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A Bubbling Ferguson in DC

A Socially Speaking Commentary from Perry Redd

A Socially Speaking Commentary from Perry Redd

I watched and listened to a host of political pundits opining on the Ferguson, Missouri police shooting of Michael Brown and the citizen unrest in the aftermath. Many issues previously swept under the rug have re-appeared as usual. Of course, I’m sick of the repeat performances and delay in justice; but what’s pervaded my subconscious is the fact that, in the capital of the free world, Washington, DC, the events in Ferguson, Missouri are just an incident away.

Each day, as I travel to and fro throughout the Capital city, I see telltale signs of racial unrest. It’s been simmering just below the surface for close to a decade now and I can see just down the road, the pot bubbling and eventually boiling over.

We all see it, but like so many American integrated cities, there will be a spark to light the powder keg. The explosion will shock America—the world—but it won’t shock me. I saw it coming. There are five socio-political facets of this boil over:

Racial composition
Though the Black population is still predominant, at 49%, that’s down from the 1980’s—pre crack epidemic era—of almost 80%. Chocolate City is no longer where whites now make up 36% of DC’s residents. With that population change comes a change in the school system, community development and jobs picture. Blacks aren’t fairing well.

Wealth disparity
DC features the wealthiest high-income strata among big U.S. cities and more poor people than the national average, which looks much like the larger U.S. economy. The top 5 percent of households had average incomes of $473,000, highest among the biggest 50 U.S. cities, while the poorest fifth averaged less than $10,000. At 18.2 percent, the District of Columbia’s poverty rate is more than 2 percentage points above the U.S. average, according to a 2012 Census Bureau analysis.

This disparity bleeds into other areas that make up the “quality of life” standards. Just look at housing: the number of low-rent apartments costing $750 a month or less halved from 2000 to 2012, while the stock of those renting for $1,500 or more tripled. With that said, where are Blacks expected to live? Moving more of them out to the suburbs of neighboring Prince George’s County is not an option.

Employment and Unemployment
Middle-class jobs hollowed out by the 2007-2009 recession have failed to come back and Blacks in DC have felt the brunt of this lack of jobs. The District’s employment training programs are mere shells of viability and leaves a void in viable employment for low-income residents and without labor skills. The District is gradually raising the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour, well above the federal minimum of $7.25. Our legislative leadership was adverse to raising the floor until I ran for a vacant Council seat in the spring of 2013 when I pushed the other candidates—and the city—with my proposed $14.50 an hour wage (sure, I’m taking credit for that). While we wait for higher minimum wages, what’s the plan to relieve unemployed and underemployed workers of this financial strait jacket?

Gentrification
A flood of mostly young, educated newcomers has helped revitalize once-blighted neighborhoods, but is wiping out low-cost housing within sight of the Capitol. The chiefly white newcomers have brought upscale bars and restaurants, condominium developments, bike lanes and dog parks, but those sweeping changes have translated into serving only the newcomers who brought it. While adding roughly 1,000 new residents to this city/state every month since 2008, the clear invasion is drawing a simmering resentment from the people who resided here and whose legacies and heritage are embedded in the city’s fabric. How long will longtime residents stand to be ignored, disrespected, and marginalized?

Political leadership
Although the District of Columbia has a Black population of just over 50%–down from 79% in the 1980’s—it’s legislative body of 13 members is now over 50% white. Recent indictments and convictions of at least three council members have tipped the balance in favor of 7 whites on the Council. This year, the mayoralty is poised to swear in its first white mayor. Just from the aforementioned points of contention I make, it is evident that Blacks in DC have been ignored when Blacks held the majority within the leadership ranks; now, with a growing majority of white legislators, its guaranteed that elected leadership—who don’t look like you—will not be sensitive to the interests and plight of low- to moderate-income Black residents. I urge you to ask yourself, ‘What candidate during this election cycle is empowering Blacks in DC to do something different and reverse status quo politics? With status quo politics, Ferguson coming to DC won’t be an if, but a ‘when.’

Criminal Justice disparities
eight of 10 adults arrested in the District are black, disproportionate to the racial breakdown of residents — roughly 47 percent black and 43 percent white. Nine of 10 people arrested on the charge of simple drug possession are black, the study found. And eight of 10 charged with disorderly conduct are black. Just looking at 2010, in DC, the equivalent of 30 percent of the District’s adult male population were arrested, compared with 2 percent of the white residents. These disparities breed distrust, distrust breeds response—volatile response.

All of these factors taken together weigh heavily on the real lives of the underclass—Black people—of the District. The fact that Washington, DC has no true political, budget nor legislative authority—no statehood—doesn’t make things, at any degree, better. White congressional from other states are fighting to undermine DC’s gun control laws. White people who are silently living in fear because of their actions to gentrify are supporting those efforts.

Under the surface are angering tensions that are bound to explode. When the police force is white and the people being policed are Black, only time will dictate the confrontation. What you witnessed in Ferguson will be child’s play when DC bubbles over.

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