|In America, a Pennsauken Township is a predominantly white city consumed by diversity, that outside observers aren't allowed to point out/notice was destroyed by diversity|
Pennsauken's plan to post cops at border checkpoints next month, stopping every third or fourth car leaving Camden, has erupted in border skirmishing.
Pennsauken's public safety director says the checkpoint idea is to ''discourage, diminish and impede the flow of criminal activity into or through Pennsauken."
To the mayor of Camden, New Jersey's most downtrodden city, the Pennsauken police checkpoints are insulting, possibly illegal and probably foolish.
"Sure, we have a small percentage of irresponsible people," said Mayor Arnold Webster. "But most of our people are decent people. To make a blanket suggestion that ours is a community full of criminals and undesirable people is irresponsible and hurtful."
Starting Aug. 1, Pennsauken plans to station some of its 78 cops at borders with Camden, stopping every third or fourth car leaving the city. Motorists would have to submit to checks of their license, registration and insurance. Outstanding arrest warrants or plain-view fruits of crime would land them in instant trouble.
Cars could leave Pennsauken freely. Pedestrians could stroll across the border unimpeded, in either direction.
Webster said he fears Pennsauken's idea might spread to his six other suburban neighbors. "This could . . . be the worst case of racism you have ever seen," he said.
|The Black Undertow concept in action|
Police trying to reduce crime in this predominantly white suburb of Camden, New Jersey's poorest city, came under attack Thursday for a plan to make random stops of drivers coming from its urban neighbor.
''They should also check the people going into Camden from Pennsauken,'' said Roosevelt Nesmith, NAACP coordinator for southern New Jersey. ''Criminals travel both ways.''
Nesmith and others said the plan had a racist tinge and would be challenged as unconstitutional if the Pennsauken safety director, Steven Petrillo, goes ahead with it.
Petrillo said the idea was in response to years of car thefts, burglaries and robberies in neighborhoods bordering Camden, an impoverished city of 87,000 people on the Delaware River across from Philadelphia.
Petrillo initially proposed checkpoints at announced spots near the border, with every third or fourth car stopped.
''We want to get pro-active in terms of giving residents confidence in security and the safety of their streets and their homes,'' he said.
Following the criticism, however, Petrillo said the checkpoints likely would be scaled back to stops of drivers with motor vehicle violations, such as expired car registration or burned out license plate lights.
Petrillo hadn't decided when to put checkpoints into effect. He plans to organize meetings with residents.
''This is just an idea, a concept,'' he said. ''We are open to discussion.''
Mayor Geri P. Tabako did not immediately return a telephone call Thursday.
Camden is 56 percent black and 31 percent Hispanic, while Pennsauken, which has a population of about 35,000, is 80 percent white.
Pennsauken is not the first community to attempt to curb crime by protecting its borders. Despite charges of racism, Maplewood earlier this year installed five iron gates around a neighborhood that borders predominantly black Newark.
Edward Martone, executive director of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the proposed stops in Pennsauken don't address a specific need, such as sobriety checkpoints for drunken driving.
''Whether you're pulling over every black person or every Chevrolet, it still means that you're stopping and looking into the cars of innocent people to find the guilty,'' he said. ''Police should not be stopping and searching people without probable cause.''
When Angela Freeman moved to Pennsauken in the mid-1980s, she was among a wave of black teachers hired to reflect the township's changing racial demographics.
The idea was that African American educators could better relate to the small but growing number of black students at the high school. Freeman felt welcome enough, but she noticed that any discussion of race was conducted in code, with teachers and administrators avoiding words like black and white.
It was always "the school is changing," Freeman said. "One day I said, 'What do you mean?' and there was silence. But I knew what they meant."
These days, the Camden County inner-ring suburb - where minorities, including significant numbers of Latinos and Asians, are now half of the population - is engaged in a public discussion about the role of race in its future.
The issue is how to stanch the outflow of the town's white residents while creating a welcoming environment for everyone.
Fifteen years ago, residents began an effort to try to stem the "white flight" that had afflicted many U.S. cities in the 1960s and '70s and was threatening Pennsauken. The strategy, as refined over the years: Market the town's diversity as an asset.
Tours led by the township for prospective residents emphasize Pennsauken's multiculturalism, and new-resident meetings encourage interaction across racial and class lines.
Some call Pennsauken's forthright approach a refreshing change from the suburban norm.
"The town has developed a reputation for openness," Freeman said. "People find it much more accepting. It's easier to move into a community and see yourself."
In 1980, white residents accounted for 91 percent of Pennsauken's population. By 2000, 60 percent of the town's 36,000 residents were white. In those 20 years, there had been a doubling of minority residents, drawn by the same relatively low property taxes and proximity to Philadelphia that had attracted families for decades.
In 1994, at the height of the white exodus - and the year the township elected its first black councilman - local residents Lynn Cummings and Harold Adams created the grassroots group Neighbors Empowering Pennsauken (NEP) to improve relations between established residents and the minority families moving in.
In 2001, the township created a commission on integration, phased out NEP, and committed public money to billboards and other efforts designed to market Pennsauken's diversity to white families looking for an alternative to more homogenous suburbs.
"People were asking why I, a black man, wanted more white people living here. It wasn't an easy sell," said Adams, 50, a real estate assessor. "We were coming at it from a practical standpoint."
According to studies, he said, the market value of homes tends to decline as more minorities move into a neighborhood. That translates into lower revenue from property taxes.
"When a town gets below 50 percent white, it makes it very difficult for the town to maintain services," Adams said.
That spiraling down is mostly the result of paranoia, says Nathaniel Norment Jr., chairman of the African American Studies department at Temple University.
"It's something that's created based on white people's fear of being close to black people," Norment said. "There's this myth we have that blacks' moving in will change the social environment."
Not everyone in Pennsauken has supported the focus on maintaining the community's white population.
"Some people of color had feelings that if whites wanted to leave and not live next to people of color, you should let them do as they want to do," said resident Darlene Hannah-Collins, 53, who is black.
But Pennsauken has received no shortage of publicity. Most recently, Adams, Cummings, and some of their neighbors were featured on the PBS documentary The New Metropolis, which looked at the issues of "first-ring" suburbs, those closest to urban centers, through the experiences of Pennsauken and two towns in southern Ohio.
The question hanging over the town is whether the steps it has taken have slowed the departure of the nonminority population.
According to a 2008 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau, the township's white population has declined by 22 percent since 2000. The census conducted this year will be more definitive.
Eric Dobson, a planning consultant who has done work for the township and sits on the school board, said the preliminary census numbers indicated what he already knew.
On the computer screen in his office, he scrolled through mortgage data and property values, neighborhood by neighborhood, and saw a continuation of trends he first noticed in the 1990s.
"When you see the low property values, you can figure people of color are living there," Dobson said. "It's troubling when you have an overwhelming number of one particular race buying in a place. That's the sign of moving toward segregation."
At Pennsauken High School, white students now make up 17 percent of the enrollment. The disparity between the school's racial makeup and that of the town is partly a reflection of Pennsauken's white population being older.
But another reason is that many white families send their children to private school, say teachers and students.
"The school has this bad reputation, but it's not right," said Lorresiki Collado, a 17-year-old senior whose family is from the Dominican Republic. "We beat the Catholic schools up in the math competition, but some of the students here don't work, so our test scores are low."
Fifty-six percent of Pennsauken High students failed to meet basic proficiency standards in math last year and 34 percent failed to do so in English - 5 and 7 percentage points below the state averages. School officials attributed the scores to the influx of students who had not passed through Pennsauken's elementary and middle school programs.
For those involved in the integration effort, there is a consensus that however many white families have departed, more would have left had nothing been done.
Among them is Mayor Rick Taylor, the first black man elected to the township council.
"Any time a town changes complexion, there's always people that are going to say that it's going to hell in a handbasket. But we fought that. We had some Realtors running the old fear game, and we put them on notice," Taylor said.
"We might not be progressing as much as we need to, but we're not sinking. That's something."
The lesson is simple: without whites, you don't have the basis for a city. When you have an abundance of whites, you have a demand by non-whites to have what whites have.