? It’s life. It changes, and we have to change with it.” – Bob Kohler, 80, a 30-year resident of the West Village, in today’s LA Times article about the continuing clash between residents and the hundreds of LGBT youth of color than visit the West Village.
I’ve written about this issue in the past and despite some improvements in city policy, violence and rowdiness continues to trouble residents, who loudly disagree on how to handle their changing neighborhood. As the article points out, white gay men were once the neighborhood’s outcasts themselves, back when the West Village was largely populated by Italian families, back when restaurants would have signs saying, “If you’re gay, stay away.” When AIDS decimated the Village, the younger gay crowd headed uptown, for Chelsea, for Hell’s Kitchen. And furious gentrification ensued.
According to Kohler, the root of the issue is that his neighbors simply “don’t want black faces on Christopher Street.” I’d have to say that he’s partially right. Teenagers do yell, they do play loud music, they do fight. Those are the defining characteristics of teenagers everywhere. But the bigger issue here, as always, is class. These kids are poor. They come to the West Village from Harlem, from Newark, from the outer boroughs. Their entire social life is the pier and Christopher Street.
As noted in my own above-linked story, I have myself been menaced by a group of these kids. There is a real problem with safety on the streets of the West Village. But how does forcing the city to chase these teenagers away improve their lives? Some residents want to force PATH to close the Christopher Street station on weekends. That’s not the answer, I don’t know what the answer is, but that response embarrasses me.