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NAACP’s Linder says Austin’s black community still faces challenges

Monday, January 10, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Nelson Linder is a name familiar to those involved with city politics. Most recently, he presented a report to City Council on the current economic crisis facing Austin’s black community as vice chair of Austin’s African American Resource Advisory Commission. He is also President of Austin’s NAACP and an outspoken community leader in Austin’s African American community.

 

Linder has been present at some of Austin’s most contentious debates over the years. His forward criticism of police violence, gentrification and local government and work against economic and educational discrimination has made him a political lightning rod, earning him supporters and detractors alike.

 

Linder was born in central Georgia. After a three-year stint in the military, he came to Austin in 1980 to attend Huston Tillotson University and has remained here ever since.

 

“I was born in the segregated South, and folks like me had absolutely no opportunity, with the overt racism and lack of jobs,” said Linder. “I made a commitment to try and change things. I wanted to help people prepare themselves for this world we live in, to help address these kinds of issues and do so in a positive way. And that’s where my involvement came from: my birthplace, my responsibility, and an interest to help people try and be better people.”

 

As a community leader and advocate for Austin’s African American community, Linder has come under fire for expressing some unpopular opinions. He sees this as part and parcel of his responsibility.

 

“My role is to make sure that these problems are public issues, that public policy discussions are in people’s consciousness,” Linder said.

 

“I think we’ve had a lot of impact on a lot of issues, unfortunately sometimes we’ve played the role of antagonist,” Linder told In Fact Daily. “I think these are really human issues, but unfortunately when it comes to race, we bury our heads in the past even though it’s still a current issue. Many folks are uncomfortable addressing it.”

 

Linder, who has served as president of the Austin NAACP for 10 years, said he is proud of increasing the visibility of the group and its goals in the courts, school boards, and City Council. He cited as his other major accomplishment the success of a curriculum against police violence that the NAACP helped to write. “Now, overall, there is less deadly force used against African Americans in Austin compared to what it was five or ten years ago,” he said.

 

Linder spoke with In Fact Daily at Austin’s NAACP headquarters on East 12th Street. It is a building that also houses his insurance business. The place where it is most easy to find Linder is surrounded by local businesses, crime, and new development. Even physically, it seems that he is located at the heart of some of the more heated debates Austin faces about growth and development.

 

“I think gentrification is a nice term for a certain type of racism, because it’s fueled by policies that come from downtown,” said Linder. “It’s very unfortunate that the city is never really addressing the impact of these increased property values on people that can’t really afford them.”

 

“I think there is a lot of resentment, especially in East Austin, because people get treated differently. They feel the impact of gentrification. They see bicycle lanes on the street, but yet they can’t get money to rebuild buildings,” said Linder. “So you see people making political choices to favor certain people and it’s very obvious who they are favoring.”

 

Aside from the resentment that gentrification garners in the black community, the resultant shifting demographics in Austin signal a need for change to Linder, who believes that our current political system is antiquated.

 

“You can’t have a system any more with seven seats, with just one person that is black,” said Linder. “We have black folks in South Austin, North, Northwest and we need our system to represent the new changes. I think that’s the next big change for the city, to modernize the political system to reflect the current reality.”

 

When asked by In Fact Daily what the single most pressing issue facing Austin’s black community would be in the upcoming year, Linder was to-the-point. “I think the most pressing issue is going to be resolving some of the police misconduct cases here,” he said.

 

He specifically cited City Council’s recent rejection of a proposed $750,000 dollar settlement in the Nathaniel Sanders’ federal civil rights lawsuit.

 

“I think that by rejecting the settlement they created a lot of hostility,” stated Linder. “I think they would do well to try and solve those kinds of cases in a civil way. I think there is a perception here that black life matters less to people in power. Until we address that, there is going to be friction.”

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