Monday, June 8, 2015
Via The Guardian:
A recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that blacks and Native Americans in Minneapolis are nine times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than whites. The study was released two weeks after 10-year-old Taye Montegomery was pepper sprayed while peacefully protesting against police brutality in Minneapolis. “At least I got maced and not shot,” Taye said.
Taye’s not being overly dramatic: young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than young white men in US.
The fatal encounter between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri didn’t take place in a vacuum. Freddie Gray wasn’t the first black man thrown in the back of a van in Sandtown. Eric Garner wasn’t selling loosie cigarettes for fun. Harsh police tactics in black communities and a history of high rates of unemployment and poverty go hand in hand.
During nearly 250 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow segregation, the US government and big corporations cut African Americans out of the economy. In the last 30 years, led by President Reagan and the Gingrich Republicans, something just as harmful happened: the systematic economic abandonment of black neighborhoods. The number of low-income people in Ferguson doubled in the last 10 years. Unemployment in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood was over 50% between 2008-2012. The inequality ratio, a number measuring income distribution, in Tamir Rice’s Cleveland grew at a faster pace from 2012 to 2013 than in any other major city.
Leaders in Washington and around the country should have responded to the growing crisis in African American neighborhoods by creating jobs, repairing infrastructure, avoiding bad trade deals that offshored good-paying jobs in many urban areas and investing in our kids. Instead Congress and state legislatures built prisons, passed trade agreements that sent jobs overseas, gave police weapons designed for warzones and passed laws that increased de facto segregation.
The failed war on drugs tripled the number of people in prison, even as crime rates in the US fell to the lowest levels in a generation. Nearly 1.5m African American men are in prison and missing from society due, in large part, to a criminal justice system that locks them up and limits their options upon release. Cities, starved of funding by austerity-obsessed leaders in Washington and state capitols, write tickets and charge fees for residents already struggling to avoid hunger and eviction. Crimes like loitering, spitting, jay-walking – many of which have been de facto legalized in affluent communities – are frequently used today to harass and imprison people of color.
Working in high poverty areas doesn’t excuse officers who use excessive force, but police officers are dealt an unfair hand: communities with inadequate and unaffordable housing, few jobs and weak schools need more help than even the best-trained police service. Police officers can’t help people make ends meet at the end of the month.
But the biggest lie in American politics is that we fought a war on poverty and poverty won. In truth, Republicans elected around the country in the 1980s starved programs to end poverty. Instead they made choices to keep “law and order” in ways that exacerbated the problems facing low-income communities. Conservative leaders today continue to pass budgets that won’t even support the status quo, much less move the needle on providing housing and jobs.
Creating opportunities in these neighborhoods isn’t rocket science: we need to invest in resources for jobs programs, in creating the environment for job creation in communities of color, in high quality education and in affordable housing. We must raise wages, provide public service jobs and apprenticeship programs. Our nation isn’t broke. We have wealth but, unlike other countries, we provide generous benefits to those who are better off, rather than those who are struggling. In America, we have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.
Talk to anyone in these neighborhoods and they know that their communities need public and private investments to grow. But leaders in Congress and state houses around the country are ignoring the needs of people in low income communities because they’re cut out of our political process.
The United States has one of the largest voting gaps by income in the developed world. Around 48% percent of Americans make under $50,000 a year, but only 36% of them voted in 2012. Meanwhile, 80% of people making $150,000 or more voted in that same election. The wealthiest among us don’t just gain influence through campaign donations: they show up to the polls more often as well, which impacts outcomes. Is it any wonder why Washington keeps cutting taxes for the rich?
But there’s hope. A recent 30-year study of all 50 states found that, when people vote, politicians listen. States with above-average turnout had higher minimum wages, lower income inequality, better health care and stronger consumer protections. If communities organize to elect leaders who want to use proven strategies to reduce poverty, raise wages and expand economic opportunity, we can start to address the biggest cause of over-policing.
Grassroots organizations like the Black Lives Matter movement and other campaigns to raise wages and pass immigration reform are already proving how powerful the people who politicians normally ignore can be if they work together for change. We can’t wait another 30 years and just hope that the systemic poverty upheld by Republican policies goes away on its own.