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This is not racism, institutionalise or otherwise, this is published data.

I would like to start out by saying that I spend a significant number of hours every week examining data concerning issues impacting on the lives of low income people.  Some of it is published data.  Some of it is data collected by my staff. 

Data is not simply data.  It is a portrait of a reality. 

Data demonstrates that low income communities have higher crime rates than high income communities.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  Low income people are more likely to commit the sorts of economic crimes that they will get caught doing, such as robbery.  Low income people are more likely to have poor nutritional levels, and people with lower nutritional levels are less likely to handle stress effectively.   Low income people are more likely to have undiagnosed/untreated illnesses, including mental illness.  And low income people tend to have lower educational levels, and more likely to not have education relative to their innate skills or intelligence.  People who understand that they are not living up to their potentials are often frustrated, and frustration often results in poor choices.  All of these factors contribute to crime levels. 

Data also demonstrates that in the US (and in many other parts of the world) the lowest income brackets are disproportionately populated by people of color.  So yes.  There are more people of color living with the effects of poverty, and poverty impacts on crime, and therefore, there are more crimes committed by people of color. 

Now if the economic marginalization of a significant percentage people of color is not in itself a symptom of institutionalized racism, let’s look at some of the factors that perpetuate that economic marginalization.  And there are a LOT of factors.  But let’s just pick a few.

There are volumes of data which demonstrate that lower educational levels are tied to lower lifetime earnings.  So for most people, education is the key to the journey out of poverty.  However, in the US, school systems are supported (almost universally) by the real estate tax money from the community that the school system serves.  (There is a base of federal funding, but not enough to really support a school.)  So low income communities live in lower cost property, and subsequently pay lower real estate taxes, so there is less money to support the schools.  So the kids attending the zoned schools tend to be in larger classrooms, with fewer educational supplies, and often (though not always) with less experienced/dedicated teachers.  There are fewer extracurricular activities.  Hell, there is less toilet paper.  These schools are less likely to have guidance counselors who sit the kids down and talk about prepping for college entrance exams and applying for financial aid, and parents who have not been through the college application process themselves are less likely to even know the steps that kids should take to get on a college tract.  And quite frankly, the colleges are less impressed with transcripts from these schools. 

I cannot think of a more vivid example of an institutionalized problem that plagues low income communities, generation after generation, and subsequently impacts on the disproportionally high percentage of people of color who live in those communities. 

Let’s take a quick look at incarceration itself as a self-perpetuating cycle.  But before we do, I think it is really important to point out that in the US, incarceration is an industry.  Publically traded, for profit corporations draw down federal funds for each incarcerated person.  Stock holders in some industries hope for increased sales, and lobbyists for those industries work to promote laws designed to increase sales.  Stock holders in the incarceration industry hope for increased incarceration rates, and lobbyists for that industry work to promote laws to increase arrests and length of sentences, in order to increase profits. 

Now there is the old meme about more young black men in prison than in college, and I don’t really know the data or numbers concerning whether that is still true.  I do know that there was an exponential increase in the incarceration of latinos during the post 9/11 period, both in prisons and in detention centers.  And remember, each incarceration means more profit for the industry.  To Obama’s credit, he closed down the “family” detention centers.  (Yeah, in the US we used to keep a lot of children in jail.  But we don’t talk about that. ) He also used his executive privilege to change some internal procedures within USCIS to decrease the incarceration rate of undocumented non-criminals. 

So what is the impact on a family when a father, mother, or both, are in prison?  Decreased income.  Lack of positive role models.  Lack of support.  Being shuffled around among relatives.  Growing up in foster care. While there are certainly children of incarcerated parents who grow up to be successful, well-adjusted human beings, there is little question that these kids are starting out with significant disadvantages compared to the general population.

Finally, let’s take a look at perception.  There have been blind studies of employers looking at resumes with equivalent educational levels and previous experience (I can look for these studies later if you like) that demonstrate that people with “black names” are less likely to be interviewed.  So if your name is Keisha or LaShawn, you are less likely to be interviewed than a person whose name is Susan or John, regardless of what else is on your resume. 

I do not see how you can look at these combined factors (and I certainly did not cite all of the factors) and NOT see a pattern of institutionalized racism. 

So let’s get to cops.  I cited the statistics concerning stop and search in NYC.  There is no doubt that a disproportionate number of those stopped and searched are people of color.   And if you are stopped because you fit the profile of someone who just robbed the bodega down the street, even if you had nothing to do with it, if you’ve got a joint in your pocket, you are getting arrested.  I’ve never been stopped and searched.  And during my youth, there were more than several occasions that I had a joint in my pocket.  But the chances of me getting caught were significantly lower than the chances of a person of color, especially a (young) man of color being caught.  But in NYC, cops don’t need probable cause for a stop and search.  They don’t even need to be looking for a suspect in a crime.  They can just stop random people on the street and search them.  And they mostly stop young black and Hispanic men. 

The stop and search itself is such an invasive process, that many hormonally charged young men take offense, and either say things or do things that end up leading them to jail even if they had previously been doing nothing wrong.  I’ve watched more stop and searches than I care to count, and I am always awed by the young people who are able to maintain their composure during this humiliating process.  But some aren’t. 

Finally, we have many well-documented cases of police brutality against people of color.  A GROUP of police officers sodomized Abner Louima with a plunger for a minor offence.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abner_Louima  Why on earth would a GROUP of police officers sodomize a suspect with a plunger?

Rodney King’s brutal assault was videotaped. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_King  There were riots, but not a revolution, when the police officers who beat him were acquitted.
Amadou Diallo was unarmed and shot 41 times at close range.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadou_Diallo_shooting

In my boro, Sean Bell was shot 50 times and killed the night before his wedding after getting drunk at his bachelor’s party.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean_Bell_shooting_incident 

I’m pretty sure that out of all of these cases, only one cop went to prison. 

Cops KNOW that they don’t suffer serious consequences when they take their frustrations out on young black men.  Even when they sodomize them.  Even when they kill them.

Recently, here in NYC, a well-loved city council member, Jumaame Williams, and a senior aid to another elected official, were brutally thrown to the ground and handcuffed AFTER having shown the police their official identification in an attempt to get through a street that was barricaded off to facilitate the passage of elected officials going to a VIP brunch.  Why would the police do that?  Would you like to see the video tape of that assault?

I know Councilmember Jumaame Williams.  I’ve worked with him.   I know a lot of people who have been assaulted by police.  He is the first elected official I know who has been assaulted by police.

I’ve also worked with the police.  On multiple issues.  About 15 years ago, when livery cab drivers (mostly latinos, some Pakistani/Bangladeshi/Indian) represented the largest occupational homicide rate in NYC, I was part of a campaign to protect these drivers.  I went to roll calls at police stations to talk about the hazards that these workers face in their jobs, facing away from their assailants, often, with limited English proficiency, having trouble understanding the instructions of their assailants while a gun is held to their heads, or a knife to their throats.  I was shocked by these roll call meetings.  Over and over again, rather than expressing concern about ways to protect these workers, I listened to cops, over and over again, tell me that the drivers were “dirty.”  That they urinated in soda bottles, and threw garbage out of their cab windows.  Dirty.  These men, who risked their lives every night to earn a minor living were, in the views of many police officers, dirty.

Some cops are wonderful human beings.  They also risk their lives every day.  But most of the beat cops in my neighborhood stop and smile at my daughter.  We have cops on horseback now, (due to narrow, one way streets) and they often let my little girl pet their horses.  A friend of mine was robbed last year, at knifepoint, with a baby and a 4 year old in her care.  The cops who responded were great. 

I think that conscious efforts by the NYPD to recruit people of color (especially bilingual/multilingual people of color) to the police force has had a really positive impact on both the ways that the cops perceive the communities that they serve, and the ways in which the communities perceive the cops. 

But I continue to suspect police gross misconduct in the death of Chavis Carter. 
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