NEW YORK and LOS ANGELES, July 22, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Downtown Crenshaw Rising (DCR) 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 giving campaign donations before City Hall approval, sued for violating tenant rights and sued for violating civil rights. Harridge's CEO David Schwartzman, who filed for personal bankruptcy, was the subject a #MeToo workplace sexual harassment lawsuit (L.A. Superior Court Case BC296143) [at 1:00:58], where the plaintiff alleged he bragged about sleeping with Russian prostitutes, and made racist statements.
Schwartzman's financial backer is Soviet-born oil tycoon billionaire Leonard (Len) Blavatnik, who Kremlinologists have labeled a crony of Vladimir Putin. He's 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 LACERA, University of California Board of Regents, NYCERS, Texas Teachers and Teachers Retirement System of New York City. 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. Various groups, including the NAACP and Black Lives Matter-LA, 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 Donald Sterling-like 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.
Downtown Crenshaw, formally organized as Downtown Crenshaw Rising, is a Crenshaw community-based nonprofit community development corporation with over 2,300 members, and led by long-time residents and leaders in community development and community organizing. The professional development team includes some of America's top practitioners in the solidarity economy, the architecture firms that designed the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture and Equal Justice Initiative's National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and developers of some of America's most iconic projects, such as the rebuilding of the World Trade Center after 9/11.
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SOURCE Downtown Crenshaw Rising