Why Republicans Tapped Gun-Toting Couple to Deliver Trump’s Rallying Cry on Suburbs

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The couple who became famous for brandishing firearms at Black Lives Matter protesters were given a platform at the Republican National Convention to speak to a subject that has become central to President Donald Trump’s re-election bid: the suburbs.

Mark and Patricia McCloskey,who face felony charges for waving their guns at demonstrators who were passing their St. Louis mansion, made a briefaddress arguing that Democrats aim to put a stop to the suburban way of life. “They want to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family home zoning,” Patricia McCloskey said. “This forced rezoning would bring crime, lawlessness, and low-quality apartments into now-thriving suburban neighborhoods.”

By casting the McCloskeys as the face of the Trump administration’s defense of suburbia, the GOP reveals its true target. After all, the couple doesn’t live in the suburbs: They live in the vibrant and relatively dense Central West End neighborhood in St. Louis. When they stood on the terrace of their “Midwestern palazzo” with weapons drawn, they weren’t guarding it against city planners. Yet in their address, they conflate the prospect of more housing with a threat of violence, and respond in kind. By evoking the Second Amendment in the same breath as they projected their right to live in an exclusive neighborhood, the McCloskeys raised the stakes of contemporary debates about zoning — pointing backward to the bloody history of racial integration in America.

“What you saw happen to us, could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country,” Patricia McCloskey said, as if their home had been upzoned by an angry mob.

This has been a summer of extraordinary political saber-rattling surrounding suburbia. The conservative chorus that progressives yearn to “abolish the suburbs” has echoed since late June, when the president intervened tostop the enforcement of a fair housing rule that requires states and localities to try to end segregation in their communities. In July, the Trump administration eliminated the Obama-era protocol for enforcing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, reverting to the lax standard on segregation that had held previously for decades. A move by New York RepresentativeAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez to defund the rule notwithstanding, Trump has since taken a victory lap on his efforts to shore up the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream.”

Yet judging by the McCloskeys’ dire intonation, this existential threat still stands. That’s a false reading of what the former AFFH rule would require of “quiet” communities like theirs. The Obama-era rule, which fulfilled the Fair Housing Act mandate by requiring communities to assess their patterns of segregation, was designed to ensure that localities aren’t using federal housing dollars to build up racial barriers. Concentrating tax credits for low-income housing in Black neighborhoods is the kind of practice that the 1968 mandate was meant to short circuit, and the AFFH made it possible to identify these discriminatory practices. Nothing in the rule prevents the McCloskeys from patrolling the grounds of their mansion with guns. But the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made it unconstitutional for St. Louis to guarantee the McCloskeys the power to determine who their neighbors are.

While they don’t live in a suburb, the McCloskeys do live in an area zoned for single-family homes. But their neighborhood is one pocket of private streets, adjacent to Forest Park and the St. Louis Zoo, that falls within a much broader area of classic mid-rise apartment buildings in the city’s Central West End. The historic district in which the McCloskey’s Portland Place mansion is located ischaracterized principally by condos and apartments. And Central West End derives a great deal of value from the vibrant urban texture of its upscale shopping districts, deluxe bistros, and yes, housing density. For better or for worse, one single nearby condo building — Chase Park Plaza, a tower that anchors the neighborhood — has agreater assessed value than the residential value of entire neighborhoods across St. Louis. 

As The New York Times reported on Tuesday, Black homeowners struggle to achieve the same assessment values as their white counterparts, even in mixed neighborhoods. That is just one of the markers of structural racism in lending, resources and amenities that still persists especially inhistorically redlined areas, even after the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. St. Louis is an intensely segregated city, one divided along racial lines defended by actual physical barriers. And it falls within acounty defined by dozens of segregated municipalities. Today, more than 50 years after the end of de jure segregation, single-family zoning frames the areas of de facto segregation in St. Louis and many other cities.

Stoking fears that Democrats might pursue policies to promote integration in exclusive neighborhoods appears to be part of Trump’s pitch for re-election. When Patricia McCloskey warned that eliminating single-family zoning would bring “crime, lawlessness, and low-quality apartments” into suburban neighborhoods, she spoke as if those are three of a kind. In her own neighborhood, though, multi-family buildings aren’t a source of blight but rather a pretty good indicator of value. And she and her husband are the Portland Place residents who have been charged with breaking the law.

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