The economic aspect of a number of the recent tragedies involving law enforcement officials cannot be overlooked amidst the calls for reform of policing practices. In many ways, the economic status of minority communities is inextricably linked to the plight of Blacks and Hispanics in the criminal justice system.
The recent incident in Baton Rouge highlighted again the over policing of petty infractions like selling CDs that people are engaged in to try to feed their families in environments where economic opportunity has been depleted. The need for an economic stimulus plan for communities of color is extreme. Blacks have become a permanent underclass in many cities and the underground economy has become the only economy for too many. Sustained community pressure must be exerted in order to create economic opportunity.
In an atmosphere of gridlock at the Congressional level, we must look to the local level to bring about tangible change. We have to be deliberate and strategic when tackling systemic problems. An increased emphasis on measures like increasing the minimum wage and requiring a greater representation of minority owned vendors in government contracting will improve economic opportunity in areas that desperately need it. Another step is to gather diversity data on who every major corporation in your area is employing and contracting. We don't have an obligation to spend money where we can't work or get contracts.
There is a need for communities to know the diversity data for the major corporations in their areas. The placement of one or two highly placed Blacks is not the solution. They are often under pressure to be docile and non-threatening to the existing status quo. These few individuals are often limited in their ability to effect change from the inside. The pressure must come from the outside.
We need to go beyond discussions on race and deal with an economic system that people of color have largely been locked out of. If we don't deal with this using data, we will ultimately be spinning our wheels with only anecdotal guidance and the conditions of our communities will not change. There is less crime in economically empowered communities and thus less of a perception of people in the community as criminals.
This is particularly evident in communities that are occupied by police officers that live outside of the areas that they are policing. A significant problem is that many officers are scared of the people that they are sworn to serve and protect a lot of that is based on perception. The perception is based on a racial bias that views blacks as criminals. The numbers suggest that there is a predisposition of criminal intent at every level.
The "just get an education" tactic is not sufficient. Black college graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed. Hispanic graduates are two thirds as likely to be unemployed. Black and Hispanics are also out of work 7-9 additional weeks. Additionally, empirical studies have shown that job applicants with white sounding names are 50% more likely to get call backs for interviews than applicants with black sounding names.
Yes, we need to get more people in job training programs and institutions of higher education, but even more work needs to be done to open up the doors to economic prosperity. Corporations should be pressured to put jobs and contracts on the table.
There also needs to be a renewed effort to educate minority students on entrepreneurship and how to build businesses. Many students have only been taught to be employees and are therefore perpetually reduced to having to beg the dominant society to give them access to a job.
Along with the need for more people to learn how to build businesses is the need to remove barriers to access start up capital. Blacks are much less likely to have transformative assets passed down to them. They were excluded from many vehicles of intergenerational wealth transfer that were used to build the middle class through methods like redlining and the exclusion of the majority of Blacks during the first decades of Social Security.
This intergenerational wealth transfer can be seen in the form of inheritance, trust funds, college payments, down payments for houses, private school payments, credit card payments, medical bills, access to capital, and business start up money. The tremendous economic and community wealth ramifications that Black communities feel today can be traced to government policy and practices that have led to systemic disadvantage.
Singing kumbuya together at a peace rally is wonderful, but it won't change the day to day reality in our communities. Along with protesting we must do the due diligence to formulate and implement a strategy that will bring about a lasting change.
Marcus Bright, Ph.D. is a Political and Social Commentator