HOUSTON – Whitney Hanzik received a surprise notification on her cell phone this summer. There was a stab near her home and one person was injured. Then she looked outside and saw a helicopter flying over her suburb of Houston.
Hanzik, a 35-year-old mother who homeschools her three children, wanted to know if a dangerous person was at large. So she logged into the Prestonwood Forest Neighbors & Friends Facebook group.
“Can anyone check, or does anyone have more details?” she posted along with a picture of the crime alert.
Hanzik, who grew up in Prestonwood Forest and withdrawn as an adult, hadn̵
A longtime resident, an elderly white woman, complained that it was further evidence that the area around Prestonwood, a subdivision developed in the 1970s, according to several residents who had read the comment, which has now been deleted, into transformed into a “hood”.
This sparked allegations of racism among some residents, including a black couple who said they never really felt at home in the mostly white but slowly diversifying neighborhood. These posts were followed by several white residents who said they could not understand why people were dealing with races.
Fifty-three comments later, Hanzik flipped through the responses in disbelief.
“I just wanted to know what was going on,” she said of the sting, which turned out to be linked to a domestic argument at a nearby apartment complex. “I have three children at home alone. I just want to know that the area is safe, right? And when someone commented, everything turned for the worst.”
But it wasn’t the first or last time this year that the Prestonwood Forest Facebook community community broke up into a heated argument over crime, politics, and race. And the incident was by no means unique to this one division in Texas.
Similar feuds have been blown up in suburban communities across the country in recent months.
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In Texas and across the country, Democrats are spending tens of millions of dollars winning votes in neighborhoods like Prestonwood Forest – once solid Republican suburban communities that have grown a little more democratic since President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.
In response, Trump and other Republican leaders have addressed the fears of some white suburbs directly, claiming without evidence that former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats are trying to “get rid of the suburbs.” Last month, before Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis turned the president’s race on its head, his campaign sent a text message warning millions of supporters that members of the Antifa, a far-left protest movement, would “attack your homes” if Biden would be chosen.
Allen West, Texas GOP Chairman, a former Florida Congressman, confirmed in an interview that crime fears are central to his party’s strategy in the fast-growing suburbs of Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. West, who is black, said promises by some Democrats to cut police funding are driving record numbers of “suburban white women” to buying guns, which he believes is a good sign for Republicans. (When asked for evidence to support the claim, a Texas GOP spokesperson posted 2017 and 2018 articles published long before the phrase “Defund the Police” was spread, showing that more women of all races were being killed and more blacks in particular had applied for hidden pistol permits.)
“I think if you make the comparison and look at what I call the rule of law and the mob rule, people will pay attention,” West said. “And so I believe that the left is certainly putting a lot of money into this right now. But that won’t get people to vote for a message that is detrimental to the future of the great state of Texas.”
However, in interviews with several residents of Prestonwood Forest, crime and safety were not listed as a primary concern. These voters said they were more concerned about health care, the economy and the struggle to validate a new Supreme Court justice.
Elizabeth Simas, a professor of political science at the University of Houston who lives in the same congressional district as Prestonwood Forest, said Trump’s remarks about the Democrats’ desire to “destroy suburbs” were “frankly a very thinly veiled racism.”
“He’s making a very, very clear racist appeal,” said Simas, who is white. “I mean, he’s talking about suburbs in what are probably the most stereotypical houses of the 1950s and 1960s, with white cookie cutters, where a couple of mothers stay home in their lovely dresses and aprons and a cocktail waits for husbands to come home. And that’s just not the case. They are very different communities. “
This is especially true, says Simas, in the booming communities around Houston, one of the fastest growing and most diverse regions in the country.