Baltimore, St. Louis and beyond: profiles in gross disparities and deprivation | #BlackLivesMatter on Blog#42

Baltimore

It wasn’t long ago, just over three months, in fact, that we were glued to our televisions, waiting to hear what happened to Freddie Gray. The officers who caused his brutal death have been indicted and the controversy hasn’t ended. Neither has the struggle of the police-industrial complex through the local FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) against the prosecutor in getting charges dismissed against the officers.

One of the outcomes of the protests and laser focus of the media on Baltimore was that it shone a bright light on the depth and severity of poverty in a city that should sustain all of its own. Comparisons weren’t being made to the usual chronic pockets of poverty in the Deep South or Appalachia, but to far away places like Nigeria and India. Imagine that! An American city with pockets of desperation so deep it can only be compared to… the poorest of the poor in India and Africa?

In this April 8, 2013 picture, a boy shoots a basketball into a makeshift basket made from a milk crate and attached to a vacant row house in Baltimore. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 20 percent of American children are impoverished. An estimated 16,000 buildings are vacant or abandoned in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
In this April 8, 2013 picture, a boy shoots a basketball into a makeshift basket made from a milk crate and attached to a vacant row house in Baltimore. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 20 percent of American children are impoverished. An estimated 16,000 buildings are vacant or abandoned in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Baltimore Youths Have It Worse Than Those in Nigeria

A global survey of 15- to 19-year-olds living in vulnerable cities shows that social support and outlook are driving factors in health outcomes

When a teenager from East Baltimore was asked to describe his neighborhood, he spoke of “big rats going around in people’s trash, vacant houses full of squatters and needles on the ground.” A young woman in New Delhi, asked the same question, described the dirt and the “dirty water found lying on the roads,” while a young man in Ibadan, a large city in Nigeria, spoke of the smell of urine and streets “littered with paper and other refuse.”

 All three teenagers live in the poorest neighborhoods in their communities and were surveyed as part of the “WAVE” study, a global research project that examines the well-being of adolescents in vulnerable environments around the world. Led by Dr. Kristen Mmari, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, the survey assessed health challenges faced by 2,400 15- to 19-year-olds from impoverished areas in Baltimore, Shanghai, Johannesburg, Ibadan and New Delhi, as well as their perceptions of their environments.

The researchers found many similarities—in all five cities, adolescents were exposed to unsanitary conditions, substance abuse and violence—but the differences between each area were especially compelling. Overall, teenagers in Baltimore and Johannesburg, despite being located in comparably wealthy countries, had far worse health outcomes and tended to perceive their communities more negatively.

In Baltimore, which is located in the world’s richest nation per capita and just 40 miles from the White House, adolescents exhibited considerably high rates of mental health issues, substance abuse, sexual risk-taking, sexual violence and teen pregnancy. In comparison, adolescents in New Delhi exhibited far fewer of those behaviors and outcomes, despite residing in a much less prosperous nation.

The reason for this, Mmari discovered, is rooted in the way teenagers interpret their surroundings. “How kids perceive their environments is really important,” she says. “That’s what’s driving many of these behaviors.” For example, a young man in New Delhi and a young man in Baltimore may both live in neighborhoods with poor living conditions and little opportunity, but because the teenager in New Delhi is able to see his environment in a more positive light, he is less likely to experience to adverse health problems. “He paints a different picture.”

But why do teenagers in Baltimore and Johannesburg have such a dark outlook? According to Mmari, one could point to a combination of environmental and social factors, including the exposure to violence and a lack of social support, which were found to be less prevalent in the three other cities.

“When you look at how they perceive their environments, kids in both Baltimore and Johannesburg are fearful. They don’t feel safe from violence,” says Mmari. “This is something we didn’t really see in other cities. In Shanghai, for example, there wasn’t a great deal of violence. You’d ask kids about their safety concerns, and they would say something like, ‘I’m afraid of crossing a busy street.’”

Community violence was a major concern for girls in Baltimore and Johannesburg, many of whom didn’t feel safe even in their own homes. Violence was also found to predict comparably higher rates of pregnancy and sexual assault in the two cities. A staggering 50 percent of 15- to 19-year-old girls in Baltimore, and 29 percent of those in Johannesburg, had been pregnant in their lifetime, and more than 10 percent of girls in both cities report being raped or assaulted by someone other than their partner in the previous year. […]


Read the rest of this article Baltimore Youths Have It Worse Than Those in Nigeria, India on Vocativ


The gang violence in Baltimore, however it was stirred up, is back with a vengeance. This time, it must be noted, it follows what seems to have been a work-stoppage similar to that of the NYPD this summer. While the NYPD’s work stoppage yielded it two new special units to police protests, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in Baltimore got the ultimate prize: the firing of a police chief who was never to their liking. Before Chief Batt’s firing, shortly after the protests, two of the city’s top officials mysteriously resigned. One of them was the director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice. Her position was expected to remain unfilled through the summer.

So far, this summer has been a very violent one, with the month of July being Baltimore’s deadliest in 43 years.  While there has been talk, by Mayor Rawlings-Blake of rebuilding the businesses that burned down during the protests, there has been no talk of investing the city’s money in the young residents’ deprived neighborhood.

Closing rec centers and slashing youth programs were root causes of riot, councilman asserts

The police department “has been eating their lunch for a generation,” says Councilman Bill Henry, referring to the disparity between money spent on policing and money spent on programs for young people.

The normally unassuming Bill Henry stood up at tonight’s City Council meeting and bluntly and passionately said – after a week in which Baltimore has been in the national spotlight over the Freddie Gray case – that city government has invested its resources unwisely for the last 25 years.

While the Police Department’s budget has tripled since 1991, funding for programs that improve the lives of young people – such as recreation centers, libraries, after-school programs and summer jobs – has stagnated or been slashed, the councilman representing North Baltimore’s 4th district asserted.

Budget-wise, the police department “has been eating their lunch for a generation,” he declared.

Citing a police officer’s comment that kids don’t go to rec centers because they are “in awful shape,” Henry said, “They are in awful shape because we haven’t put any money in them in any serious amounts for a quarter of a century.”

In 1991, “we spent $37 million on the Department of Recreation and Parks, and we spent $165 million on the Police Department. A quarter of a century later, we have almost doubled the overall city government budget, we have almost tripled the police department’s budget, and we spend less today on recreation [centers] than we spent [then].”

“Purposely Disinvesting”

How do these budget numbers relate to the looting and arson of last Monday that started when mostly teenagers threw rocks at officers at Mondawmin Mall and then marched angrily and violently down Pennsylvania Avenue? […]

Read the rest of Closing rec centers and slashing youth programs were root causes of riot, councilman asserts | Baltimore Brew


Saint Louis

Franz Strasser‘s 4-minute documentary of one section of St. Louis illustrates perfectly the segregation and poverty one finds throughout the country:

“The city of St Louis, Missouri, remains one of the most segregated cities in the US. But one street in particular has been known to residents as the “dividing line”.

Travelled to St Louis as a one-man-band.”

The cities of Ferguson, Florissant and many others within St. Louis County all derive a huge portion of their income by squeezing poor residents through fines for minor violations, which then due to poverty, burgeon into huge debt and a vicious cycle of arrests. In “The Making of Ferguson,” Richard Rothstein of EPI explains the phenomenon that is St. Louis County:

The conventional explanation adds that African Americans moved to a few places like Ferguson, not the suburbs generally, because prejudiced real estate agents steered black homebuyers away from other white suburbs. And in any event, those other suburbs were able to preserve their almost entirely white, upper-middle-class environments by enacting zoning rules that required only expensive single family homes, the thinking goes.

No doubt, private prejudice and suburbanites’ desire for homogenous affluent environments contributed to segregation in St. Louis and other metropolitan areas. But these explanations are too partial, and too conveniently excuse public policy from responsibility. A more powerful cause of metropolitan segregation in St. Louis and nationwide has been the explicit intents of federal, state, and local governments to create racially segregated metropolises.

Many of these explicitly segregationist governmental actions ended in the late 20thcentury but continue to determine today’s racial segregation patterns. In St. Louis these governmental policies included zoning rules that classified white neighborhoods as residential and black neighborhoods as commercial or industrial; segregated public housing projects that replaced integrated low-income areas; federal subsidies for suburban development conditioned on African American exclusion; federal and local requirements for, and enforcement of, property deeds and neighborhood agreements that prohibited resale of white-owned property to, or occupancy by, African Americans; tax favoritism for private institutions that practiced segregation; municipal boundary lines designed to separate black neighborhoods from white ones and to deny necessary services to the former; real estate, insurance, and banking regulators who tolerated and sometimes required racial segregation; and urban renewal plans whose purpose was to shift black populations from central cities like St. Louis to inner-ring suburbs like Ferguson.

The same recipe for inequality is perpetuated not only throughout the South, but just about everywhere else, as illustrated in the Washington Post’s “The states where children are most likely to be locked up, poor and hungry.” Add the worsening problem of affordable housing, and living conditions are horrendous for millions.

In current day Mississippi and other parts of the Deep South, one still encounters the kind of poverty and racism associated with what Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal encountered in the 1940’s when he was doing his landmark study and book, “An American Dilemma.”

The Depths Of Poverty In The Deep South | ThinkProgress

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Andrew sat a table in a bar with no sign outside drinking a Bud Light tallboy. The windows were boarded up from the outside and the only source of light was a bare light bulb sticking out from a fixture on the wall. Behind him, gray-haired men sat at the bar watching an old kung fu movie on a grainy television.“I spent my whole life on the plantation around the corner,” Andrew* said, and took a drink from his tallboy. “My entire family worked on it—dad, brothers, uncles. Our family must’ve gone back three or four generations on Mr. Peaster’s farm.”He remembered helping his father plant and harvest crops when he was a boy, steadily gaining more responsibility on the farm as he got older. After graduating from high school, he started working on the farm full time.“Mr. Peaster liked having me around ’cause I was good with tractors and equipment. When something broke down, he was glad he had hands on the farm that could fix it instead of having to call a mechanic. Paid me a couple extra bucks whenever I fixed something, or let me take an advance on my paycheck if I wanted.”

For over 30 years, Andrew saw the farm as an idyllic, self-contained community. Much of his extended family lived on the plantation, and when Andrew was old enough to have a family of his own, Mr. Peaster worked with him to build a small house for his wife and children right beside the house in which he grew up. Mr. Peaster also ran a general store on the plantation, which carried all the groceries and supplies the families needed, so they hardly had any reason to leave the farm at all.

But then a couple of years ago, Mr. Peaster sold his farm to an adjacent plantation owner and gave the families a few weeks’ notice before they had to move out. While tenant farmers like Andrew’s family are given housing as part of their compensation, they don’t have the typical legal protections afforded to property owners and renters—a fact Andrew had to discover firsthand. “Felt like the rug was just pulled out from under me,” he said. []

We don’t often see reporting in the popular press on the depths of continuing economic racism and deprivation that still exist in our country. We hyperfocus from one crisis to the next, all the while losing sight of the deep endemic issues that not only endure but, due to attentional neglect, continue to get passed over in favor of the flavor of the moment.

Just over three months after Baltimore erupted, we’ve moved on in the daily news cycle. Just over a year after Ferguson erupted, there has been some change, but not the sweeping kind that city and many others in its vicinity deserve. The rank poverty and desolation again out of sight and out of mind. But are they really? Aren’t the gross inequities in income and resource distribution, the desperate poverty and deprivation just what the main Democratic contenders in Election 2016 address in their stump speeches?

Aren’t they precisely the product of Martin O’Malley’s policies in Baltimore when he was its mayor? By the way, O’Malley has not disavowed his policies or expressed any regrets, something which the community he presided over has not forgotten or forgiven. O’Malley is presenting himself as a progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton but, given his track record, is not able to successfully support that claim.

Aren’t they just as problematic for the Clintons? One can trace today’s mass-incarceration levels back to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, H.R. 3355, enacted and signed in 1994 under Bill Clinton, who, one must be reminded, often touted Hillary as his two-fer partner. It is that law that includes the federal “three strikes” provision and gave us 100,000 police officers on the streets. Indeed, Bill Clinton recently twice referred to mass-incarceration at first, somewhat glibly, hinting at fault all the while taking credit for improvement:

“The drop in violence and crime in America has been an extraordinary national achievement,” Clinton writes. “But plainly, our nation has too many people in prison and for too long — we have overshot the mark. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, we now have 25 percent of its prison population, and an emerging bipartisan consensus now understands the need to do better.”

Then, a few days later, in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, he went a bit further:

“The problem is the way it was written and implemented is we cast too wide a net and we had too many people in prison,” Clinton said Wednesday. “And we wound up…putting so many people in prison that there wasn’t enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out so they could live productive lives.”

In typical Clintonian orchestral style, sandwiched in between Bill Clinton’s revelations, Hillary Clinton called for the end of mass-incarceration. Time Magazine reported:

“There is something profoundly wrong when African-American men are far more likely to be stopped by the police and charged with crimes and given longer prison terms than their white counterparts,” Clinton said. “There is something wrong when trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve breaks down … We must urgently begin to rebuild bonds of trust and respect among American between police and citizens.”

Clinton offered few specific policy plans in the speech, and didn’t explain how police forces would pay for body cameras on all officers. She spoke broadly about reducing jail sentences for low-level offenders and the effects of imprisoning millions, particular African Americans. “We don’t want to create another incarceration generation,” Clinton said.

In her usual style, Clinton’s economic policy speech statements were made in the broadest sense, without providing any policy guidelines or pointers to mechanisms by which prescriptions could be achieved.

We know that there is really very little the executive branch can do to do away with laws already on the books. It will take one or more pieces of legislation from Congress to reverse course on the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. But even then, in her speech on mass-incarceration, Clinton doesn’t give us an exact definition of “low-level offender.” Would that include repeat weed offenders? How about heroin users? Cocaine? What populations outside the small-time drug dealers would she be willing to include out of the current prison population of roughly 2.2 million people incarcerated in the US? Then, assuming she would preside over a mass-liberation of a large number of these men, what would she do to reverse Bill Clinton’s discriminatory Welfare Reform laws that currently keep them from being eligible for food stamp and welfare aid? What about jobs and employment discrimination? None of the economic aspects of her speech on mass-incarceration are addressed in her economic policy speech.

For fairness’ sake, I am including a link to Bernie Sanders’ voting record. It is searchable for his tenures as a member of the House and Senate.

Going back to the main topic of this piece, do the main Democratic contenders have prescriptions that would appropriately address the needs of the poorest communities of our nation?

In Hillary Clinton’s economic speech, the word poverty was used twice, and in the same sentence:

“I firmly believe that the best anti-poverty program is a job but that’s hard to say if there aren’t enough jobs for people that were trying to help lift themselves out of poverty.”

All other applicable references apply to lower middle class voters than those who live in abject poverty.

Bernie Sanders’ speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference frames, in detail, every aspect of poverty and its consequences and offers remedies for them. The entire speech is a worthy read or viewing. Both the transcript and video are included , for your convenience.

It must be stressed that addressing the needs of communities such as the ones profiled here, comes against the backdrop of rebuilding an economy that remains in disrepair, in a political environment that will make it exceedingly difficult to achieve the kind of fundamental changes that will take us away from policies and laws that brought us to the brink of a depression. These communities have traditionally been neglected through institutional racism, gentrification, and urban neglect. Addressing structural poverty will require an additional effort, separate from bringing back our economy to levels that will regrow our middle class. Philosophies of administration past, not just “trickle down economics theory, but philosophies that tilt mostly toward business and trade, will be insufficient this cycle. As I’ve written in prior posts, each cycle of secular stagnation causes economic bubbles to intensify and each cycle’s effects to be longer-lasting and more destructive. Getting out of this rut of worsening bubbles is going to take economic planning and reform the likes of which we haven’t seen since The New Deal. Martin Luther King’s philosophy of fairness as the basis underlying any major economic initiative is what voters should be looking for when assessing presidential candidates’ policies.