According to recent studies, African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white people in America. And yet, African Americans and Hispanics make up less than 25% of the American population. Let me reiterate, although African Americans and Hispanics comprise less than 25% of the American populace, they comprise 58% of the prison population in America.
It is through this lens, and the lens of economic inequality that we must view the killings of minorities in the United States by the police. Slavery left in its wake generation poverty, educational deficits and other economic biases whose pernicious effects still reverberate today. Consider that up until the 1970’s it was commonplace for African Americans to be denied loans for homes. Laws were eventually put in place to prevent housing and lending discrimination but what are the effects of the earlier victimization?
Home ownership is the financial backbone of wealth in the middle class. Having a home grants equity and borrowing/capital power that most families use to help pass on wealth, stability and means to their future children. But it wasn’t until the 1990’s that most African American families had acquired their first homes. And just as most African Americans were coming into their prime for being able to acquire their first homes, the financial meltdown hit, causing many of them to lose their homes, or their ability to acquire a mortgage. All of this leads me to the inexorable conclusion that poverty and scarcity are endemic within the average African American community.
According to the 2013 census, African Americans as a race constitute the lowest percentage of home ownership, sitting at just a little over 46%. Growing up poor in the inner cities, often with a fractured family structure, in one rental or another can’t lend the best role models of how to get ahead. Inner cities often have dropout rates higher than 40%. With less than 50 percent of African Americans coming from a position of home ownership and less than half of them from cities like Detroit graduating from high school, they are left in an economically vulnerable position. Lack of role models aside, I’m saying that in many cases, some of them turn to crime in order to make basic ends meet. I’m not justifying breaking the law. I’m arguing that having food to eat trumps the need to operate within the confines of the law.
Regardless of the reasons for committing crime among minorities, what we are left with are an inordinate amount of minorities in prison, and an exceptional amount being killed by police. According to a study done by the Justice Department, between 2003 and 2009, blacks were 4 times more likely to be killed by police than whites while attempting to be placed in custody. I’d be hard pressed to say that given the disparity between the amount of whites and blacks committing crimes that the blacks are justifiably murdered by police at a rate four times higher. In my opinion the reason more blacks are killed than whites has less to do with economics than with culture. If I were a minority, and I knew that I was being profiled, and likely could end up murdered or in prison if I committed a crime, I would be scared out of mind. In fact, I would be scared even if I didn’t break the law. By all realistic accounts, police kill over 1000 people annually, and report 400. I’m willing to bet that many of those outlying 600 are disproportionately minorities.
What is the solution? Is it more training for police? Is it stricter penalties for cops that profile? Is it raising awareness of economic inequality and trying to bolster the poor? Is it ending systemic racism in places of authority? Is it combating the culture of violence that we as Americans endear so much? It could be all of those things and more. But if our police can’t lead by example then our communities can’t trust them. We need to stop police brutality. And that starts with exposing the uncomfortable truths hiding in plain sight all around us.