Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Race relations 2017

Last week's acquittal in the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile in St. Anthony, Minnesota, brought race relations back onto the American political agenda, albeit in a way limited by the ongoing investigations into the Trump presidential campaign, terror attacks in London, and not least the seeming intractability of the issue itself.

Nevertheless the unusual circumstances of the tragedy had seemed to indicate the police officer would be held accountable in this case: Castile's passenger filmed the encounter, and their interactions were non-confrontational (Smith). When the jury found the officer not guilty, it begged the question: Under what if any set of circumstances will a white officer be found guilty of shooting a black man?

Meanwhile, a more systematic Stanford University study of body camera footage in Oakland in 2014 finds blacks and whites are treated differently at traffic stops--less respectful address, less likely to use "please" and "thank you," more commands--by officers of all races (Ordway). Another study based in Greensboro, North Carolina, found blacks were far more likely to be stopped, searched, and receive force (LaFraniere and Lehren). [Castile was shot after he was stopped for a broken tail light.] The shootings in Minnesota, North Carolina, New York &c. are just the tip of the iceberg.

The new regimes in the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education are showing every sign of pulling back on civil rights enforcement, with smaller budgets and less use of tools like consent decrees on local governments (Huseman and Waldman). This is not to say previous policy implementation was flawless, but consent decrees have shown a certain utility, and the administration characteristically has not offered a new policy approach.

Just having a policy, though, doesn't mean it's good. Small Business Administration incubation of minority-owned businesses under Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act has largely failed to meet expectations, according to Grant Lewis of George Mason University. Mason concludes that many recipients are gaming the grants during the nine years of eligibility, rather than using them to move themselves to a more level playing field with whites who have more access to capital: The limited term of the program, rather than encouraging firms to become self-sustaining, in fact encourages them to exit the market once subsidies are withdrawn (Trilling). The racial disparity in wealth is huge and surely affects the racial disparity in business formation (cf. Shaft on tech startups). Is the solution better screening? Better program design? Intentional outreach?

Black voter turnout declined in the 2016 presidential election, both nationally and in the six states whose narrow outcomes gave Trump the Electoral College. Particularly in Wisconsin and Florida, black turnout fell considerably from parity with white turnout (Frey). In the short run, all groups need to use political participation to articulate their interests. But in the long run, we need a better sense of common destiny.

Our common life in 21st century America begins with the recognition that we have a common life, that black and white, and all the other divisions we see in our society, are on the same vessel, and we will sink or swim together. Planner Annette Koh writes:
Our naiveté borders on negligence if we don’t explicitly address how the very presence of certain bodies in public has been criminalized and the color of your skin can render you automatically “out of place.” Stop-and-frisk policies have criminalized an entire generation of Black and Latino youth in the name of public safety. What kind of places are we making in American cities where a 12-year old kid is shot in his own neighborhood park? (Koh)
What would happen to blacks who are inspired to attempt tactical urbanism actions (Hurley)? If America is at the point that young black men are inherently scary, enough so to justify extreme measures of self-defense, we are so far from where we need to be we can't see there from here. Hope is hard to find, but what choice do we have but to figure this out?

SOURCES
 William H. Frey, "Census Shows Pervasive Decline in Minority Voting Turnout," The Avenue, 18 May 2017
 Amanda Kolson Hurley, "DIY Urban Planning is Happening All Over the Country. Is It Only for White People?" Washington Post, 27 October 16
 Jessica Huseman and Annie Waldman, "Trump Administration Quietly Rolls Back Civil Rights Enforcement Across Federal Government," ProPublica, 15 June 2017
 Annette Koh, "Placemaking When Black Lives Matter," Project for Public Spaces, 24 May 2017
 Sharon LaFraniere and Andrew W. Lehren, "The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black," New York Times, 24 October 2015
 Denise-Marie Ordway, "Body Camera Footage Suggests Police Treat Black Drivers with Less Respect," Journalist's Resource, 7 June 2017
 Shaft, "A Black Man Walks into the San Francisco CTO Summit," Medium, 10 May 2017
 Mitch Smith, "Minnesota Officer Acquitted in Killing of Philando Castile," New York Times, 16 June 2017
 David Trilling, "Government Contracting Program May Be Failing Minority Businesses," Journalist's Resource, 9 June 2017 [see also links therein]

EARLIER POSTS
"Race: A Way Through?" 10 March 2017
"The Latest Bad News and Our Common Life," 17 December 2014

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