ANTIOCH, Calif. (AP) - As more and more black renters began moving into this mostly white San Francisco Bay Area suburb a few years ago, neighbors started complaining about loud parties, mean pit bulls, blaring car radios, prostitution, drug dealing and muggings of schoolchildren.
In 2006, as the influx reached its peak, the police department formed a special crime-fighting unit to deal with the complaints, and authorities began cracking down on tenants in federally subsidized housing.
Now that police unit is the focus of lawsuits by black families who allege the city of 100,000 is orchestrating a campaign to drive them out.
"A lot of people are moving out here looking for a better place to live," said Karen Coleman, a mother of three who came here five years ago from a blighted neighborhood in nearby Pittsburg. "We are trying to raise our kids like everyone else. But they don't want us here."
City officials deny the allegations in the lawsuits, which were filed last spring and seek unspecified damages.
Across the country, similar tensions have simmered when federally subsidized renters escaped run-down housing projects and violent neighborhoods by moving to nicer communities in suburban Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles.
But the friction in Antioch is "hotter than elsewhere," said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development spokesman Larry Bush.
An increasing number of poor families receiving federal rental assistance have been moving here in recent years, partly because of the housing crisis.
A growing number of landlords were seeking a guaranteed source of revenue in a city hard-hit by foreclosures. They began offering their Antioch homes to low-income tenants in the HUD Section 8 housing program, which pays about two-thirds of every tenant's rent.
Between 2000 and 2007, Antioch's black population nearly doubled from 8,824 to 16,316. And the number of Antioch renters receiving federal subsidies climbed almost 50 percent between 2003 and 2007 to 1,582, the majority of them black.
Longtime homeowners complained that the new arrivals brought crime and other troubles. In 2006, violent crime in Antioch shot up about 19 percent from the year before, while property crime went down slightly.
"In some neighborhoods, it was complete madness," said longtime resident David Gilbert, a black retiree who organized the United Citizens of Better Neighborhoods watch group. "They were under siege."
So the Antioch police in mid-2006 created the Community Action Team, which focused on complaints of trouble at low-income renters' homes.
Police sent 315 complaints about subsidized tenants to the Contra Costa Housing Authority, which manages the federal program in the city, and urged the agency to evict many of them for lease violations such as drug use or gun possession. Lawyers for the tenants said 70 percent of the eviction recommendations were aimed at black renters. The housing authority turned down most of the requests.
Coleman said the police, after a complaint from a neighbor, showed up at her house one morning in 2007 to check on her husband, who was on parole for drunken driving. She said they searched the house and returned twice more that summer to try to find out whether the couple had violated any terms of their lease that could lead to eviction.
The Colemans were also slapped with a restraining order after a neighbor accused them of "continually harassing and threatening their family," according to court papers. The Colemans said a judge later rescinded the order.
Coleman and four other families are suing Antioch, accusing police of engaging in racial discrimination and conducting illegal searches without warrants. They have asked a federal judge to make their suit a class-action on behalf of hundreds of other black renters. Another family has filed a lawsuit accusing the city's leaders of waging a campaign of harassment to drive them out.
Police referred questions to the city attorney's office.
City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland denied any discrimination on the part of police and said officers were responding to crime reports in troubled neighborhoods when they discovered that a large number of the troublemakers were receiving federal subsidies.
"They are responding to real problems," Nerland said.
Joseph Villarreal, the housing authority chief, said the problems in Antioch mirror tensions seen nationally when poor renters move into neighborhoods they can afford only with government help.
"One of the goals of the programs is to de-concentrate poverty," Villarreal said. "There are just some people who don't want to spend public money that way."
Tensions like those afflicting Antioch have drawn scholars and law enforcement officials to debate whether crime follows subsidized renters out of the tenements to the suburbs.
Susan Popkin, a researcher at the nonprofit Urban Institute, said she does not believe that is the case. But the tensions, she said, are real.
"That can be a recipe for anxiety," she said. "It can really change the demographics of a neighborhood."
Murder rate jumps for black youths
WASHINGTON — The number of young black men and teenagers who either killed or were killed in shootings has risen at an alarming rate since 2000, a new study shows.
Being released today by criminologists at Northeastern University in Boston, it comes as FBI data show homicides have leveled off.
Not so for black teens, the youngest of whom saw dramatic increases in shooting deaths, the new report concluded.
The reduction in murder rates nationally has concealed a "worrisome divergence," said James Alan Fox, a criminal-justice professor who wrote the report with Marc Swatt.
And there are signs, they said, the racial gap will grow without new countermeasures like restoring police officers in the streets and creating social programs for poor youths.
The main racial difference involves ages 14 to 17. In 2000, 539 white and 851 black juveniles committed murder, the analysis of federal data showed. In 2007, the number for whites, 547, had barely changed, while it was 1,142, up 34 percent, for blacks.
The increase coincided with a rise in the number of slayings involving guns, Fox said. The number of young blacks who were victims of murder also rose in this period.
Nationwide, the number of murders and violent crimes overall dropped last year after increasing in 2005 and 2006, according to FBI annual data. Overall, however, murders have risen by about 8 percent between 2000 and 2007.
The FBI reported 10,067 arrests in murder and non-negligent manslaughter cases in 2007. Half of the people arrested, 5,078, were black. Almost 10 percent of black people arrested for murder were under age 18, the FBI data show.
"Although the overall rate of homicide in the United States remains relatively low, the landscape is quite different for countless Americans living, and some dying, in violence-infested neighborhoods," Fox said.
The report lays primary blame on cutbacks in federal support for community policing and juvenile crime prevention, reduced support for after-school and other social programs and a weakening of gun laws. Cuts in these areas have been felt most deeply in poor, black urban areas, Fox said.
But Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist, cautioned the change in murder rates was not large and did not yet show a clear trend. Western also said the impact of cuts in government spending on crime control would have to be studied on a city-by-city basis, and many other changes, including a sagging economy, could have affected murder rates.
Conservative criminologists place greater stress on the breakdown of black families, rather than cuts in government programs, in explaining the travails of black youths.
Much of the increase, experts say, is a product of gang activity, in midsize and large cities.
The heightened attention to security after Sept. 11 might, paradoxically, have contributed to a drop in crime-fighting.