4 Disturbing Revelations in the Wake of Ferguson

A man backs away as law enforcement officials close in on him and eventually detain him during protests over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by a police officer, in Ferguson, Mo.The tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri the past month have brought four important issues into sharp focus that normally do not receive much notice.

1) Blacks continue to be excluded from mainstream America.

Nearly two years ago Nikole Hannah-Jones published a revealing in-depth article for ProPublica  in which she reported that following the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act George Romney, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Nixon, began developing a program “to pressure predominantly white communities to build more affordable housing and end discriminatory zoning practices.” As she reports,

George RomneyRomney … viewed the blighted black ghettos as a root cause of the inner-city riots of the 1960s. “Equal opportunity for all Americans in education and housing is essential if we are going to keep our nation from being torn apart,” he wrote in talking points he drew up for a meeting with the president.

Romney’s stance made him a pariah within the administration. Nixon shut down the program, refused to meet with his housing secretary and finally drove him from the Cabinet.

She continues,

Nixon’s vision for America largely came to pass and the costs have been steep. More than 20 years of research has implicated residential segregation in virtually every aspect of racial inequality, from higher unemployment rates for African-Americans, to poorer health care, to elevated infant mortality rates and, most of all, to inferior schools.

school_busingThe result is that schools and communities in America are more racially segregated now than they were 60 years ago when the Supreme Court ruled segregated schools to be unconstitutional.  When school bussing was mandated to integrate black children into white schools, many white parents moved further into the suburbs where they could escape the influx of black students. Eventually bussing policies were abandoned.

Other white families enrolled their children in private schools that had few if any black or Hispanic children attending. This trend has accelerated in recent years with increased state funding to Charter Schools. The publicly funded inner city schools, on the other hand, have been left to decay or be closed. Today public education in the inner cities has nearly collapsed.

The town of Ferguson, Missouri is just one of thousands of communities that has borne the brunt of this “white flight.” In 1990 it was 75% white; by 2010 it was 67% black. As reported in the St. Louis American,

White flight … first hit the school districts, then the tax base. Remaining homeowners are heavily taxed in areas with often struggling schools, little industry and dwindling businesses and services. The mortgage bubble really burst in these areas, with rampant home foreclosures. Large retail areas in North County have been abandoned. Small businesses face difficulty establishing a presence due to high prices for retail space and insurance costs. Those who stay charge more, and those who buy from them pay more.

When businesses and retail move, those who remain have to spend their money with establishments elsewhere in the region. That builds up the tax base in other areas, not their own. For those who lack reliable transportation (let alone job skills and education), there are few opportunities to eke out a livelihood locally. There is little escape.

2) Being Black makes one look ‘suspicious’ in America.

racial-profilingWe are now hearing more and more stories about Blacks being stopped, searched, and arrested without cause due to racial profiling. White people do not face that problem.

As Paul Waldman reported in an editorial in The American Prospect last month,

in all my years I’ve never been stopped by a cop who just wanted to know who I was and what I was up to. I’ve never been accused of “furtive movements,” the rationale New York City police use for the hundreds of thousands of times every year they question black and Hispanic men. I’ve never been frisked on the street, and nobody has ever responded with fear when I got in an elevator. That’s not because of my inherent personal virtue. It’s because I’m white.

By way of contrast, Jonathan Capehart shared his experience as a black youth growing up, including the crucial lesson his mother drilled into him:

How I shouldn’t run in public, lest I arouse undue suspicion. How I most definitely should not run with anything in my hands, lest anyone think I stole something. The lesson included not talking back to the police, lest you give them a reason to take you to jail — or worse. And I was taught to never, ever leave home without identification.

As Eugene Robinson reported in the Washington Post last week,

To be young, male and black in America means not being allowed to make mistakes. Forgetting this, as we’ve seen so many times, can be fatal. …

And yes, [Michael] Brown made mistakes. He was walking in the middle of the street rather than on the sidewalk, according to witnesses, and he was carrying a box of cigars that he apparently took from a convenience store. Neither is a capital offense.

When Officer Darren Wilson stopped him, did Brown respond with puffed-up attitude? For a young black man, that is a transgression punishable by death.

This leads us to the third point.

3) The police and the courts treat Blacks far differently than Whites.

police arresting black manAs Annie Lowrey and Jessie Singal reported earlier this month,

Black people are more likely to be victims of police brutality, and a black person under arrest is much more likely to be killed than a white person under arrest. Stories of unfair police treatment, combined with overwhelming evidence of racial discrepancies in just about every facet of the justice system, have led to a toxic culture of distrust between black Americans and the police.

A 2013 Pew Research Center study found that

black men were six times as likely as all white men to be incarcerated in federal, state and local jails.

and perhaps most chilling, a new study of national date from 1997 to 2008 shows that

by age 23, 49% of all American black men will have been arrested at least once.

As Eugene Robinson pointed out in his article,

blacks and whites are equally likely to smoke marijuana; if anything, blacks are slightly less likely to toke up. Yet African Americans — and Hispanics — are about four times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than whites.

To compound this inequality, studies also indicate that, among people who are arrested for using or selling marijuana, black defendants are much more likely than white defendants to serve prison time. For young white men, smoking a joint is no big deal. For young black men, it can ruin your life.

4) Local and state police have become excessively militarized.

As Alternet recently reported,

The weapons that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. … Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorizes the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement agencies are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.

Citing a recent article in the New York Times by Matt Apuzzo, it states that under the Obama administration

Armored vehiclespolice departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what looks like an invading army.

In June of this year the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) issued a detailed report entitled War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. It concludes that this militarization of the police

unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.

It adds that this

militarization of policing encourages officers to adopt a “warrior” mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies.

 

Meanwhile, as Erwin Cherminsky reported last week in the New York Times,

In recent years, the [Supreme] Court has made it very difficult, and often impossible, to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.

With these developments it seems appropriate to ask: Is the U.S. turning into a police state?  Not quite, but it is certainly moving in that direction.

 

Photo credits: Whitney Curtis/New York Times/Redux

Poverty in America

Recent posts have discussed the high standards of eldercare found in Denmark and the superior quality of life in Finland due to generous government supports. These government sponsored social programs greatly surpass those found in the United States.

Americans are accustomed to seeing themselves as Number 1 on the world stage. And in some areas America undoubtedly holds the top position. America is No. 1 in terms of military might, far exceeding the amount spent on armaments and military personnel by both its enemies and its allies.

Global Defense Budgets-1America is also No. 1 in terms of gun related murders, outstripping the murder rate in other developed countries.

death-by-violenceAnd America leads the world in the percentage of its citizens who are imprisoned (with 760 million people behind bars).

incarceration rates1Other than ranking first in some rather insignificant categories like the number of plastic surgeons, breast augmentation, and wine consumption, America falls far behind other developed countries in providing for its citizens.

According to The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013, which ranks 144 countries on a broad range of factors related to their economic competitiveness,

The United States ranks 34th in years of life expectancy, 41st in infant mortality rates, and 34th in health and primary education.

In a UNICEF report on Child Well-Being in Rich Countries published earlier this year, the U.S ranks #26 of 29 developed countries for overall child well-being and #28 of 29 for child poverty.

Poverty is an enormous problem in the United States.

A full 15.1% of Americans live in poverty, with one in fifteen Americans living in deep poverty (receiving less than $11,510 for a family of four). Without some form of government assistance, the poverty rate in the U.S. would be twice as high – affecting nearly 30% of the population.

Recent OECD studies show a larger percentage of Americans working at low wage jobs than in any other developed country.

Employees-Low Wage

Half of all jobs in America pay less than $34,000 a year. The poverty line for a family of 4 is $23,000 a year, and 25% of all jobs pay less than this amount. 28% of all working Americans receive poverty-level wages.

Since the mean annual salary is only $34,000, it follows that 50% of all working Americans receive wages either below or not far above the poverty line. Children are often hit the hardest.

child_poverty

22% of all children in the United States live in poverty, including 39% of African-American children and 34% of Latino children. Over 1 million children enrolled in public schools are homeless.

Traditionally, the poor were concentrated in America’s large inner-cities (the ghettos) and in the rural South. Most poverty relief programs were designed to address issues in those areas. But in recent years poverty has spread to the suburbs. Over the last decade millions of Americans have lost good paying jobs and either taken temporary or part-time low wage jobs, or been added to the growing list of the long-term unemployed. As the Austin Chronicle reports,

Once the secure base of the middle class, suburbs have become the fastest-growing home of American poverty. Since 2000, the number of suburban poor has surged by 64%, twice the rate of urban poor. By 2011, America’s suburbs held 3 million more poor people than were in our core cities.

What has the government been doing to help these people? In recent years we have seen a steady stream of initiatives coming from Republican members of Congress and Republican State Legislatures that impose major cuts to social assistance. The poor are being targeted as “freeloaders.” They are being blamed for their own misery – even the working poor. We are told America cannot afford to maintain its social programs. All the while, governments refuse to free up money from military expenditures or to close tax loopholes for large corporations.

America prides itself on being the richest nation on earth. But it has allowed its vast wealth to become concentrated in the hands of an elite few who use their positions and influence to lobby for broad privileges. The average American does not benefit from this strategy, and those who live in poverty are directly harmed by it.

Ralph Nader, in his recently published book, Told You So, presents a very negative view of the current situation. As quoted recently in The Guardian, he says,

The cruelty is unbelievable here. We are an advanced third world country. We have great military equipment and science and technology. Half of the people in this country are poor. They can’t even pay their bills. They’re deep in debt.

Americans can do better. America’s greatness lies in its communitarian spirit, in its citizens banding together to support one another and solve their problems together. Yes, the challenges today are daunting: massive poverty and underemployment, poorly funded schools, inadequate social services, inefficient health care, and ineffective government. But solutions can be found as long as people have the imagination, the courage and the will to pursue them.

Four days before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a gathering at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. He said,

There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.

Do we?