Gene Yeargin is the property manager of a trailer park in Northeast Houston. He lives there and says he likes it. It’s nice and quiet. The neighborhood also has no police presence.
The trailer park, Redwood Estates, lies outside the Houston city limits and does not receive Houston Police Department patrols. Yeargin says that constable patrol service for the park would cost $90,000 per officer.
University of Houston history professor Robert Buzzanco says that Americans have bought into a “class-less society” myth, and that the media downplays the existence of class in the United States.
“There’s also a massive white working-class, poverty class as well,” said Buzzanco. “The media would prefer to not talk about it.”
The leading scholar on the big media conglomerates, Ben Bagdikian, writes that the media are owned by a handful of super-wealthy upper-class men.
Yeargin is also a realtor. He’s sold homes for close to half-a-million dollars in areas of town such as Tanglewood and the Woodlands. He says that poorer police presence is not uncommon for lower-income communities.
“City police don’t go outside the city patrol,” said Yeargin. “The Harris County sheriffs, which are set to patrol here, are not allowed to go into private neighborhoods to patrol. And so what you have in neighborhoods is a third entity that has to be bought, and that’s the constable service.”
Yet even for a city as diverse as Houston, many people assume that minorities mostly populate the poorer neighborhoods.
“People will label you a Communist, a Marxists, a radical,” said Buzzanco. “There’s no question in the United States that there is at the top level a group of people that have power and wealth.”
According to Buzzanco, this trend to concentrated wealth is not a new trend. Buzzanco says that the upper-class in the United States has always found ways to manipulate the lower classes, often using race as a tool.
“That’s one way to divide people,” said Buzzanco. “Class would be a unifying theme. People who are black, white, brown, yellow, whatever, could be part of this same process. We’re all poor. We’re working people. We don’t have wealth. We’re paid low wages. We work a long time. We don’t get overtime. We don’t get good health care.”
Buzzanco says that instead of being united by class, people often identify themselves by race and choose to separate themselves by race. He believes the super-wealthy, upper, “ruling” class encourages it.
“It’s clearly in the benefit of the people who run America to keep us thinking that way,” said Buzzanco. “Because then, we divide.”
Yeargin says that Houston is one of the most racially diverse cities he has lived in. There are more than five different languages spoken in the community surrounding his home, ranging from Arabic to Yiddish.
“As a realtor it’s very typical for me to get a client that’s looking to buy a house and they’ll say, particularly if they’re white, ‘I want to be in a good neighorhood.’ I want to be in a white neighborhood,” said Yeargin. “Well, I don’t know where that exists in Harris County.”
Yeargin says that class was even an issue with the local school district. He says that the school district is supposed to hire a constable program to be the nearby, on-campus security. Constables are supposed to do two drive-by patrols each week. He says that in reality they get two drive-by patrols per year.
“That’s a huge thing. We took it up with the school district and they basically told us that because we were poor, that crime was high out here and it wasn’t worth their efforts,” said Yeargin.
The average household income for residents of Redwood
Estates is $24,000 a year. Many of these households are families with more than one child. They have essentially no disposable income after paying for rent, food and the basics.
“There’s no room to put money aside for kids, for health care, for retirement and people know that,” said Yeargin. “By the time they’re in their 30s or 40s, they know they’re never gonna get to retire.”
Buzzanco says that Americans might become more aware of class in light of recent events such as the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
“I think people realize this was a class issue,” said Buzzanco. “The government for so long had neglected and abandoned doing anything for these people. So I think for the first time people woke up.”