The Aug. 23 police shooting of an unarmed Black man in Kenosha, Wis., triggered yet another round of community protests and national news coverage of a Black man. A series of multiple gunshots fired by a local police officer was not fatal for 29-year-old Jacob Blake, but may have permanently paralyzed him from the waist down.
Days later on Aug. 28, the National Action Network served as a major organizer for a Commitment March, rededicating the yet-unaddressed dreams of the historic 1963 March on Washington. Assembled again at Washington’s Lincoln Memorial, the day’s speakers spanned nationally known leaders like Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, and attorney Ben Crump to the family members of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and others.
The irony is that despite the passage of nearly 60 years between the original march and its 2020 recommitment, many of the issues that have plagued Black America remain the same. Black America and other people of color still cry for justice, equality, and freedom. Yet noticeably, what formerly focused national attention on events in Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham have now emanated from Ferguson to Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland and other locales.
Why measurable forward strides in policing, or economic progress have remained elusive after decades of calls for reforms may partly be explained by the findings of a new policy analysis by the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis. Using U.S. Census Bureau data, Ana Hernandez Kent, a policy analyst with the St. Louis Fed, found that America’s racial poverty gap continues to suppress social and economic justice. Moreover, Wisconsin, not a southern state, claims the dubious distinction of having the largest poverty gap in the nation.
Nationally the St. Louis Fed found that in 2018, Black households earned 61 cents for every $1 of White household median income. Further, the Black/White median household income gaps ranged from 87 cents per dollar in Maine and Hawaii, down to 32 cents per dollar in the District of Columbia. The disparity in median translates into 22% of all Black Americans living in poverty, a gap of 13% compared to Whites who are poor. Wisconsin’s gap is 23%.
“In noting the socioeconomic indicators of median income, poverty rates and health insurance rates, I found that White people had more favorable outcomes than Black people in every state,” wrote Hernandez Kent.
Poverty’s racial disparity extends to other key measures such as median incomes, homeownership and retirement.
Even with the enactment of the Fair Housing Act more than 50 years ago, today’s Black homeownership rate is dwindling. According to Ohio State University professor Trevon Logan, “The homeownership gap between Blacks and whites is higher today in percentage terms than it was in 1900.”
Prof. Logan’s position is bolstered by findings from a 2020 report by the National Association of Realtors, “A Snapshot of Race and Homebuying in America,” that found:
- 62% of Black mortgage applicants were rejected because of their debt to income ratio, compared to only 5% of whites.
- 51% of Blacks are first-time homeowners, compared to only 30% of Whites.
Moreover, since the Great Recession that heavily hit Black homeowners a decade ago, today’s Black homeownership rate has yet to return to pre-recession levels.
With lower and lifelong disparities in median income earnings, the ability to prepare for retirement is hindered as well. Social Security figures each worker’s retirement benefit on the basis of a taxpayer’s 35 highest-earning years. With lower incomes and a corresponding lack of monies available for savings or retirement, Black Americans rely on Social Security more than other races and/or ethnicities. Now, for much of Black America, Social Security is a financial lifeline and often the major retirement benefit.
In sum, it seems that in 2020, historic ills remain virtually unchanged. A key component of what continues is police violence against Black America.
In 1963, escalating racial tensions that worsened with growing numbers of peaceful protests that became violent by counterprotesters and led to multiple arrests, prompted President John F. Kennedy to deliver a nationally televised address on America’s racial reckoning.
“One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free,” he said. “They are not free from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.”
Fast-forward and it is nearly inconceivable that the current president would deliver such an address. In fact, President Trump and HUD Secretary Ben Carson co-authored a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that portrayed mixed-income neighborhoods as “social engineering.” The redlining of Black communities, racial covenants, real estate steering and restrictive zoning laws that together perpetuated segregated housing were never acknowledged in the guest column.
In response, Nikitra Bailey’s Center for Responsible Lending recently spoke with ABC News saying that the suburbs “intentionally created opportunities for White families while holding back opportunities for families of color. … What we are really talking about is opportunity in our nation.”
With escalated violence in a growing number of cities occurring just months before an election, everyday citizens and scholars are echoing community and national leaders on the connection between key policies like housing segregation to violent eruptions.
Last December, the Journal of the National Medical Association, the professional organization of Black physicians, published an article, “The Relationship between Racial Residential Segregation and Black-White Disparities in Fatal Police Shootings at the City Level, 2013–2017.”
The authors concluded that “Racial residential segregation is a significant predictor of the magnitude of the Black-White disparity in fatal police shootings at the city level. Efforts to ameliorate the problem of fatal police violence must move beyond the individual level and consider the interaction between law enforcement officers and the neighborhoods that they police.”
Before the thousands gathered this August, Rev. Sharpton also spoke to this same concern:
“It’s time we have a conversation with America. We need to have a conversation about your racism, about your bigotry, about your hate, about how you would put your knee on our neck while we cry our lives. We need a new conversation. … You act like it’s no trouble to shoot us in the back. You act like it’s no trouble to put a chokehold on us while we scream, ‘I can’t breathe,’ 11 times. You act like it’s no trouble to hold a man down on the ground until you squeeze the life out of him.”
“Our vote is dipped in blood,” he continued. “Our vote is dipped in those that went to their grave. We don’t care how long the line, we don’t care what you do, we’re going to vote, not for one candidate or the other, but we going to vote for a nation that’ll stop the George Floyds, that’ll stop the Breonna Taylors.”
Let the church say amen.
Charlene Crowell is a senior fellow with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.