LAST WEEK, a federal jury awarded $34,000 to developer Ori Feibush, who said that Councilman Kenyatta Johnson blocked Feibush's purchase of two parcels of land in the South Philadelphia area Johnson represents.
Though Johnson cleared the way for Feibush to purchase six other pieces of land, Feibush claimed Johnson blocked his purchase of the two parcels for political reasons. The court agreed, and Johnson says the ruling will be appealed.
But the ruling was about more than a fight between Johnson, a sitting councilman, and Feibush, a candidate who unsuccessfully ran against him.
The ruling was about crippling councilmanic prerogative, a City Council tradition that gives District members of Council such as Johnson veto power over land use in their districts. The ruling was about gentrification - replacing poor residents who are often minorities with richer residents who are often white.
The ruling, in short, was about power.
It was about paving the way for developers to have unfettered access to communities where land values are skyrocketing after decades of segregation and disinvestment.
It's ironic, really, because the very forces that pushed black and brown residents into once-racially isolated and poor communities such as Point Breeze, in South Philadelphia, are now warring with one another to decide how quickly those residents are pushed out.
Why do black Philadelphians mistrust the motives of those who claim to want to improve our communities through development? We've seen this game before, and we know that when white residents begin to move in, black residents are almost always pushed out.
Take, for example, the creation of University City, which took place with the assistance of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. The project led to the displacement of an entire community called the Black Bottom.
In public, they called such wholesale development urban renewal, but privately, it had a much uglier moniker - Negro removal.
This kind of displacement and racial targeting is just part of a pattern that has led to what remains a largely segregated housing market, not only in Philadelphia, but nationally.
And according to a 1973 document from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: "Segregated patterns of residency (didn't develop) spontaneously. They have been influenced by a variety of public and private forces."
Those forces were many, according to the document, and they came from every sector.
The National Association of Real Estate Boards, which said blacks and foreigners posed a threat to property values, warned Realtors not to bring "undesirables" into white communities.
Developers excluded black families from the giant subdivisions they built during the post-World War II housing boom.
Lenders refused to finance builders who wanted to build housing that would welcome blacks or Asians. They also redlined minority communities, refusing to give loans to those who lived there.
Local and state governments used zoning ordinances to maintain segregated housing, and when such ordinances were outlawed, state courts helped private property owners to enforce racially restrictive covenants-clauses in home deeds that forbade homeowners from selling their homes to nonwhites.
The federal government's Home Owners Loan Corp., meant to assist the refinancing of homes foreclosed upon during the Great Depression, gave only 2 percent of its 1 million loans to nonwhites. And the Federal Housing Administration had a manual stating that neighborhood stability depended upon maintaining racial classes.
So excuse us black folk if many of us refuse to trust the system when it comes to housing. We've spent decades watching the private and public sectors work together to deny us access, while providing every advantage to whites.
Have things changed? Yes they have, but residential segregation remains high between blacks and whites, according to a Stanford study released this year.
And in Philadelphia, where policies such as the 10-year tax abatement allow richer, whiter residents to pay less in taxes than their poorer neighbors, the disparity is getting worse.
We must do better than this, and it starts with the recognition that race has always been an underlying factor in housing policy in America.
We can't let development decisions rest in the hands of developers such as Ori Feibush. Nor can we depend solely on the discretion of Council members such as Kenyatta Johnson.
We must demand accountability from every entity involved in Philadelphia's land use. History tells us what happens when we don't.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM).