Andre Helmstetter has lived in the Central District since 1998. He used to operate a small business in the neighborhood, Cafe Vega at 19th Avenue and East Yesler Way (it's now Broadcast Coffee), for two years, between 2006 and 2008. As everyone knows, in the '90s, the CD was transitioning from a predominantly black neighborhood to a white one. In the 1970s, the area was 73 percent black. Today, it is estimated that less than 20 percent of the population there is black. It will not be surprising to watch that figure drop down to 10 percent. That is a tremendous amount of change in a short period of time, and Helmstetter witnessed a good part of that change.
When he moved into the neighborhood, the number of black residents was about equal to the number of white residents, and black cultural institutions were still very present. Also, a lot of the problems associated with poverty, an economic condition imposed on blacks, were very visible. One of these problems, drug dealing, was particularly noticeable and occasionally erupted in violence. Poverty, crack addiction, and guns are not the best social mix.
Helmstetter, however, recently made a rather bold claim about the changes in the CD on his Facebook account. He posted that the drug dealers of the past were actually more polite than the "dog owners that have taken over the hood." I called him to talk about this interesting observation.
Helmstetter explained that, while running his cafe, the drug dealers minded their own business, left people not dealing with their business alone, and when he opened his cafe in the morning, there would often be drug dealers outside, but they would clear off from the corner when they saw him or come in and buy breakfast sandwiches. "They particularly liked jelly with their sandwiches."
The dog owners who have replaced dealers, on the other hand, are "self righteous, rude, and uncivil." (As you can see in that photo, Helmstetter is a dog owner.)
The polite drug dealers of old were almost always black, and the new and rude dog owners ("they leave dog crap everywhere") are, as far as he can tell, mostly white. Helmstetter is half black and half white, which in the US means he is black. "You know, they have lots and lots of dogs, which they walk a lot and often off leash. That's breaking the law, but they don't care. The dogs can just do what they want. It's unbelievable. Who do these people think they are? They always act as if everyone loves their dogs, or their dogs are treated as if they are more important than other people."
In the old days, we used to say: There goes the neighborhood. In the present cycle of gentrification, it seems we can say: The neighborhood has gone to the dogs.