Mayor Bloomberg's Treatment of Blacks and Latinos: Giving With One Hand, Taking With Another

Mayor Bloomberg's new Young Men's Initiative, designed to provide jobs and a second chance to previously incarcerated young black and Latino men, has been championed by its creators for its intent to spur social change.  But the program, a last-ditch effort by Bloomberg to preserve his legacy, aims to fix problems Bloomberg himself created.   

Today, the Village Voicedissected Bloomberg's hurt-them-then-help-them policy by exposing how the mayor aggressively impoverishes and incarcerates black and Latino men.

From the Village Voice:

If you think about the hell most young men of color in this city face as three concentric, Dante-style circles, Bloomberg has nothing to do with one, something to do with the second, and a lot to do with the third.

The first circle of hell involves social problems so overwhelming, so tragically ingrained in these communities, it's hard to lay them at the mayor's feet. We're talking about communities where 54 percent of black New York children are growing up in homes without a father, where Latino children are four times more likely than white kids to have a mom without a high school degree, and where the census shows that across the country, three black men live in prison for each one who lives in a college dorm.

The second circle is largely a circle of economic hell, and there are reasonable arguments why the mayor's actions have or have not affected the lives of black and Latino men in this realm. It is indisputable that poverty increased devastatingly during the mayor's tenure, with some 3.1 million New Yorkers currently living below the official poverty line, an amount not seen since 1998. Although black and brown New Yorkers have faced an especially harsh fate during this time frame, Bloomberg's own personal wealth more than quadrupled. Meanwhile, the mayor has consistently supported keeping taxes low on Wall Street firms, or, he's always warning us, they will flee to New Jersey. At the same time, he has axed social programs that aid the most vulnerable from the city budget; and while homelessness increased 45 percent in his first two terms, Bloomberg not only tried to cut homeless funding, but he also supported (as Councilwoman Tish James points out) Atlantic Yard's eminent domain, which shuttered a homeless shelter for women in downtown Brooklyn.

Still, the national economy has not fared much better recently, nor have the nation's minorities during the first three years of the first African-American presidency. Bloomberg can't be blamed for all of this.

But then there is a third circle of hell that black and brown men face in New York, and that's the criminal justice system. Here, the mayor has had very specific levers at his disposal. And here, he clearly has made life much worse for the city's young black and brown males.

The driving force behind the incarceration of the  black and Latino youths is the NYPD's unabashedly racist, as well as illegal, stop-and-frisk policy. Shockingly, marijuana is decriminalized in New York, but stop-and-frisk tactics targeting minorities have helped the city to become  "the marijuana arrest Capitol of the world." (This is all despite Bloomberg responding "You bet I did! And I enjoyed it" to questioning whether he had smoked marijuana. )

The Village Voice released these shocking details on the arrests:

"...according to a study by Professor Harry Levine of Queens College, Giuliani 'only' averaged arresting 24,487 people a year for marijuana. By 2008, Bloomberg was averaging 36,069 pot arrests annually.

In 2010, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, he [Bloomberg] arrested 50,383 people—'more than capacity seating in Yankee Stadium.'

In 2011, he's on track to arrest more than 60,000 by year's end."

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, 86% of marijuana arrestsin New York are for black and Latinos, despite whites' use of the drug at a much higher rate, and most of them occur in low-income neighborhoods.  

Stop-and-frisks, however, are legal only to search and confiscate guns.  And because holding a small amount of marijuana is decriminalized in New York, stop-and-frisks utilize loopholes in the law.  When marijuana is burning or "in public view," it becomes a finger printable, Class B misdemeanor that renders offenders ineligible of federal loans and housing.  It also adds significant obstacles to employment. 

Jobs, however, are the main focus of Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative.  The irony is unbelievable. 

From The Village Voice:

In the Young Men's Initiative, Bloomberg will make a big push for jobs for young men of color. He'll augment occupational help for parolees, vocational training, and mentoring programs. Most concretely, he'll ban city agencies from taking arrests into account in the first round of interviews for municipal jobs.

These are all worthy goals.

But they're all absurdly ironic, given how far Bloomberg has previously gone to avoid engaging in any kind of affirmative action with the FDNY.

According to the Village Voice, the fire department maintains a shockingly homogeneous population.  Despite the fact that non-Hispanic white people make-up 35 percent of New York's population, the fire department is still 90 percent white.  The gross disparity has prompted the federal government to sue the city for more than forty years, thus obligating New York comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and establish a fire department more reflective of the general population. But Bloomberg failed to meet the federal government's demands, going so far as to ignore a judge's mandate to comply with affirmative action by refusing to utilize any of five proposed options to hire minority (and other) fire fighters who, after passing the firefighters exam at historically high numbers, must wait to pass a new test in January.

Again, the hypocrisy does not end there. Bloomberg's zero tolerance school policy has made education a route to incarceration for blacks and Latinos. 

According to the Village Voice:

"(...)Lieberman says, once Giuliani's NYPD took over school safety, it created a "kind of 'Broken Windows' policing for kids—'Broken Windows, Junior.'" But even with Giuliani's zeal for school discipline, Lieberman says, there have been "massive increases in suspensions during the Bloomberg years."

Looking at the first full year when the "Education Mayor" was in charge, Lieberman says there were 31,879 suspensions that year. In 2009, there were 73,943.

The rate more than doubled in eight years.

"And who gets suspended?" Lieberman asks.

Surprise, surprise: Fifty-three percent of kids are black, 35 percent are Latino, 8 percent are white, and 4 percent are Asian.

The worst part? 

According to the Village Voice, reports from the American Psychological Association and Council of State Governments Justice Center found that maintaining zero tolerance attitude regarding school safety does not imply safer, more secure educational climates, and aggressively suspending students is not proven to better educational outcomes. Even more disheartening is that Lieberman told the Village Voice the APA report actually  shows that "kids suspended for disciplinary infractions are more likely to be arrested in the criminal justice system than kids who are not suspended for the same behavior."

 With more than 5,000 police acting as school security,  New York's School Safety Agents  have more officers than police departments in Baltimore, Newark, Detroit, Boston, [or] Washington, D.C.  It's no surprise New York City public schools have become the setting for a first-time encounter with criminalization.

And yet, Bloomberg ignores the very problems that push blacks and Latinos into poverty and behind bars, pushing them down while pulling them up.  

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at September 21, 2011, 8:21am

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