It is unfortunate that, the violent racial riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, that occurred after the death of clearly innocent Black youth, has diverted the public debate to 'need for better policing'. The casualty has been obfuscation more fundamental issues like; century-old public policy of systematic social segregation, increasing economic inequality, and wholesale abdication by the state of social welfare obligations
Century-Old Systematic Segregation
According to The University of Chicago's sociologist, Douglas S. Massey, "Housing segregation is both a consequence and a cause of Black poverty. Housing markets distribute not only a place to live, but they also distribute wealth in the form of home equity, education, the peer environment and exposure to crime,"
In 1910, a Black Yale Law School graduate purchased a home, in a previously all-White neighborhood in Baltimore. The alarmed city fathers promptly issued an ordinance adopting residential segregation, thereby restricting African-Americans to designated blocks.
This was overturned in 1917, when the U.S. Supreme Court found the Baltimore ordinances unconstitutional by restricting the property rights of White homeowners to sell to whomever they wished. Baltimore immediately formed an official Committee on Segregation, which through building and health departments, persuaded real estate industry and White community organizations, to apply pressure to any Whites tempted to sell or rent to Blacks. Members of the city's real estate board, for example, accompanied building and health inspectors to warn property owners not to violate the city's color line. Neighborhood residential associations made it impossible for isolated White property owners to sell or rent their property to Non-White customers. Developers could access subsidized housing loans, only if they gave an undertaking that they would not sell their properties to Blacks.
Moving on to 1945 and the end of the Second World War, that brought home war veterans, who needed housing. One such returning unit had, 20% African-Americans who were housed alongside their White fellow men, with whom they had lived and fought, looking after each other's backs day and night. The very next day, all hell broke loose. Four hundred policemen were trying to keep at bay a White mob of 1500 men, some of them being their own fellowmen in uniforms. Fifteen days of the struggle that occurred, drove the African-American families to make their way elsewhere.
In 1995, a housing lawyer from Johannesburg, South Africa, visited Baltimore to study; how to 'undo' racial segregation?, merits of integrated neighborhoods, the constitutional right to choose where to live, and the role of the government in ensuring, equal opportunities and fair housing practices. Soon, he realized to his great disappointment, that Baltimore was no different than his native land, Johannesburg, when it came to a deliberate and intentional residential segregation. Real-estate agencies ''steering'' and the banks were ''red-lining'' the Blacks with almost identical indifference.
The Kerner Prophecy
During the years 1965 to 1968, America witnessed a huge eruption of over 300, race related disturbances, in across 200 cities and towns. Distressed by this unprecedented upsurge of mass fury, which needed federal troops at some places to establish peace, the then President, Lyndon Johnson, set up an enquiry commission formally known as the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which later on became more popular as the Kerner Commission, after its chairman, Otto J. Kerner Jr.
While ruling out any conspiracy, the commission identified racial discrimination, poverty, high unemployment, poor & inadequate schools, poor health care and sanitation as major contributing factors to the United States' racial apartheid.
The early & selective leakage of this report incited ferocious criticism from the White community. Critics argued, that the report has blamed everyone except the rioters. The opposition was so strong and intense that, Johnson not only declined the request by commission members, but also took additional six months to disseminate its findings to the public at large and put the issue in right perspective, but he himself failed to act upon it.
The most often quoted statement from the report, the prophetic value of which is only being realized in recent times is:
"The United States is moving toward two societies, one Black, and one White--separate and unequal"
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