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“U.S. Citizens Have A Right To Protest, Even In Ferguson”: Rights Not Respected In The Moment Are Not Rights At All

Last week, a federal judge told us what we already knew.

Namely, that police in Ferguson, Missouri, violated the rights of protesters demonstrating against the shooting death of Michael Brown. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry struck down an ad hoc rule under which cops had said people could not stand still while peacefully protesting. Some were told they couldn’t stop walking for more than five seconds; others that they had to walk faster.

Again: These were not rioters. These were citizens seeking “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” as the First Amendment gives them the right to do. So Perry’s ruling is welcome, but not particularly surprising. The no-stop dictate was so flagrantly wrong as to make any other decision unthinkable.

Still, one’s sense of righteous vindication is tempered by the fact that police felt free to try this absurd stratagem in the first place — and by the fact that this was hardly the only recent example of police using the Constitution for Kleenex.

Ferguson, let us not forget, is also the town where reporters were tear gassed and jailed and photographers ordered to stop taking pictures, which seems a pretty straightforward abridgment of the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of the press. Meanwhile, a new ACLU report makes Boston Police the latest — but hardly the only — department empirically shown to engage in racially biased policing, which would violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of “equal protection of the laws.” And a recent Washington Post series illustrated how civil asset forfeiture laws allow police to search your vehicle, seize any cash they find and keep it, without even charging you with a crime, until or unless you prove to their satisfaction that you came by the money legally. Goodbye, Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Farewell, Fourteenth Amendment stricture against seizure of property “without due process of law.”

It seems our constitutional rights are being nibbled out from under us, compromise by compromise, expediency by expediency, while we watch with dull complacence. In our unthinking mania for laws to “get tough on crime,” we actually made it tougher on ourselves, altering the balance of power between people and police to the point where a cop can now take your legally earned money off your sovereign person and there’s little you can do about it.

“I know my rights,” an aggrieved citizen would yell once upon a time. Turns out that doesn’t mean a whole lot anymore.

Indeed, at the height of the Ferguson protests, an L.A. cop named Sunil Dutta published in the Washington Post an op-ed advising that, “if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.” Don’t argue, he said, even if you “believe (or know)” your rights are being violated. Deal with it later.

Certainly, he’s correct that there’s nothing to be gained by making an a– of yourself or making an angry cop angrier. Nothing will be settled on a street corner.

Yet, there is something unsettling about the idea that you are only allowed to assert your rights at a later date in a different forum. The bullying behavior and contempt for the Constitution that characterized police in Ferguson ought to leave us less than sanguine with that notion, ought to encourage us to resist — at the ballot box, in the council meeting and, yes, by lawful protest — this drift toward unlimited police authority.

It’s all well and good that now, several weeks after the fact, a court affirms the rights Ferguson police denied. But that’s a poor consolation prize. An argument can be made that rights which aren’t respected in the moment they are asserted are not really rights at all.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 12, 2014

 

October 14, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Constitution, Ferguson Missouri | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fair Housing Act”: The Next Assault On Civil Rights

Last Thursday the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the case of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project. The case concerns the “disparate impact” rule, a legal guideline embedded in the 1968 Fair Housing Act that says discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional to be discrimination. This rule has been at the bedrock of fair-housing enforcement for more than four decades.

Another way to understand disparate impact is this: It’s a way to confront the realities of racial inequality without trying to prove the motivations of an institution, organization, or landlord. In housing especially, it’s rare to get someone as explicit about his discrimination as Donald Sterling. More often, you must look for patterns of unequal results or unfair treatment that stem from “objective” or “neutral” criteria.

In United States v. Wells Fargo, for example, the Department of Justice sued the mortgage lender over its role in the subprime market. According to the suit, Wells Fargo brokers raised interest rates and fees for more than 30,000 minority customers, and encouraged black and Hispanic homeowners to take subprime loans even if they qualified for traditional financing. We don’t know if malice drove this policy, but under disparate impact guidelines, it doesn’t matter: The government can show concrete harm and act accordingly.

This is an expansive power, but given our history, also a necessary one. We built our housing markets on a structure of discrimination, from bias in lending and state-sanctioned segregation to exclusionary zoning and active attacks on minority homeownership. To fix this, you can’t just ban discrimination, you need a countervailing force; otherwise, inequality would reproduce itself.

Beyond this, there’s the simple fact that racial bias is still alive in vast areas of American life, and it’s a fool’s errand to root out racists—most people who discriminate are too smart to broadcast their prejudice. Disparate impact—backed by both courts and the present administration—is a vital tool in fighting these battles.

But it’s also controversial, with opponents who see it as subversive to equal protection. “Instead of promoting equal protection under the law,” wrote Ammon Simon for National Review in 2012, disparate impact “grasps at ‘ensuring equal results,’ treating people like depersonalized ‘components of a racial, religious, sexual or national class.’ ” Likewise, in his concurrence in Ricci v. DeStefano—an affirmative action case—Justice Antonin Scalia swings at the doctrine, calling disparate impact provisions in employment practices a “racial thumb on the scales” that forces discriminatory “racial decisionmaking.”

Scalia and the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court are hostile to almost all race-conscious policies—from affirmative action (which Justice Clarence Thomas once compared to segregation) to important parts of the Voting Rights Act—and want to end disparate impact as a federal tool. Last year they almost had a chance; a group of New Jersey residents challenged disparate impact in Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., a fight over a neighborhood revitalization plan that plaintiffs claimed would dislocate and disproportionately harm minority residents. But the case was settled before it could reach the high court.

With the latest case, a settlement is unlikely. The court will hear disparate impact, and most likely—following Chief Justice John Roberts’ infamous declaration that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race”—end it.

It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of such a decision. In the last decade, with Roberts at the forefront, the Supreme Court has chipped away at the major provisions and policies of the civil rights era. With Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 in 2007, the Roberts court struck down voluntary integration efforts in Seattle; with Shelby County v. Holder, it struck down the preclearance formula for the Voting Rights Act, gutting the law and opening the door to voter suppression; and with Schuette v. BAMN, it gave Michigan voters free rein to block affirmative action through constitutional amendment. At the moment, it’s poised to uphold strict voter identification laws and—if the opportunity presents itself—strike at the core provisions of the VRA.

There’s a reason Justice Sonia Sotomayor swiped at Roberts in her now-famous Schuette dissent—the chief justice has launched an astounding assault on civil rights law that promises huge consequences for efforts against racial inequality. And indeed, Roberts is joined by a whole host of right-wing legislators and conservative intellectuals—perched at think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the misnamed Center for Equal Opportunity—all united in a “colorblind” vision of American life that doesn’t see a public role for fighting racial inequality, and often holds it as overstated or attributable to “culture,” not the accumulated effects of past discrimination.

What’s interesting is the degree to which this isn’t new. In fact, it sits parallel to our past, where large gains for minorities—and blacks in particular—sit flush with setbacks and challenges.

We don’t think of it this way in the popular imagination, but the United States had two periods of “Reconstruction.” The first came after emancipation, when freed slaves worked in alliance with sympathetic whites to rebuild the South and forge a new path after the Civil War. But weakened by President Andrew Johnson, it never came to fruition. Instead, it was destroyed by ex-Confederates who terrorized the South with violence and drove blacks out of political life. With the Democratic Party as their vehicle, these “Redeemers” would set the stage for Jim Crow, convict leasing, and the march of horrors that marked black life for the next century.

The Second Reconstruction was the civil rights movement, and—as historian Eric Foner writes in his magisterial book on the first Reconstruction, it marks a time when “the nation again attempted to come to terms with the implications of emancipation and the political and social agenda of Reconstruction.”

Where the first Reconstruction had politicians, the second had preachers (and later, again, politicians). And where the first gave us a new Constitution—through the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments—the second gave force to their provisions, through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. It’s these laws—and the court cases that followed—that dismantled Jim Crow and integrated blacks into American political life.

Outside the far, far fringes of American life, there’s no challenge to that inclusion. But as we see with large parts of the Republican Party—including today’s conservatives on the Supreme Court—there is a challenge to the race-conscious policies and measures we use to protect and secure the political participation of blacks and other minorities.

This attack has far more to do with partisan advantage than any racial animus—as Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott explained in his defense of the state’s voter ID law, the goal is to limit Democrats, not minorities. Still, the effect is the same: applying new state limits on participation that have their largest impact on minorities, with shrinking protection from the federal government.

In his 1883 ruling against the 1875 Civil Rights Act—which prohibited black exclusion from jury service and guaranteed equal treatment in public accommodations, public transportation—Justice Joseph P. Bradley took a stand that should sound familiar to contemporary opponents of so-called racial entitlements:

When a man has emerged from slavery, and by the aid of beneficent legislation has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen, or a man, are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.

Replace “slavery” with “Jim Crow” and you have the popular conservative view of race and Constitution. And small setbacks aside, that view is on the march, with its crosshairs aimed at disparate impact and the Fair Housing Act.

Put another way, if the civil rights movement was Second Reconstruction, then—if we need a name for today’s push against its key measures—you could do worse than the Second Redemption.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, October 10, 2014

October 12, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Fair Housing Act, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Absurd Revisionist History”: Ted Cruz Is A Chip Off A Crazy Old Block

Former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s recent foray into 9/11 trutherism has revived questions about how his fringe politics could affect his son’s presidential ambitions. But Rand Paul isn’t the only White House aspirant with a political anchor in the family.

During an August 21 meeting of the Western Williamson Republican Club, Pastor Rafael Cruz — father of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) — attempted to explain that black Americans “need to be educated” about the real history of the civil rights movement, and that “the average black” doesn’t understand the minimum wage.

Cruz ran into trouble recounting a recent conversation that he had with a black pastor.

“I said, as a matter of fact, ‘Did you know that civil rights legislation was passed by Republicans? It was passed by a Republican Senate under the threat of a filibuster by the Democrats,’” Cruz told the group, as reported by BuzzFeed. “‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ And then I said, ‘Did you know that every member of the Ku Klux Klan were Democrats from the South?’ ‘Oh I didn’t know that.’ You know, they need to be educated.”

“Jason Riley said in an interview, Did you know before we had minimum-wage laws black unemployment and white unemployment were the same?” he added, referring to the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board member. “If we increase the minimum wage, black unemployment will skyrocket. See, he understands it, but the average black does not.”

Cruz’s assertions are riddled with factual inaccuracies. For starters, casting conservatives as the real heroes of the civil rights movement requires an absurd revisionist history (nevermind the fact that Republicans didn’t actually control the Senate in 1964).

Cruz is similarly off base on the effects of increasing the minimum wage. Both professional economists and recent history strongly dispute the notion that guaranteeing workers $10.10 per hour will cause unemployment to “skyrocket.” And, contrary to Cruz’s warning, “the average black” would actually disproportionately benefit from such an increase.

Additionally, Pastor Cruz’s riffing on the intelligence of “the average black” probably won’t help Republicans if they choose to revive their disastrously failed outreach to minorities before the 2016 presidential election. And that could be a problem for Senator Cruz.

Ted Cruz has made no apologies for his close personal and professional relationship with his father, who has been described as a “power broker” within the senator’s political organization. He has even used a Senate aide to book his father’s paid speeches, like the one given to the Western Williamson Republican Club. That means that, if Senator Cruz does pursue an oft-rumored presidential bid, he will have to answer for his father’s radical rhetoric. After all, not many serious presidential candidates have close advisors who believe that the California drought is the result of a United Nations plot to confiscate private property, or that the president is a secret Muslim who will force the elderly to undergo “suicide counseling,” or that evolution is a communist lie, among many other outrageous conspiracy theories. Cruz would have a difficult enough time convincing the electorate that he is mainstream enough to serve as president; his father’s regular outbursts will only make it harder.

Pastor Cruz believes that President Obama was “brainwashed for 18 years” by listening to the sermons of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. What does that mean for Ted Cruz, who has been listening to his father for a lifetime?

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, September 3, 2014

September 6, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How The Supreme Court Protects Bad Cops”: How Many More Deaths And Riots Will It Take Before SCOTUS Changes Course?

Last week, a grand jury was convened in St. Louis County, Mo., to examine the evidence against the police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and to determine if he should be indicted. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. even showed up to announce a separate federal investigation, and to promise that justice would be done. But if the conclusion is that the officer, Darren Wilson, acted improperly, the ability to hold him or Ferguson, Mo., accountable will be severely restricted by none other than the United States Supreme Court.

In recent years, the 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.

The most recent court ruling that favored the police was Plumhoff v. Rickard, decided on May 27, which found that even egregious police conduct is not “excessive force” in violation of the Constitution. Police officers in West Memphis, Ark., pulled over a white Honda Accord because the car had only one operating headlight. Rather than comply with an officer’s request to get out of the car, the driver made the unfortunate decision to speed away. The police chased the car for more than five minutes, reaching speeds of over 100 miles per hour. Eventually, officers fired 15 shots into the car, killing both the driver and a passenger.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and ruled unanimously in favor of the police. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said that the driver’s conduct posed a “grave public safety risk” and that the police were justified in shooting at the car to stop it. The court said it “stands to reason that, if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended.”

This is deeply disturbing. The Supreme Court now has said that whenever there is a high-speed chase that could injure others — and that would seem to be true of virtually all high-speed chases — the police can shoot at the vehicle and keep shooting until the chase ends. Obvious alternatives could include shooting out the car’s tires, or even taking the license plate number and tracking the driver down later.

The court has also weakened accountability by ruling that a local government can be held liable only if it is proved that the city’s or county’s own policy violated the Constitution. In almost every other area of law, an employer can be held liable if its employees, in the scope of their duties, injure others, even negligently. This encourages employers to control the conduct of their employees and ensures that those injured will be compensated.

A 2011 case, Connick v. Thompson, illustrates how difficult the Supreme Court has made it to prove municipal liability. John Thompson was convicted of an armed robbery and a murder and spent 18 years in prison, 14 of them on death row, because of prosecutorial misconduct. Two days before Mr. Thompson’s trial began in New Orleans, the assistant district attorney received the crime lab’s report, which stated that the perpetrator of the armed robbery had a blood type that did not match Mr. Thompson’s. The defense was not told this crucial information.

Through a series of coincidences, Mr. Thompson’s lawyer discovered the blood evidence soon before the scheduled execution. New testing was done and again the blood of the perpetrator didn’t match Mr. Thompson’s DNA or even his blood type. His conviction was overturned, and he was eventually acquitted of all charges.

The district attorney’s office, which had a notorious history of not turning over exculpatory evidence to defendants, conceded that it had violated its constitutional obligation. Mr. Thompson sued the City of New Orleans, which employed the prosecutors, and was awarded $14 million.

But the Supreme Court reversed that decision, in a 5-to-4 vote, and held that the local government was not liable for the prosecutorial misconduct. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said that New Orleans could not be held liable because it could not be proved that its own policies had violated the Constitution. The fact that its prosecutor blatantly violated the Constitution was not enough to make the city liable.

Because it is so difficult to sue government entities, most victims’ only recourse is to sue the officers involved. But here, too, the Supreme Court has created often insurmountable obstacles. The court has held that all government officials sued for monetary damages can raise “immunity” as a defense. Police officers and other law enforcement personnel who commit perjury have absolute immunity and cannot be sued for money, even when it results in the imprisonment of an innocent person. A prosecutor who commits misconduct, as in Mr. Thompson’s case, also has absolute immunity to civil suits.

When there is not absolute immunity, police officers are still protected by “qualified immunity” when sued for monetary damages. The Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia in 2011, ruled that a government officer can be held liable only if “every reasonable official” would have known that his conduct was unlawful. For example, the officer who shot Michael Brown can be held liable only if every reasonable officer would have known that the shooting constituted the use of excessive force and was not self-defense.

The Supreme Court has used this doctrine in recent years to deny damages to an eighth-grade girl who was strip-searched by school officials on suspicion that she had prescription-strength ibuprofen. It has also used it to deny damages to a man who, under a material-witness warrant, was held in a maximum-security prison for 16 days and on supervised release for 14 months, even though the government had no intention of using him as a material witness or even probable cause to arrest him. In each instance, the court stressed that the government officer could not be held liable, even though the Constitution had clearly been violated.

Taken together, these rulings have a powerful effect. They mean that the officer who shot Michael Brown and the City of Ferguson will most likely never be held accountable in court. How many more deaths and how many more riots will it take before the Supreme Court changes course?

 

By: Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine: Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, August 26, 2014

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ferguson, Watts And A Dream Deferred”: Things Have Gone Off Track And Unlikely To Be Reversed In The Foreseeable Future

When rioting broke out in the Watts section of Los Angeles in the summer of 1965, African-Americans didn’t — couldn’t — know it yet, but the next three decades would turn out to be a period of sustained gains in terms of income, jobs, education and the status of blacks relative to whites.

The rioting this past week in Ferguson, Mo., by contrast, follows more than a decade of economic stagnation and worse for many black Americans, a trend that appears unlikely to be reversed in the foreseeable future.

The Watts riots – set off by the traffic arrest of a 21-year-old black driver by a white police officer — left 34 dead, 1,032 people injured, and 600 buildings damaged or destroyed.

The week of violence in L.A. began just five days after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and 13 months after he had signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the impact of which had not yet been felt in the daily lives of African-Americans.

During the decades following this landmark legislation, African-Americans made immense progress. The percentage of blacks over the age 25 with a high school degree more than tripled, going from just under 20 percent, or less than half the white rate, to more than 70 percent, nearly matching the white rate. The percentage of blacks over 25 with a college degree quadrupled from 3 to 12 percent over the same period.

Similarly, black median household income grew, in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $22,974 in 1967 to $30,439 in 2000, a 32.5 percent increase, more than double the 14.2 percent increase for whites. Although black household income remained well below white levels in 2000 – 66.3 percent of the white median – it was significantly better than it had been in 1967, when it was 57.1 percent of white median income.

Things went off track, however, as the 21st century approached. The riots in Ferguson follow a period of setback for African-Americans, despite the fact that we have a sitting black president in the White House.

While the economic downturns of the last decade-and-a-half have taken their toll on the median income of all races and ethnic groups, blacks have been the hardest hit. By 2012, black median household income had fallen to 58.4 percent of white income, almost back to where it was in 1967 — 7.9 points below its level in 1999. (This Census Bureau chart shows the long-term income trends for major demographic groups in America.)

Income is a powerful measure of well-being, but equally important is the chance a person has of improving his or her position in life — of whether expectations are rising or falling.

Inequality in America is not news, and there have been a number of studies published recently that challenge the old notion that the United States is the land of opportunity for all, but for African Americans, the findings are particularly bleak.

From 1965 to 2000, the poverty rate among blacks fell from 41.8 percent to 22.5 percent. Since then, it has risen to 27.2 percent. The white poverty rate also rose during this period, but by a more modest 3.2 points.

Blacks suffered more than whites as a result of the 2008-9 financial meltdown and its aftermath, but the negative trends for African-Americans began before then.

A 2007 pre-recession Brookings Institution study by Julia Isaacs, “Economic Mobility of Black and White Families,” found that “a majority of blacks born to middle-income parents grow up to have less income than their parents. Only 31 percent of black children born to parents in the middle of the income distribution have family income greater than their parents, compared to 68 percent of white children from the same income bracket.”

White children, Isaacs reports, “are more likely to move up the ladder while black children are more likely to fall down.” Thirty-seven percent of white children born to families in the middle quintile of the income distribution move up to the top two quintiles, compared with only 17 percent of black children. Forty-five percent of black children from solidly middle class families “end up falling to the bottom of the income distribution, compared with only 16 percent of white children,” Isaacs found.

A more recent April 2014 study of black and white mobility by Bhashkar Mazumder, a senior economist at the Chicago Federal Reserve, showed similar results. That report is even more explicitly pessimistic.

The Chicago Fed study found that among black children born between the late 1950s and the early 1980s into families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, half remained there as adults, compared with 26 percent of whites born in the bottom quintile.

Of black children born to families in the top half of the income distribution, 60 percent fell into the bottom half as working age adults, compared with 36 percent of similarly situated whites.

Mazumder concluded that if future generations of white and black Americans continued to experience the same rates of intergenerational mobility, “we should expect to see that blacks on average would not make any relative progress.” He noted that this recent time period stood “in direct contrast to other epochs in which blacks have made steady progress reducing racial differentials.”

One optimistic note is that the white reaction to events in Ferguson, including the commentary of some outspoken white conservatives, has been sympathetic to the anger and outrage over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager. This stands in sharp distinction to the aftermath of the violence in Los Angeles in 1965.

Watts – and the string of urban riots in African-American neighborhoods from 1964 to 1968 — was crucial to the expansion of the conservative coalition that dominated most federal elections from 1966 to 2004. Fear of violence helped elect Ronald Reagan governor of California in 1966 and Richard Nixon to the presidency in 1968. Law and order, white backlash, the silent majority, and racial integration became core political preoccupations for once loyal Democratic whites as they converted to the Republican Party.

Just two years after the Democratic landslide of 1964, in the 1966 midterm election, Republicans picked up 47 seats in the House. “How long are we going to abdicate law and order favor of a soft social theory that the man who heaves a brick through your window or tosses a firebomb into your car is simply the misunderstood and underprivileged product of a broken home?” Gerald Ford, then the House minority leader, asked, with the answer assumed by the question.

Nearly half a century later, however, conservatives have voiced ambivalent responses to the Ferguson rioting. On Aug. 15, Erick Erickson, a popular conservative blogger at Red State, wrote a widely circulated posting titled “Must We Have a Dead White Kid?”

“Given what happened in Ferguson, the community had every right to be angry,” Erickson wrote. “The police bungled their handling of the matter, became very defensive and behaved more like a paramilitary unit than a police force. Property damage and violence by the citizenry cannot be excused, but is also the result of a community seeing those who are supposed to protect and serve instead suiting up and playing soldier.”

Erickson was by no means alone among conservatives. Sharing his views were Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a prospective Republican presidential candidate, and Charles C. W. Cooke, a National Review columnist, who argued that conservatives should “acknowledge that — even when our understanding of the facts is limited — incidents such as this open old and real wounds.”

The fatal shooting of Michael Brown has produced a rare right-left convergence, a shared recognition that the overwhelmingly white police department of Ferguson has become a hostile occupying force for much of the town’s majority black population.

There is, however, no left-right consensus about how to turn back the grim economic trends for African-Americans, much less what caused them.

Competing explanations for the difficulties that continue to plague African-Americans are a central element in the contemporary polarization between left and right; in fact, they help define it.

Liberals and conservatives disagree vehemently over the role of such factors as the decline of manufacturing jobs, the rise of single parenthood, racial discrimination, the poor quality of public schools, residential segregation, high incarceration rates, test score differentials, parental investment, crime rates, welfare incentives, the lack of engaged fathers – the list goes on.

Democrats in the main are convinced that impediments to black advancement are structural, amenable to government intervention: a strong and better-funded safety net; public investment in manufacturing and infrastructure employment; more rigorous enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.

Many Republicans focus instead on what they see as moral collapse and the erosion of such values as hard work and traditional family formation among the poor. Government spending on social programs, according to this view, creates disincentives to work and more trouble.

The urban riots of the second half of the 1960s prompted Washington to pump out money, legislation, judicial decisions and regulatory change to outlaw de jure discrimination, to bring African-Americans to the ballot box, to create jobs and to vastly expand the scope of anti-poverty programs.

Civil unrest also drew attention to the necessity of addressing police brutality.

Today, however, political and policy-making stasis driven by gridlock — despite a momentary concordance between left and right on this particular shooting — insures that we will undertake no comparable initiatives to reverse or even stem the trends that have put black Americans at an increasing disadvantage in relation to whites — a situation that plays no small part in fueling the rage currently on display in Ferguson.

 

By: Thomas B. Edsall, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, August 19, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Economic Inequality, Poverty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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