Downtown Crenshaw Rising has taken its actions national, engaging in simultaneous protests in New York and L.A. to stop the sale of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza (Crenshaw Mall) involving international conglomerates that are business associates of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
For over a year, the Crenshaw Mall, a landmark Black economic and cultural hotspot that sits on 40 acres, has been the target of numerous outside White developers seeking to gentrify Black Los Angeles. In a tremendous act of Black self-determination, the nonprofit DCR was formed and has raised over $59.5 million dollars, including $34 million in philanthropy in the bank, identified a mission-aligned social impact financial backer, assembled a world-renowned development team, and with the community has crafted a plan to purchase, stabilize and redevelop the space into one that centers the needs of Black L.A. The effort, backed by over 300 community groups, including tenants unions, homeowners associations, artists, merchants, business organizations, labor, and some of the biggest names in philanthropy, is being called the most monumental community-driven development project in America. It has been featured in the New York Times, MSNBC and by the Brookings Institute.
“This is a genuine coming together to show how through collective ownership and solidarity economy principles we can uplift, not uproot our Black community,” said Damien Goodmon, Crenshaw-area resident and DCR Board Member.
Despite DCR submitting the highest offer of $115 million with the best terms and expressing a willingness to outbid any other bidder, the sellers awarded the bid to Harridge Development Group, a development firm with a troubling history of engaging in corrupt business practices, violating the rights of tenants and displacing communities of color. Harridge’s CEO David Schwartzman, who filed for personal bankruptcy, was the subject of #MeToo workplace sexual harassment lawsuit [at 1:00:58] where the victim alleged that the White developer made shocking racist statements and bragged about sleeping with Russian prostitutes.
“David Schwartzman is a cross between Donald Trump and Donald Sterling, who doesn’t belong anywhere near Crenshaw or any Black community anywhere,” said Niki Okuk, Board Chair of Downtown Crenshaw Rising.
Schwartzman’s financial backer is Soviet-born oligarch Leonard (Len) Blavatnik, who Kremlinologists have labeled a crony of Vladimir Putin. The billionaire oil tycoon is also a major financial supporter of Donald Trump. The richest man in the UK and owner of Warner Media Group, Blavatnik earned his fortune through ties to Russian security forces and law enforcement, which have earned him a spot on Putin’s List. His political contributions and donations to entities like Harvard, Carnegie Hall and Oxford have been widely characterized as a ploy to advance Russian interests.
The mall is being sold by Capri Urban Investors (CUI), a private equity firm that is funded by some of America’s largest public pension funds, including Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA), University of California Board of Regents, New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS), Teachers Retirement System of Texas, Teachers Retirement System of New York City (TRSNYC), Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions, Police & Fire Retirement System City of Detroit, and State of Michigan. CUI has contracted DWS, a subsidiary of the infamous Deutsche Bank, to conduct the sale, a task which civil rights organizations state that DWS has carried out in a racially discriminatory manner. Multiple civil rights groups, including the NAACP and Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, are appealing to Congresswoman Maxine Waters and taking steps towards legal action against the pension funds and Deutsche Bank citing the 1866 Civil Rights Act, the legal basis of Byron Allen’s recent Supreme Court case against Comcast.
“The right to self-determination for L.A.’s Black community is being thwarted by a racist developer, financially backed by a ‘crony of Putin,’ orchestrated by the bank friends of Donald Trump, operating under the authority of public pension funds. How in the world is it possible that a Black community can come together to raise a historic amount of money, submit the highest bid, assemble a world-renowned development team and still not be awarded the right to buy our mall? This is deep old-fashioned racism and an international scandal that should enrage the public,” said Rev. James Thomas of the NAACP.
DWS previously awarded the bid to two other White developers, CIM Group and LivWrk, both of which have strong ties to the Trump-Kushner family. In both instances, the Crenshaw community successfully organized and pressured the firms to walk away from the deal.
With a looming deadline for Schwartzman-Blavatnik to close on July 30, Crenshaw elders turned up the heat traveling to New York City to protest Blavatnik. Shouting “Keep the Kremlin out of Crenshaw!” the Grandmamas of Downtown Crenshaw protested outside Mr. Blavatnik’s Upper East Side luxury apartments, the office of his company Access Industries, (which is one floor below frequent Schwartzman financial backer Silverpeak that is suspected of being in the deal), Carnegie Hall that has Blavatnik on its board, and the offices of DWS. In L.A., protesters returned to the under construction Beverly Hills mansion of Schwartzman.
“As Black people we have overcome tremendous struggles in America and we will not stop, we will not rest until our community and our mall is in our hands,” said Jackie Ryan, a Board member of DCR and member of the Grandmamas of Downtown Crenshaw.
A press conference of civil rights leaders has been called outside the L.A. headquarters of Blavatnik’s Warner Music Group for Thursday, July 22nd at 10 am.
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