These are hard times. I returned to the United States after a month overseas to a nation at war with itself. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. The five officers who lost their lives in Dallas. The three in Baton Rouge.
These events are tragic. As a nation, we’ve reacted in horror. Blame abounds. People cannot be killed when they’re pulled over at a traffic stop. But neither is it right to kill police in retribution. There are no easy scapegoats. There are no easy solutions. But there is one thing we must address if we are ever going to mend damaged relationships between blacks and whites, police and communities: the long-term lack of economic opportunity in communities of color.
In 2015, much of the reaction to Freddie Grey’s death in Baltimore was a product of the long-term lack of economic opportunity in communities like Sandtown. Disinvestment in the community was systemic, as with many communities of color in the U.S. In 2016, disparities between whites and blacks are extreme. Too extreme. A typical white household has 16x the wealth of a black household. A double-blind study found that Blacks are shown 18% fewer homes than white counterparts with the same credentials. And even African-Americans with college degrees are twice as likely to be unemployed.
These problems are not novel. They are systemic and built historically along racial lines. Black families were denied federally insured mortgages leading up to and following World War II, cutting off black communities from the suburban housing boom and the perks of the GI Bill. Black and immigrant neighborhoods were redlined through the late 1960s, deepening segregation and further isolating communities of color from the best schools, the highest-paying jobs, and the most valuable real estate. And public housing developments further concentrated poor, black families in dilapidated communities. Today, there is still pervasive under-investment in communities of color, undermining residents’ ability to access opportunity and build wealth.
We must be clear Black Lives Matter movement is not what led to the death of five police officers in Dallas and three in Baton Rouge. Guns may have perpetrated the crimes, but they are not the reason that Alton Sterling or Philando Castile were targeted by police. Relationships between different racial groups need to be mended and strengthened. And to do that, we must address economic disparities between whites and people of color in America.