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Just giving lip service to equality

By Lora J. Mackel
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
June 21, 2000
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Last week, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a study which concluded that the New York Police Department improperly uses racial profiling in its cases. Though this might be news to the commission, it is certainly not news to the millions of racial and ethnic minorities living in this country. But now that the committee has come to this obvious conclusion, how is race targeting by the police going to change? Sadly, without a major attitude overhaul by the nation, there seems to be no end to it in sight.

It might be comforting to think that this problem mainly pertains to New York City, but that would be na•ve. If the commission did a study in any of our country's major cities - Washington D.C., Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Phoenix, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles - it would find that police tactics are universal. Anyone who has ever been in a car with a minority driver knows how frequent and ridiculous police stops are.

If the Civil Rights Act was suppose to level the playing field for everyone, how could this still be happening? What has happened, though our nation gives lip service to equality, is that our nation's actions have done everything not to equalize people on an educational and material basis. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education ruling, our government declared segregation was over and yet retained the very system that kept the nefarious separation in place.

The disparity in the quality of education begets an even greater disparity later on in life. Without a solid educational background, a person's chances of getting into college are greatly reduced. Without a college degree, a person simply is not competitive in today's labor market. This means their children will be living in the same places they did and inheriting the same substandard education.

Forces in our economy have also shifted and shaped the landscape for our nation's working class. Since the late 1960s, our economy has been shifting from heavily industrial to service and technology. This means there are less and less factory, construction and traditional blue collar jobs. Not only that, but those same jobs that could sustain a family before are not even enough in today's world. And as American firms who manufacture are increasingly sending their work overseas where they can pay an even lower wage, America's blue collar workers are more and more being left by the wayside of our healthy economic boom.

Without jobs, education, money and a foreseeable way out of a desperate economic situation, a strong percentage of our nation's poor are indeed of a minority group. Though African-Americans, Hispanics and a few other minority groups make up a smaller percentage of our nation's population, they make up a majority percentage of those addicted, incarcerated and impoverished.

Further proof the that situation for minority groups in America is far from perfect came in the form of another governmental study. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice published a study that irrefutably showed that African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities make up a majority of those who are charged, prosecuted and sentenced in our criminal justice system, both as adults and as juveniles. An even more disturbing statistic compiled in the study was the frequency with which minority defendants are given the death penalty.

What has happened, whether consciously or unconsciously, is that our society has linked race and crime, rather than poverty and crime. The average citizen in this country, if polls are to be believed, ranks concerns about crime among his or her highest priorities. And because in this nation we are shown and asked to believe that minority groups are naturally more violent and less hardworking than white Americans, we very much add to the racial tension police exert on minority groups.

Because of this biased exposure, it is easier to believe that people of all minorities commit crimes, and do so not because of their environment but because of who they are. Our society does this because it is easier to blame criminals than take our part of the responsibility for their crimes. As the citizens of New York City clearly proved, the majority was happy to reduce crime, not matter the cost to the minority citizens in that city. A few have paid that cost with their lives.

What is very clear is that no matter how many studies the government publishes about its own racism, nothing will change unless America's ugly ideas about race are faced first.

Lora J. Mackel can be reached at editor@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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