Sunday, February 17, 2008

Worst Places to be Black

I saw this article on the Black Agenda Report. I found it very interesting.

Corporate media, which conceal much about the state of things beyond our borders, work hard to obscure the facts of life for Americans too, including the state of Black America. In this year of symbolic firsts and "never befores" Black Agenda Report offers a useful index of how life is lived for hundreds of thousands of families in our communities.

America's prison system, the world's largest houses some 2.2 million people. Almost half its prisoners come from the one eighth of this country which is black. African American communities have been hard hit by the social, political and economic repercussions of the growth of America's prison state. Its presence and its reach into Black life is a useful index of the quality of life in Black America itself.

In this year of symbolic optimism, when a Black man is a leading contender in the presidential race, as well as being a leading recipient of contributions from Wall Street, from big insurance, and from military contractors, the need to measure and describe life as it is actually lived by millions of African Americans has never been greater. As we said in the introduction to 2005's Ten Worst Places to be Black

“The pervasive corporate media bubble, which grossly distorts the views most Americans have of the world beyond their shores, and of life in America’s black one-eighth, operates to fool African Americans, too. While a fortunate few of us are doing very well indeed, and many more are hanging on as best we can, the conditions of life for a substantial chunk of black America are not substantially improving, and appear to be getting much worse. This is a truth which can’t be found anywhere in the corporate media, but it is nevertheless one with which we must familiarize ourselves in preparation for the upcoming national black dialog. It is high time to begin constructing useful indices with which to measure the quality of life, not just for a fortunate few, but for the broad masses of our people in America’s black one-eighth.

“Painting an accurate picture is not difficult. Useful measures of family income and cohesiveness, of home ownership, life expectancy, education levels, of unemployment and underemployment abound. But among all the relevant data on the state of black America today one factor stands out: the growth of America’s public policy of racially selective policing, prosecution, and mass imprisonment of its black citizens over the past 30 years. The operation of the crime control industry has left a distinctive, multidimensional and devastating mark on the lives of millions of black families and on the economic and social fabric of the communities in which they live.”

Although our Black presidential candidate would have us believe that African Americans are, as he has said many times, “90% of the way” to freedom, justice and true equality, the facts seem to say otherwise. As recently as 1964, a majority of all US prisoners were white men. But since 1988, the year Vice President George H.W. Bush rode to the White House stoking white fears with an ad campaign featuring convicted Black killer and rapist Willie Horton, the black one-eighth of America's population has furnished the majority of new admissions to its prisons and jails.


The fact is that while US prison populations have grown seven times since 1970, crime rates have increased only slightly over that time. According to Berkeley scholar Dr. Loic Wacquant the increase in America's prison population over that time has been achieved simply by locking up five times as many people per one thousand reported crimes as we did in 1980.

The ripple effects on Black communities and families have been enormous and devastating. Millions of the Black poor are permanently stigmatized, excluded from much of the job market and opportunities for training and education, and are sent home to the same resource-poor, deindustrialized communities in which they lived before prison, where there are no services for them, and no societal will to educate or train them. America's enormous prison system, along with its punitive and exclusionary attitude toward the class of people from which prisoners originate is freezing the black poor in place for generations to come. As we said in 2005

“...if you want to know where black families fare the worst, where the lowest wages and life expectancy are, where to find the highest unemployment and the greatest number of single parent households among African Americans, you don’t need an online survey. You certainly don’t count the black businesses or the black elected officials. You count the black prisoners, and the former prisoners, and the ruined communities they come from and are discharged into.”

That's what we did. Despite our requests, we were unable to get breakdowns of federal prisoners by state of origin before our publication deadline, so our data excludes the nearly 200,000 prisoners under federal lock and key. When the Federal Bureau of Prisons makes this data available we will share it with our readers. So here, based on incarceration data supplied by states and found on the web site of The Sentencing Project, are the ten worst states in the US to be black.


10 WORST STATES TO BE BLACK

STATE

BLACK PRISONERS AS % OF TOTAL BLACK POPULATION

RATIO OF BLACK TO WHITE IN PRISONS AND JAILS

BLACK % OF STATE POPULATION

Wisconsin

4.5%

10.64

6%

Iowa

4.2%

13.59

2%

Colorado

3.5%

6.65

4%

Arizona

3.3%

5.58

4%

Oklahoma

3.3%

4.39

8%

Texas

3.2%

4.74

12%

Kansas

3.1%

6.99

6%

California

3.0%

4.68

7%

Oregon

2.9%

5.84

2%

Kentucky

2.8%

4.98

8%

Excluded from this list are South Dakota, Vermont, Utah, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, where African Americans make up 1% or less of the population, but which do have extremely high rates of Black incarceration.

Texas and California, the nation's two most populous states each account for more than a tenth of the nation's 2.2 million prisoners. Kansas and Kentucky, which did not make the 2005 “ten worst” list, have replaced Delaware and Nevada.

Dishonorable Mentions: Racial disparities in incarceration

Most US prisoners are nonviolent drug offenders. Although federal statistics show the rates of illegal drug use for whites, Blacks and Latinos to be within a single percentage point of each other, African Americans are an absolute majority of the people serving time for drug offenses. The start and inescapable fact of double-digit disparity between Black and white incarceration rates is hard to miss, and harder to explain, except in terms of a consistently applied, if rarely acknowledged policy of racially selective policing, sentencing and imprisonment.


STATE

BLACK TO WHITE IMPRISONMENT RATIO

BLACK % OF STATE POPULATION

Iowa

19.02

2%

Vermont

13.59

1%

New Jersey

12.49

14%

Connecticut

12.38

10%

North Dakota

12

1%

Wisconsin

10.72

6%

South Dakota

10.64

1%

Rhode Island

10.02

6%

New York

9.62

17%

New Hampshire

9.35

1%

Pennsylvania

9.22

11%

Utah

9.15

1%

Minnesota

9.15

4%

Illinois

9.14

15%

Nebraska

9.06

4%

The states with the fifteen highest disparity rates between black and white incarceration show some interesting characteristics. First, none of them are in the South. Secondly Blacks make up a negligible percentage, 6% or less in ten of these high disparity states. Thirdly, the other five high-disparity states either contain or are adjacent to three of the five largest concentrations of African American population in the US, namely the metro areas of New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.

What about the South?

About half of all African Americans live in the South, and that number is increasing. Generally, southern states have higher percentages of Black population, but lower disparity rates between black and white population than elsewhere. No southern state locks up nine or ten times as many African Americans as whites. In the table below we can see that the Texas pattern is a typical southern one, with a pretty average disparity rate.

The states with the fifteen highest disparity rates between black and white incarceration show some interesting characteristics. First, none of them are in the South. Secondly Blacks make up a negligible percentage, 6% or less in ten of these high disparity states. Thirdly, the other five high-disparity states either contain or are adjacent to three of the five largest concentrations of African American population in the US, namely the metro areas of New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.

What about the South?

About half of all African Americans live in the South, and that number is increasing. Generally, southern states have higher percentages of Black population, but lower disparity rates between black and white population than elsewhere. No southern state locks up nine or ten times as many African Americans as whites. In the table below we can see that the Texas pattern is a typical southern one, with a pretty average disparity rate.


STATE

BLACK % OF STATE POPULATION

BLACK IMPRISONMENT AS A PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL BLACK POPULATION

BLACK-WHITE IMPRISONMENT DISPARITY

Mississippi

37%

1.74%

3.46

Louisiana

32%

2.45%

4.69

Georgia

30%

2.06%

3.32

Maryland

29%

1.58%

5.48

South Carolina

29%

1.86%

4.47

Alabama

26%

1.91%

3.54

North Carolina

22%

1.72%

5.40

Delaware

21%

2.51%

6.36

Virginia

20%

2.33%

5.89

Tennessee

17%

2.0%

4.12

Florida

16%

2.61%

4.45

Arkansas

16%

1.84%

3.86

Texas

12%

3.12%

4.74

Evidently, the highest relative percentages of African Americans, if not the highest absolute numbers of black incarcerated are to be found in and near large concentrations of northern Blacks, or in states where African Americans make up a relatively small percentage of the population.

Are things getting any better? Is there any good news?

There is good news, but not in the numbers. According to Prisons and Jails at Mid-Year 2006, in the 12 months ending on June 30, 2006 prison populations increased in 43 state jurisdictions and declined or remained the same in 8. Overall, the number of America's prisoners is increasing at a rate not seen since 1999-2000.

The good news is that the issue of racially selective mass incarceration has actually begun to be acknowledged by members of the nation's political elite. One day last October bipartisan a bipartisan hearing on the topic was conducted. Every candidate for office in Black constituencies for some time has been accustomed to “drive-by” rhetorical mentions of the fact that we are a disproportionate share of the nation's incarcerated.067leadpic2

Even Democratic presidential candidates have made cursory nods to the edges of the issue. Obama is promising to spend millions more on re-entry programs, and Hillary Clinton has denounced felony disenfranchisement.

Those are the limits of the good news. Money on re-entry programs is a good thing, and felony disenfranchisement is indeed a very bad thing. But both leave unexplored and untouched the foundational reasons for the explosive growth of America's prison state, a topic explored by Loic Wacquant elsewhere in this issue. A lone state senator in Oregon introduced a bill calling for racial disparity impact statements to accompany further sentencing law, and plans to re-introduce it in the coming session.

Longstanding public policies like racially selective mass incarceration, which profoundly affects the quality of Black life will not change without the birth of a broad social movement in our African American communities to demand it. Cautious politicians dependent on campaign contributors and the favor of corporate media won't give us this, any more than LBJ would have given us the 1965 Civil Rights bill without a loud, disrespectful and civilly disobedient mass movement in the streets to embarrass him and prod him on. It will take a movement on that scale to challenge the policies of racially selective mass incarceration.

Is it in us? Only time will tell.

5 comments:

The Angry Independent said...

Very informative post Dr. Thompson.

While these numbers are troubling, we also have to look at the reasons why Black males are coming in contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.
That tends to get lost in these reports.

Once they are in the system, judges tend to sentence Black males to harsher sentences. But I am not sure that racism is the only reason behind that development. I think other variables might be involved.

One problem has been Federal sentencing Commission rules and tougher legislation on the State level that has put more limits on the discretion of judges. Often their hands are tied.

The spike in the late 1980's seems to correlate with the rise of crack Cocaine and gang violence (often connected to the crack epidemic)...that swept through Americas large cities. The strict crack cocaine laws came several years later.

You can thank (partially) the Gangster Rap culture and the so-called "Black cultures" embrace of it for much of this madness.

Adam B. Ricketson (alias) said...

Hi. I used this article as a jumping-off point for a article at Freedom Democrats. Your comments would be welcome.

Rhonda said...

Yea, I read about this over at the Black Agenda Report. It is a sad reflection of the many institutions that still perpetuate racism to this day.

I addition, I notice that they always use the quote from Obama...the 90% one. Was that in an interview or a speech were he said that? Do you have the full transcript. I would be interested in seeing when he said it, why he said it (the context) and the arena in which he said it.

I agree with you 100% that our society never engages in discourse about such issues since our media is corporately dominanted leaving many in the dark about the lives of too many African Americans.

This whole idea can also be seen in the way in which our society discusses immigration. All immigrants are latino and not just latino but the "brown" latinos. In our country's discourse on immigration I never hear about people like my family (Black immigrants from the caribbean). An interesting element to the criminal justice system is the disparity in the deportation of black immigrants (esp. from the Caribbean) in relation to other types of immigrants. The high numbers of blacks in the criminal justice system isn't just a case for African Americans but also for black immigrants who are often deported as a result of the disparties in the criminal jusice system. I would love to explain it better but I am still researching it. That to is also an interesting correlation.

Rhonda said...

In relation to Barack, the more and more I read I watch this whole thing unfold, the more and more I realize...that he is between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the black community and the hard place is white America and the other "others". They will only accept Barack if he is race neutral and relieves them of their white guilt. However they applaud themselves for voting for a black man? This causes him to try and be very and most of the time...tooo safe when it comes to the realities of race in America. I have always seen that as a problem. I dont neccessarily see that as a flaw in his character but more as a reflection of our society. I was actually reading an article where the person actually said that Michelle is a liability to Barack and how she is his "Willie Horton" for being too black. When they say to black, they are refering to the fact that she may...keep it real. Something that she has been doing, the reason why I applaud her. As for Barack, he really is in a tough place. You cannot receive the overwheliming amount of white support as he has received without having to play in white sensibilities which has done. I almost feel as if he cannot address many of the issues that go on in the black community in an open arena because of this. I dont ever think its because he doesn't want to. It's almost that he cannot. He has to keep it all universal. This country hasn't "changed". He is really in between a rock and a hard place.

Anonymous said...

OK... But are you saying these black men are innocent? The fact of the matter is that there is a serious problem in the black community. Chronic lack of father figures & all the misguided "man-children" (not men, not children, a twisted, lost hybrid of sorts) such dynamics produce is a very real issue & much more the cause of the incarceration numbers than anything else.

Let's not kid ourselves here, the vast majority of the men you speak of are guilty of breaking laws. Many are chronic, lifetime offenders. One can pump TRILLIONS into so-called transitional programs but at the end of the day, how are a few months of 'reconditioning' going to break a lifetime of experience?

Many in these programs do want to make an honest change... when they are in the cushy confines of "the program", however, they are released into the same skewed communities and there, all good intentions go to naught (sp)... These communities have their own moral code that is absolutely contrary to that of society at large (it's diametrically opposed).

Bottom line: the black community needs to (first and foremost) INTROSPECT. That is: PONDER ITSELF HONESTLY, AND THEN FIX ITSELF FROM WITHIN. It is only once the house is in order that one should even consider external pressures.

Case in point: the Jewish community... Like the black community the Jews have been hated, persecuted, enslaved, massacred throughout the entire course of human history (I would say the Jews have been scapegoated for far longer and subjected to far worse than the blacks, this is a religion not even in the top 10 by population and are still blamed for everything wrong in the world!). But the Jews somehow presevere. Barely 70 YEARS after the majority of their ENTIRE WORLD COMMUNITY WAS DECIMATED (as the world watched!) the Jews have made a tremendous comeback. The Jews are still scapegoated, blamed for all the world's ills but somehow they presevere, no...THEY THRIVE. Their communities are vibrant and rich, their children are achievers when looked at as a whole, the community & family are strong. On a whole they do better than the societal average.

The Jews secret? INTROSPECTION.
Rather than attributing their ills to external forces which they cannot control, they work always to maintain their house, their community, their tribe in order.

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