Thursday, August 30, 2007

Structural Racism: Killing Black Youth

by Charles Patton, Summer Intern at the Kirwan Institute

Baltimore, MD: Anna Ditkoff of reported, “Taavon Mitchell, a 27-year-old African-American man, [was found] lying on the sidewalk … He had been shot several times in the head and chest.” He died at 11:36 p.m. “Two hours later and just two blocks away, Joseph Bryant, a 29-year-old African-American man, was shot in the chest. He died half an hour later.” Around the same time the following night, “Troy Richardson, a 30-year-old African-American man, was shot repeatedly with a high-powered weapon in the middle of the street. He died 30 minutes after police found him. The weekend brought another killing. Police found Davon McCargo, a 20-year-old African-American man, lying on the ground … shot in the head and chest.” He would die later that night. This was just a normal week in Baltimore. The week prior brought twice as many murders, all African American men, and 9 months into 2007 there have been nearly 200 murders. That’s approximately 5 murders per week.

This phenomenon is not unique to Baltimore. According Department of Justice, in 2005 blacks comprised of nearly half of America’s murder victims. However, they only comprise of 13 percent of the nation’s population.

Limiting the statistical break down to males between the ages of 17 and 29, the African American percentage increases to slightly more than half of the murder victims in this country. Ninety-three percent of blacks were killed by someone of their own race and half of them were killed in urban metropolises.

Black youth are being killed on the inner city streets of America. But who is at fault? We cannot discount the fault of the blacks that actually pull the trigger but this begs the question why are they pulling the trigger so often. Is it simply a pathological culture? If so, how did this culture become pathological?

This phenomenon has been occurring for decades. A task force in Illinois will finally be developed to address this issue, along with many others for black males, and construct strategies to improve their lives. It is the first of its kind. However, it is unclear where they will target their energy and resources. One dynamic of this epidemic that must be addressed is segregation. As stated earlier, half of these African American males are being murdered in urban metropolises.

There are 23 hypersegregated cities in the United States. Twenty-one of these cities are predominantly black and serve as homes to a large percentage of the African American community. Many of these cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, etc. have a similar story. For the sake of space constraints, simply stated the Great Migration funneled blacks from the South into the most dilapidated areas of northern metropolises. This was followed by white flight and restrictive covenants that prevented black entry into white neighborhoods. The G.I. bill simultaneously led to mass white suburbanization and inner city disinvestment. The removal of these jobs submerged black urbanites even further into poverty. The impoverished state of black America has been sustained through redlining, racial steering, local zoning laws, and a lack of black wealth that was established and perpetuated through slavery, Jim Crow, institutional employment discrimination, etc. William Julius Wilson argued that those who are “truly disadvantaged” are increasingly left behind when work disappears. Furthermore, Robert Merton stated that those whose access to upward mobility is hindered are more likely to choose deviant paths to achieve mobility. Thus, disinvesting from the urban core not only decreased job opportunities but it increased the motivation to commit crime in these neighborhoods. Some may view this as a pathological culture. While to others it is simply the result of structural racism: a group with limited resources trying to survive and killing each other in the process.

Strategies to reinvest in these communities and give blacks opportunities to relocate to locations with more occupational opportunities should be explored to halt the killing of black youth. An increased tax base would accompany the rejuvenation of black communities, which would improve local schools and give black students the skills necessary to compete for these jobs as well as others, alleviating the need to turn to a life of crime. Relocation programs would accomplish this same goal for black youth, which has been proven with the Gautreaux Assisted Housing Program in Chicago. While this is not a cure-all, it would be a step in the right direction.

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