While it may be shocking and alarming to many, a recent study highlighted a major sore for the city of Nashville. The ‘It City,’ as a whole, may be surprised but not the residents who live in zip code 37208 where a national study by the Brooking Institution found North Nashville ranked number one in the nation for most incarcerations.
The study listed 40 zip codes nationally that contained the highest incarceration rates, finding that 14% of the residents in zip code 37208 are incarcerated and that 42% of the children in the neighborhood were living in poverty.
While there may be a multitude of factors contributing to this discovery, there are two distinct conclusions to be deducted by studying the find as it relates to North Nashville. One is that zip code 37208 is saturated with an overabundance of crime, and secondly it is being dealt with excessive force driven by the current gentrification taking place in that area.
It is kind of sad when many indigenous residents of 37208 stated they felt their community was overlooked or ignored because they were basically considered a predominately Black neighborhood. It is only when there is an insurgence of Whites moving into the area due to gentrification that there seems a push to eliminate the negative element from the neighborhood—contributing to the high incarceration rates in the North Nashville community.
While there is no acceptable excuse for selling drugs, gang affiliation, or criminal activity terrorizing communities, we all know that one of the major factors associated with these negative behaviors is poverty. And we all know that poverty is prevalent in many Black neighborhoods due to unfair and discriminatory treatment and inequity towards people of color, relegating many people of color to an economic, social and political disadvantage. While this condition can be overcome, it is often a slow and complicated process when so many of the residents feel totally hopeless and disenfranchised.
All too often it is about removing the human eyesores temporarily or permanently from the community (by way of incarceration) instead of working on positive and productive ways to eliminate the cancer therapeutically through more effective measures like extensive individual or group counseling or with extensive drug treatment facilities.
We must not forget that job-training programs are necessary to offer skills and opportunities to those lacking secondary educational advantages, as well as jobs for those once incarcerated who have paid their debt to society. They too need a decent living wage. We must be aware that making it hard for those once incarcerated to find jobs only exacerbates the problem contributing to incidivism in the criminal justice system. This is not dismissing the work that some programs do to help combat incarceration, including: Opportunity Now, The Financial Empowerment Center, Metro’s School’s Community Achieves Program, the Family Center, and Project Return. There is a myriad of businesses, agencies, and support groups working to reform the criminal justice system that all too often penalizes those even after they have served their time.
I honestly believe that many African Americans like myself are staunch supporters of law and order and the right for everyone to feel safe and protected in their communities. However, I don’t feel inhabitants in predominately Black neighborhoods should be intentionally and disproportionately targeted and harassed by the mere fact of their color. It will be interesting to watch the efforts to eradicate this negative sore in zip code 37208 found in North Nashville. Unfortunately, gentrification is apt to push those formerly incarcerated people of color to the outskirts of town or to other counties where the cost of living is cheaper.
Let’s watch and see how the city deals with this national embarrassment. The truth is that people in the community would become more empowered by recognizing and helping to tackle and eradicate the problems plaguing their community.