For nearly 20 years, I lived in Congressman John Lewis’ (D) district in southeast Atlanta, most of those years in a tiny house I bought for $19,000. My neighborhood, Boulevard Heights, was then a poor community in the shadow of the federal prison where Cuban criminals from the Mariel boatlifts famously rioted in 1987. I moved to Boulevard Heights a few years after the riots but heard the stories.
The smoke from the prison disturbances was so thick that residents were instructed over loudspeakers to lock themselves inside their houses. Nobody knew if the prisoners had escaped. My friend sat in his grandmother’s house with his gun ready.
Congressman Lewis sided with the criminal rioters that time, too.
As a then-Democrat state lobbyist, I had numerous occasions to interact professionally with Lewis. Once he was the main speaker at a press conference I held at the Georgia Capitol.
And as a long-time social service provider, community outreach worker, and professional advocate for crime victims in his district, I frequently aided Lewis’ most vulnerable constituents. Sometimes I did this at the behest of my city councilwoman, sometimes through agencies and nonprofits I worked with, sometimes on my own. I called Lewis’ office many times over the years. I usually called for constituent services, not for political causes.
I write all this to explain that not only do I know John Lewis’ record as a congressman in great detail, but also I’ve lived it intimately, though I doubt he’d recognize me.
As somebody who spent almost two decades in John Lewis’ district trying to fix the problems of crime, poverty, and family disintegration created entirely by Lewis’ politics and his political party, I speak with authority when I say that Donald Trump is completely correct when he accuses John Lewis of being all talk, no action.
But, I’d go farther than Trump. Nearly every time John Lewis has “acted” legislatively, life for the poorest in his district has grown more dangerous, destabilized, and tragic.
While John Lewis spent the last 50 years growing rich and influential by repeating the same speech about being beat up on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965, the people living in the crime-ridden parts of his district have spent the 50 years since then being subjected daily to violent crimes and threats of crime at least as bad and frequently far worse than what Lewis experienced, day after day, week after week, year after year — decade after decade, unabated.
There are no federal monuments to the crime victims of John Lewis’ district. These victims are barely acknowledged by Lewis himself.
And while John Lewis grew more rich and influential with each repetition of his Edmund Pettus Bridge speech, the people of his district watched the value of their homes, their communities, and their schools – their life’s work – disintegrate because of crime and multigenerational family dysfunction.
There isn’t a schoolchild in America who doesn’t learn about John Lewis being attacked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but they are taught it as if time stopped at that moment, and nothing else ever happened or changed after that. Any schoolchild or adult bringing up the subsequent 50 years of violent crime by blacks against both whites and other blacks would face shunning, accusations of racism, and worse.
To even mention the existence of the crime victims of John Lewis’ district is practically banned speech. As Trump is discovering, mentioning it unleashes a tidal wave of outrage from the media.
For decades in Congress, John Lewis opposed every piece of criminal justice or welfare reform legislation that would make the people of his district safer, more self-reliant, and more prosperous.
He has done this despite the fact that he wouldn’t live in most of the south side communities in his district, including my old neighborhood, which remains plagued with crime even though gentrification has pushed up property values.
Just a few blocks south of my old home, in Thomasville Heights (I write about Thomasville Heights here), Lewis would still be taking his life in his hands simply by stepping out of his car. Why do we accept such a heinous reality? Because breaking the silence that surrounds it would implicate John Lewis and the entire cohort of liberal politicians whose careers and fortunes depend on denying that places like Thomasville Heights exist.
My old neighbors cope passive-aggressively with crime by installing kick-proof doors, wiring every inch of their property with cameras, joining neighborhood watches that resemble SWAT team exercises, secretly owning guns, never leaving anything in their cars, being alert as they walk the few steps from the curb to their doors, and creating charter schools so their kids don’t have to go to school with the troubled kids remaining in their gentrifying neighborhoods or in the projects a few blocks away. They also engage in nonstop acts of intellectual denial and ideological self-censorship so they can live with the cognitive dissonance between what they see with their own eyes and espousing a politics that denies it.
Little wonder they obsess about bike trails and Beltway parks and trolley cars like children awaiting Santa Claus, chattering about raising their property values with such shiny, federal-taxpayer funded, “sustainability-friendly” toys. Deep down, they must know that putting even more money into trying to “fix the underclass” is just throwing good money after bad. Deep down, they must also know that the real reason their property values are rising is because the feds and John Lewis keep quietly shipping the troubled families and crime-blighted projects out of their increasingly valuable in-town real estate to neighboring Clayton County, which has devolved from a stable rural community to a crime-ridden hellhole with just a few years of such whole-scale deportation.
Out of sight, out of mind. Back to the locally sourced organic cheese emporium!
Or deep down, maybe some of the in-town hipsters don’t even know that. Maybe they don’t know that the location of this latest locavore tapas bar and that latest “green architecture” condo complex was, until two decades ago, a public housing war zone where teen prostitutes of both sexes (they only had two sexes back then) disappeared nightly. There were so many dead boys and dead women and girls that the real problem the police faced when Wayne Williams began his killing spree was separating out his victims from the victims of several other serial killers busy in the area at the time. That was on Lewis’ watch too.
What John Lewis has done is create a playground for hipsters of all races by shunting Atlanta’s social problems down to neighboring Clayton County.
Ironically, as the inner city and some south-side parts of Lewis’ district have grown younger, whiter, and more prosperous, he has only doubled down on his anti-white rhetoric. This usually doesn’t hurt him electorally because his audiences of well-off, well-educated hipsters are pickled in a brine of white guilt identity politics. These folks also never go to the vast stretches of Lewis’ district where crime still rules the streets. And so the cycle of violence and denial continues, two sides of one coin. If they ever put Lewis’ head on a coin, it ought to be that coin.