Baltimore: Another Opportunity to Address Core Issues
What an important time for our nation as we again face rioting and violence associated with perceived police brutality. I want to say up front that I do not believe the root problem has anything to do with police interactions- but the police interactions do aggravate an existing social ill that has not really improved in the last 50 years. The core issues are inner city justice matters that require bold and brave white politicians, white preachers and important white voices in media. Why white? Because until important white leaders address the core issues it continues to be perceived as a black problem- and this is far beyond that- it is OUR problem.
Now it is undeniable that all aspects of the looting, burning and rock throwing violence are 100% unacceptable and criminal behavior. Nothing I will be now bringing out changes that reality as that kind of violence is never acceptable. However here are some core issues that are instrumental in creating a seedbed atmosphere that then produces, as outcome, the unacceptable pent up violent outbursts such as on display in Baltimore.
1) There is still racial bias in laws and ordinances.
If an 18-year old black male and an 18-year old white male get arrested for drug offenses- on average the black male will get 5 years in prison for that which the white male will get probation for. Furthermore whites use 5 times the amount of drugs as blacks but are 10 times less likely to spend any jail time. On average a white male convicted of a serious violent crime will spend the same 5 years in prison that a black male will spend for relatively minor drug charge. Because of this 70% of our Federal Prisons are either black or Latino. It is good that blacks can now drink at any water fountains but there are yet laws and ordinances with racial bias. Racism of the heart only God can go after- but racism in laws and ordinances IS something practical that can be changed to reflect a proper justice ideal.
2) Unemployment for black males in inner cities approaches 50%
If you are born a black male you are already lowest on the totem pole for finding a job- this whether you are a saint or a hoodlum. You are pre-judged before you ever reveal any aspect of your own character. If it was hard to get a job before you had any prison record, once that happens that possibility of getting a decent job has now reached a new low. Now when you start from this foundation and then find an already scarcity of jobs in your community you are faced with extremely limited options. The best option for many realistically excluded from the economic marketplace often seems to be the alternative 'black market' economy of urban America -and that is very often the drug trade. When politicians run a campaign on getting tough on crime- it invariably is inner city crime that is being targeted, as inner city drug, gang and sex trade is the easiest to go after and the surest thing to be there- as it is the alternative economy and family for urban America, where laws and ordinances conspire against family and sound economies.
3) There is a desperate need for sentencing and prison reform
Because of laws that target the offenses of the inner city black community, and sentencing standards that mete out too harsh of sentences for their offenses, 1 in every 11 black males is presently dealing with prison or the justice system and 1 in every 5 will spend some time in prison in their lifetime. Furthermore 80% of all prison inmate are functionally illiterate and yet there are not mandatory programs that would incorporate their education as a contingency of release from prison. If learning a trade were also added to sentencing guidelines it would position someone who comes out of prison as being properly rehabilitated- which is supposedly the goal of our prison system. So much more here but time constraints don't permit to cover how the prison system reform is really a major key to discovering real solutions.
4) Education disadvantage of inner cities is huge
Because there is a lack of employment and legal income opportunities in inner cities, it translates into low taxes towards schools- and so underperforming schools with underperforming teachers is a common reality. Of course, there are many wonderful exceptions but the economic realities don't engender healthy school systems.
Now if you are white (now don't get sensitive) you may be thinking "When are you going to bring up the issue of fatherlessness in the black community?" I have actually just presented to you some of the root causes for that reality. What you may consider a "deadbeat dad" is often just a teenager who has no job and no education and whose primary 'family' is a gang. Becoming a responsible father requires acts of extreme heroism with that foundation and it is always going to be the exception and not the rule until unjust structures get addressed. Additional to that, for years the government (thanks to FDR's not well thought thru welfare initiatives) financially disinsentivized moms from getting married by sending more money for every child she would have out of wedlock and in essence having a marriage economic penalty. Much of the difficulty of today is compounded by the unwise economic social engineering from decades ago. I think much of that has been reversed now but it has left it's mark as devastating policy.
The reality is that we are in serious need of reformation for these structural matters and I believe the time is now. It is all wonderful for black and white churches to gather and sing songs together, and for black and white preachers to have unity meetings right after rioting incidents. These are helpful in the short run. However actual bi-partsian, bi-racial cooperative legislation that address foundational matters must be introduced. Many wonderful and well-spoken black leaders know exactly the laws and ordinances that need adjusting. The issue is we need the non-black leaders and citizens to show we care about day-to-day life in urban America by being willing to first listen and learn- and then respond accordingly through the platforms and possibilities that each of us have.
Please, can we do better than just point the finger at obvious misbehavior and seek to understand underlining dynamics that not only contribute but actually engender the social ills we are all seeing? I will tell you prophetically that this is the time for the root issues to be dealt with and we will not see extended reprieve in inner city America apart from that. I believe we have finally grown up as a nation to the place where this will happen and God will greatly help us. The key is not with the black leadership of America; I have some very good African-american friends who are pastors and leaders and who have a thorough understanding of the legal, educational and criminal justice foundations that create the undesired dynamics that we are all seeing on national TV. They have been telling me of this reality for years. Their frustration has been the inability to find white leaders- inside or outside the church who care to assist them in making this an American problem and not just a black problem. This is my attempt to do what I can with the platform that I have. We can do better and by the grace of God we will do so.