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Before the Riots


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In the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived before he died in police custody on April 12, one-half the residents are unemployed and one-third of the homes are vacant. Sixty percent of residents have less than a high school diploma, and the violent crime rate is among the highest in Baltimore. You can paint a similar picture for the neighborhoods and housing projects on the east side of the city as well. If you are poor and black in Charm City, your life—or at least your opportunity to have a better life—looks bleak…By and large, the “Negro slums” of the 1910s are the depressed projects and vacant blocks of the 2010s. And the same pressures of crime and social dislocation continue to press on the modern-day residents of the inner city. If the goal of early segregationist policies was to concentrate black Baltimoreans in a single location, separated from opportunity, then it worked. More importantly, it’s never been unraveled; there’s never been a full effort to undo and compensate for the policies of the past. Indeed, the two decades of drugs and crime that marred Baltimore in the 1980s and 1990s helped entrench the harm and worsen the scars of the city’s history. – Jamelle Bouie, The Deep, Troubling Roots of Baltimore’s Decline, Slate

So who represents the poor and downtrodden, not just in Baltimore but all over this country. Baltimore has been a Democratic stronghold for generations and has elected many black politicians to the highest levels of civic government. They have a black mayor (3 out of the last 4 have been black), they have a black president of the city council, a black police chief, and prosecutor. But why hasn’t this translated into any tangible relief for the city’s impoverished residents? Why haven’t these black politicians been able to lift these folks out of poverty? Why haven’t they been able to reverse the discrimination of the past which everyone suggests is the cause of today’s current problems?

I think the answer to these questions lies in the very nature of our political system. You see in a democracy it is not that the majority rules, it is the majority of those who care enough to vote rules. You see the poor people don’t vote, they don’t make political contributions, and unemployed people don’t pay taxes so the question is whose constituencies are they? Who speaks to their concerns and challenges certainly not their political leaders, activists, and preachers who have continued to sell them down the river for little or nothing. They are taken for granted and their needs are never seriously considered because they don’t have to be.

While black politicians are being elected all over this country the political realities remain the same. They have to answer to their constituencies who voted for them and provided them with campaign funds and by and large that is not the folks we saw protesting in Baltimore, Ferguson, and other places. You see the politicians they continue to vote for (when they vote) do not have to give them anything in return for their support. Take in Baltimore, they are not protected any better from the bad police tactics, their schools have not improved, and they are still sentenced to the same jail time as before. What have they gotten for all of those years of undying support? The unemployment continues to be excessively high and their housing continues to deteriorate. I’d say the liberal Democratic politicians have gotten a pretty good deal continued support while still being able to cater to their real constituencies which are the developers, bankers, and unions. Most of these major urban centers are broke they have suffered from depopulation which reduces your tax base, mismanagement, and in the case of many political corruption.

This is why we can no longer continue to expect others to do what we must do for ourselves. If as a people we decided that we wanted to reduce the children born to single mothers by 50% we could reduce the poverty level 35% without a single government program. Of course this would require liberal politicians, community activists, and preachers to take a stand against this epidemic of out of wedlock births. But rather than propose real solutions we just keep getting more of the same. We need to spend more money and that will improve the lives of these children. Well, I am here to tell you no amount of money can make what is wrong into what is right. This isn’t just about economics; it is about culture and choices. You see you can’t have two distinctive cultures living side by side and the minority culture being dependent on the majority culture for its survival. As an example, the Asian culture flourishes next to the dominant culture because they are primarily independent of that culture. They are not dependent on the culture they are showing contempt for.

So if we are really concerned about these at-risk communities then we should be looking for ways to support the traditional family, stress education, and address the lack of hope and feelings of alienation that engulf these communities like a thick fog. That’s why at ReEngage we stress the importance of fathers in the lives of their children, employment, and giving back to the community. Instead of asking what the community can do for you, ask what can I do for the community.

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