An Eminent Threat?

Does the Supreme Court’s latest ruling on eminent domain pose an eminent threat to African American communities?

Anytime a law OKs “taking property that’s rightly one individual’s for the benefit of another, that’s not good,” says Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.). In Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court on June 23, 2005 ruled against homeowners in a 5-4 decision that upheld local governments’ ability to condemn homes for private development purposes. The Court affirmed that it was a permissible “public use” under the Fifth Amendment.

It’s especially a concern when “a lot of land located in the inner city and urban areas is prime for the taking,” says Thompson, ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.

This year, Thompson expects more bipartisan debates and resolutions calling to restrict the use of eminent domain for private development.

“Eminent domain has been used both to destroy and build black communities,” says Sheena Wright, president and CEO of Abyssinian Development Corp. in Harlem. “On one hand, it has been used to undermine our communities and displace us wholesale for private business interests.”

But in some areas, she says, it has removed blight and provided affordable housing, and commercial revitalization.

Damon Dorsey, president of the North Avenue Community Development Corp. in Milwaukee, agrees that eminent domain “expands the capacity to improve communities” by adding value and jobs to the area.

Beulah White, executive director of Five Rivers Community Development Corp. in Georgetown, South Carolina, worries, “African American landowners will become extinct due to escalating taxes, dubious court rulings, and land sales transactions.”