When tragedy happens in working class communities, capitalism is linked to its root cause. On Dec. 29, 2017, 12 people lost their lives in a raging fire in the Little Italy section of the Bronx in New York City. The neighborhood, comprised almost entirely of people of color, the majority being Black and Latino, was left in mourning.
Media reports claim that the fire was started by a three-year-old boy playing with the stove. In a frantic attempt to escape the blaze, the mother of the young child grabbed him and her two-year-old and ran out, leaving their front door ajar.
The local media, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, and the Fire Department of New York have shifted the blame of this deadly fire on a frightened parent not closing her door while evading the flames. It is, of course, worth mentioning that the century-old building was not fire proof and had active fire safety violations on the building’s first floor for broken smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
When asked about the violations, Mayor De Blasio responded that the violations were “unrelated ” to the incident.
Members of the Justice Center en el Barrio and the Party for Socialism and Liberation went out to talk to members of this Bronx community on Jan. 2. Someone who lived in a nearby building explained that the heat in their building was not the strongest. They would often wear layers of clothing in their house if it was really cold. This was not unusual in this neighborhood. The night of the fire was the coldest night of 2017, with wind chill making it feel like -10 degrees F.
At the site of the fire were about two dozen people who were there to show support and offer supplies to survivors. They held a prayer circle and vigil in honor of the victims.
Throughout the week, people from all over the city and adjacent states in fact wanted to provide support to the families with donations of food, clothing and other items. They were met with confusion and uncertainty, as the relief effort was poorly coordinated by the city government, and it was not clear where they should leave their donations.
Poor and working people are blamed for their circumstances in every instance under capitalism. High casualty fires do not generally happen in affluent communities. Buildings there are up to code for fire safety, and these areas have much faster emergency response rates from city agencies.
It is insulting for the Mayor and his supporters to shift the blame for this tragic incident on a worker when they are the ones who are not enforcing fire codes. Hundred-year-old buildings are not fire-proof, and therefore are not safe for working people and their families. Meanwhile, rents in New York City are steadily on the rise.