To Mayor Johnson Lary and the City Council of Stonecrest,
My name is Reverend Michael Malcom, and I am the Founder and Executive Director of the People’s Justice Council. I am also the Environmental Justice Representative for the Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ.
First, congratulations on your success in becoming a city. It takes strong leadership and insight to manifest a vision of such magnitude. I recently read this article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that quoted you as saying, “The city was built on three sectors: Industrial, commercial and residential.”
It went on to say,
“The long and short of it is, we don’t discriminate against either one of those three sectors,” Lary said, adding that developers have the right to use industrial land for an industrial purpose. The city has several large pockets of land that have been zoned industrial since before Stonecrest was formed, some of which about neighborhoods.
I am writing you this open letter for two reasons. First, I’ve been told that you will not meet with the residents of Stonecrest (this was evidenced by your absence from the meeting last night). Second, I experienced defensiveness and blame shifting from some of your city council members in the community meeting this evening.
I attended an evening meeting on July 30th between the City Council and the residents of Stonecrest. Last, I viewed a YouTube video where you said you wanted to dispel the idiotic notion that Stonecrest was created as a dumping ground for Black people: "You have got to be a complete ass to think that. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read."
While I find these things problematic, I also think that it presents an opportunity to educate. This evening Councilman Jimmy Clanton, Jr said that he would not refer to what is happening to this community as environmental racism. I would like to take the time to help you all to understand environmental racism in hopes that you will adjust your vision to include protecting the people you serve and ensuring that the planet is habitable for the future generations of Stonecrest.
In 1987, the United Church of Christ released Toxic Waste and Race. It was in this report that Rev Dr Benjamin Chavis coined the phrase, “environmental racism.” This report concludes that toxic waste was primarily located in poor black communities. Dr Robert Bullard would go to prove this to be the case for all industrial pollution. Industrial pollution follows the path of least resistance. Dr Bullard would go on to show us that protections are not equal. Industrial pollution follows the path of least resistance. Therefore, if you are not fighting to protect your 97% black community, no one else will.
The City of Lithonia was once an up and coming predominantly black middle-class suburb of Dekalb County. However, the environmental assault on Lithonia has led to depreciated property value, under-resourced schools, and increased poverty. Lithonia should serve as a lesson that an open invitation to industrial pollution does not work for black communities.
Yet is not that the point? Isn’t it the point of locating pollution in communities of color? In this nation, we subsidize industry to locate in black, indigenous, people of color communities. These subsidies rob the community of the taxes that are needed to invest in the community. The property value is driven down, and the poverty level rises. Then, the blame is shifted on the community and their calls of injustice are, “idiotic notions” and “asses.”
I plead with you to reconsider the physical, mental, and emotional harm that you are ushering into the community that you were elected to protect and provide for. If you choose to maintain your position of industry being the “third leg on your stool” become a leader in renewables. Become a shining example of how a green infrastructure can boost your economy, create a healthier environment, and make a moral statement on how to protect your residents. Instead of a concrete facility and waste dump, try solar farms and green spaces. As a Christian minister, I was glad to hear the City Council meeting opened in prayer. I would like to add to that prayer, that God will allow justice to run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Peace, Love and Light,
Rev Michael Malcom, MDiv MBA
Rev Michael Malcom is the founder and Executive Director of the People’s Justice Council. The People’s Justice Council engages and equips communities with tools and access to build power from the grassroots up to fight for change at the policy level.