Gentrification and its Potential Role in the Austin, Texas Explosions

Austin, Texas has been growing exponentially in recent years. In fact, Austin was ranked as the 2nd fastest growing city in the nation from 2010 through 2015. Its population now sits at a whopping 931,830, with a combined population of its five-county metropolitan area rounding out to about 2 million. What people fail to realize though, is that this population growth comes at an incredible cost to Austin families. These families are largely people of color and are being forced out of their homes as property taxes skyrocket to make room for more lofty apartments and posh restaurants. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the gentrification of Austin, Texas.

I was born in Austin and lived there for about five years in what is locally referred to as East Austin. It is a generally poorer, more culturally diverse area of Austin that serves as home to thousands. In the 1920’s, when segregation was still federal law, the part of Austin east of the major interstate I-35 was specifically designated for African-Americans and Latinos. In generations since then, families have rooted themselves in close-knit communities that were widely isolated from the wealthier, whiter residents of Austin. Following desegregation, the area was still largely separate from the rest of the city. Beginning roughly in the year 2000, properties in East Austin became increasingly available to “outside” buyers – low sale prices, cheap rent, and convenient location near downtown attracted a huge influx of buyers. These buyers are the ones that have transformed many of Austin’s cultural districts into high-end, “hip” destinations for the growing populations of upper-middle-class white people. Audrey Larcher of the

In generations since then, families have rooted themselves in close-knit communities that were widely isolated from the wealthier, whiter residents of Austin. Following desegregation, the area was still largely separate from the rest of the city. Beginning roughly in the year 2000, properties in East Austin became increasingly available to “outside” buyers – low sale prices, cheap rent, and convenient location near downtown attracted a huge influx of buyers. These buyers are the ones that have transformed many of Austin’s cultural districts into high-end, “hip” destinations for the growing populations of upper-middle-class white people. Audrey Larcher of the Daily Texan wrote,

“Our admiration of quirky homes and love for trendy cafés is directly linked to other people’s displacement. Developers are profiting off of cheap property that they can easily flip and sell. While we celebrate Austin’s ‘weird’ vibes, those who worked to cultivate that culture are not able to partake in it.”

Where does that leave the native locals? Struggling to maintain their homes, or being forced to move into one of several surrounding suburban communities.

Now that you are aware of the situation, we can discuss the explosions and how these two matters relate. There have been four explosions involving fake packages being left on people’s doorsteps. The first incident occurred on March 2nd, where a bomb disguised as a package detonated at the home of Anthony Stephan House, age 39. He later died of his injuries. The second and third blasts both occurred on March 12th. Draylen Mason, a 17-year-old student and bassist, was killed at his home in the East MLK neighborhood after opening a package bomb. Just a few miles away, another bomb exploded and injured a 75-year-old Hispanic woman (who has not been identified by name). The fourth and most recent explosion was actually not delivered to anyone’s home but was instead left on the side of the road with a tripwire. Two men were injured when they activated it but were not killed.

Anthony Stephan House was killed in the first of four bombings to rock Austin.

Draylen Mason was a promising student and bassist in a youth orchestra.

 Top: Anthony Stephan House, age 39. Bottom: Draylen Mason, age 17. Photo Credit: CNN. 

Police authorities say that these bombings are all connected, with a “serial bomber” at play.  “We believe that the recent explosive incidents that have occurred in the city of Austin were meant to send a message,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said to CNN. Many groups have speculated that these attacks are racially motivated since the two men killed were African-American and the woman attacked was Hispanic. The last two men afflicted by the fourth bomb were white, and the bomb was located in a more affluent neighborhood in West Austin.

That explosion seems to be an outlier from the first three but still seems to be a part of the same disturbing message. Is someone trying to send a message to the minority communities of Austin? According to CNN, “Three members of the Congressional Black Caucus called Monday for federal officials to classify the bombings as terrorist attacks and determine whether they are ‘ideologically or racially motivated.'” Although officials have not discovered a motive, they are not ruling out the possibility of these bombings being hate crimes.

As Austin continues to push its native communities to the side to make way for further metropolitan development, many are concerned for the safety of minority groups. The fear and intimidation of these package bombs is very real, particularly for people of color living in Austin. However, Austin residents remain cautious and courageous, unwavering in the face of this heinous terrorism.

 

UPDATE: March 20th marked a fifth bombing at a local Goodwill, where one employee was injured. On March 21st, the bomber was apprehended by law enforcement and killed himself using his own bomb. He has been identified as a 24-year-old white male from Pflugerville, Texas. He has not been named at this time.

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