Trump World Grab-Bag--A Collection

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Know Your Class War: Freddie Gray's Neighborhood

(This picture, from this post, sums up the question: "What is important in our lives?" If there are cities with "ghost blocks" like this, where every house is boarded up, what does that say to the people who live in close proximity to such blocks? What do those residents feel walking down such a weirdly dead area? What would their conception of the future look like?)

At Crooks & Liars, Karoli has written a most excellent piece regarding Freddie Gray's shadowed start in life, from premature birth to childhood development poisoned by lead, and surrounded by poverty. We know that exposure to toxic chemicals and substances like lead are a damaging part of poverty, robbing people of IQ points and years of life expectancy. The exposure to lead, specifically, has been associated with criminal incidents, with might help explain, if not totally excuse, Gray's rap sheet.

But what I found utterly depressing was that in this country, a neighborhood like Freddie Gray's had a life expectancy lower than that of North Korea.  People often don't live long enough to collect senior Social Security benefits. (Not that, given the earning potential and chronic unemployment, Social Security even pays out that much to those residents enduring long enough to qualify.)

The neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived seemed programmed for people to live lives that were short, and ended nastily and violently. If anyone has any questions about why there were protests and why there was a night where some businesses burned, think about how injury and more injury is added to the insult of living in a place where you see whole blocks of deadness, and a quarter of your neighbors have rap sheets before they turn 18.

This is the kind of place where an out-of-touch legislator might even think for an instant that denying food stamps might teach a valuable lesson about role-knowing and place-keeping. You can consider his hands washed of what to do about their rage and hurt and lack of decent opportunities. He would take food out of the mouths of babies to tell the people from a neighborhood like this not to air their grievances, which are many, and only the tip of which has struck the Titanic of our consciousness.


mikey said...

In America, these are lives with zero value, they are loathed when they are not feared, they are a burden to be policed violently and incarcerated repeatedly.

It's a vicious combination of bigotry, tribal fear, class hatred, greed, ideological demonization, political messaging and pandering to the worst parts of American culture.

They are pawns, coins to be swapped, and nothing that happens to them really matters. We've been doing this for so long we can't even see it any more.

The interesting thing is the rise of the ubiquitous digital camera and social media - we find ourselves in a low-level civil war with almost all the casualties on one side, but you can rest assured it's not going to go away. The municipalities and counties and states will try desperately to push the genie back into the bottle, but the war is small unit action, hand to hand on the streets, and anybody who thinks there is a way back to the previous status quo isn't paying close attention...

Formerly Amherst said...

Buon giorno, Signora Vixen. I have a lot of sympathy for the people living in blighted conditions.

Lyndon Johnson started the Great Society's program, and since that time huge amounts of money and effort and expertise have been poured into trying to remedy these problems. Johnson's ambition was not simply to diminish the problem, but was nothing less than to eliminate poverty.

Every president since that time to one extent or another has tried to confront these systemic problems.

Mostly it's been a failure. So far nothing we have done has ended the problem.

In Baltimore you have a conspicuously blue state with at conspicuously Democratic ruled city and with a majority of blacks on the police force. And in the city hierarchy. You would think that in a situation like that remedial action would be conspicuous. Alas, here we have the same old sets of problems in endless display.

I've been watching riots for many years. I was around the first time Watts went up. I was around in the “long, hot, summer” when riots were part of the original protest movements. All of these demonstrations have become cliches. A huge number of people who watch on the TV have been there, done that. Many people have thrown themselves against the problems of the inner city, only to find they were bashing their heads against a flat rock. Burnout is common. Social workers, clergy, government functionaries, charitably disposed citizens. People keep trying and it keeps not working.

I'm sure you have plenty of these problems in Philadelphia. There are always places that need your direct attention right at your elbow. It is up to each state and local government to try and address their own situation. The federal government has basically been a flop.

Occasionally some charismatic individual seems to be able to transform some school and neighborhood with the force of their personal magnetism. But that's not something you can authorize in a program or put in a toothpaste tube.

Vixen Strangely said...

Some of "help" directed at improving or revitalizing the "inner city" area of metropolitan areas is basically lip service or trying to throw money at "a problem". David Brooks recently got pretty well slagged by saying that the problems with neighborhood's like Gray's can't be solved with money--but I think there's a point there.

It makes sense in a way that povery *is* solved by money, and that people directly need more money in their pockets to be empowered to do the things they need to do--it's one of the reasons I pound on "living wage" evangelism, because I believe that money should, as much as possible, be compensation for work.

It just isn't going to fly where there are no businesses hiring in the area, where public transportation sucks, where people can't afford to drive legally (license, inspection tags, insurance all add up--not to mention "beater cars" are a time and money-suck). First off, business have to be attracted to those areas (and are scared off by those "ghost blocks" and the promise of nearby crime) and even if they come--who are they hiring? Because if the bias is against people with substandard schooling and criminal records, they will be turning down people here (who may not have had great education choices and whose "mistakes" turned into prison time on the basis of zip code and means to defend themselves in a way a more affluent person's "mistakes" would not have, or whose mistakes were a way of making money that a more affluent person would not have had to resort to.)

The "burn out" of social workers makes sense when you start seeing how the different levels of ways in which people are underserved by their communities intersect. There's nearly always a catch.

I think there are something urban centers need to do, which isn't necessarily a means of addressing poverty alone--just work on urban infrastructure. Have roads that are drivable, update and reinforce the public transportation system, and improve the schools, not with gimmicks having to do with testing or teaching in some funky new way, but just by having clean safe buildings with a good staff. Programs like Head Start and school lunch and breakfast programs are key to ensuring that some really basic needs get addressed for the youngest and most vulnerable members of society.

Vixen Strangely said...

On the practical side of it for adults, though, people who have already been subjected to disadvantages from the justice system and a dearth of employment opportunities, I think certain changes in laws might be beneficial. You know, he was a mixed bag of ideas, but HUD Sec under Bush, Jack Kemp, I think had some points about the importance of ownership and bringing businesses into a depressed area.

One of the things that I think caused or reinforced problems was the "projects". It's hard to respect property that doesn't feel like your own or that you feel like you have little choice in, it pens people together with neighbors that might not be the greatest, and vandalism and drug culture moves in and makes life godawful depressing--it did not work. But the alternatives look like the crappy apartment where Freddie & and his sister got exposed to lead paint--you have slumlords out there who take advantage of the basic fact that a leaky roof it better than no roof. Baltimore was famously segregated in terms of housing opportunities--and Philadelphia is pretty famous for neighborhood by neighborhood ethnic segregation as well.

These boarded-up blocks need to be taken back by the city and knocked the hell down. They are not worth remediation. There need to be green areas, urban farms, and sales of land to developers to create safe and decent low-cost housing--that people own themselves, and whose upkeep they are responsible for. There need to be bus depots that connect to business centers--and land zoned for businesses to come in. Chiefly, one main urban need is supermarkets. And one thing they don't need is another checkcashing, payday loan, skin the bastids while they are already broke place.

Local entrepreneurship has to be cultivated with availability of small business loans. Broke people have hustle to cover bills that with their income, they have no business paying but somehow they do. The criteria for qualifying has to overlook some credit and rap sheet discrepancies, though--and can not be at some usurious loan shark rate.

And we can't let some of the "law'n order" mowing of kids' lives down to keep taking place. I've heard some conservatives like Rand Paul and Mike Lee talk about reforming sentencing and even restoring voting rights for people with a felonious past--that has to happen. We also need the disparity of treatment between broke and flush offenders to change. Broke people are picked up because they have no defenses. They are preyed on because, in part, of sheer frustration at the sickness of the milieu in which they live, but that isn't justice. We need to break patterns of kids growing up fatherless because their fathers are in prison, and basically motherless because their moms have to work two jobs to keep them fed, housed and clothed.

And I would bet a lot of the real-world solutions could be agreed on by left and right if we overcame the rhetoric on both sides. I don't want to blame people if it gets in the way if fixing things. And one of the big things that I do think stands in the way, is looking at the problems with poverty and crime as "mostly racial". It's class. I try to address it mostly in class terms because to me, that's more real, and people with no money are up against the same walls wherever they are from.

Formerly Amherst said...

You know, Vixen, I really like your thinking on this subject. I also favor Jack Kemp's enterprise zones. In many ways the problems we are having today mirror Patrick Moynihan's warnings.

The problem, however, is not coming up with good ideas. The problem is how to go about getting any of them implemented. In order to give them a try you have to get involved with the political process, and the political process is a black hole from which very little of value is allowed to emerge.

The lovely and gracious Alicia and I frequently go on some thoughtful rant about what should be done to ameliorate a problem. Whereupon the other of us smiles, nods, acknowledges that it's a good idea, and then says, “ill get right on it.”

And then we laugh because after having spent a lifetime trying to effect change in certain areas, we realize that it is practically impossible.