Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday Reading

How We Got There — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker on what racism has done to Baltimore.

… Talk to people in Baltimore—or Ferguson or Staten Island—and invariably you hear criticism of the police not as the police but as a symbol of an entire web of failed social policies, on education, employment, health, and housing. The real question is not one of police tactics: whether the use of body cameras can reduce civilian complaints or whether police-brutality cases should be handled by independent prosecutors. The real question is what life in an American city should be. The issues extend far beyond the parameters of race, but race is the narrative most easily seized upon. (It’s worth noting our tendency to think of declining, mostly white Rust Belt cities elegiacally, and of largely black ones moralistically.)

Midway through the twentieth century, cities—especially those, like Baltimore, which were sustained by ports—connoted a kind of American swagger. Today, the population of Baltimore is six hundred and twenty-three thousand; in 1950, it was nine hundred and fifty thousand. The Second World War diminished ethnic rivalries among white Americans and, with them, the tribal allotments of urban neighborhoods, but that process was accelerated by the fact that those areas were already becoming less appealing. When, in 1910, a black attorney bought a house on a white block in Baltimore, the Sun reported that the presence of blacks would drive down property values. That helped bring about a city ordinance—the first of its kind—establishing block-by-block segregation. It is generally assumed that white flight was a product of the political tumult and the spiking crime that afflicted American cities in the nineteen-sixties, but it may well have been the other way around. Baltimore, three-quarters white in 1950, is now two-thirds black. As the surrounding suburbs became increasingly white, transportation networks that once connected the city and the outlying county crumbled. Industry and employment relocated to the surrounding areas. By the late sixties, the city was marked by poverty, a persistent lack of opportunity, and violent crime.

Conservative commentators have pointed to Baltimore as a kind of anti-Ferguson, a city where, for decades, blacks have had a secure grasp on political leadership, including the mayor’s office; a significant representation in the police force, including, now, the commissioner; and an African-American chief prosecutor, who announced the charges in Gray’s death. Yet Baltimore witnessed the same volatile dynamics that we saw in Missouri last year. The implication is that the problem is not racialized policing but the intractable, fraught nature of securing poor, crime-prone communities. That doesn’t quite square. As the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson suggests, black representation may diminish but by no means resolve policing practices that disproportionately target African-Americans. And the differences in leadership in the two cities belie their conflicts’ common historical roots in segregation. Housing discrimination, of the sort intended by the Baltimore ordinance, was outlawed by a 1948 Supreme Court case, Shelley v. Kraemer, which originated in St. Louis, just a few miles from Ferguson.

Between 1980 and 2010, the population of Ferguson flipped from eighty-five per cent white to sixty-nine per cent black. At some point soon, Ferguson, like Baltimore, may have more proportional black representation, but the socioeconomic trends in that city won’t automatically change. Gray died twenty-eight years after Baltimore’s first black mayor took office, yet the statistical realities at the time of his death—a twenty-four-per-cent poverty rate, thirty-seven-per-cent unemployment among young black men—show how complicated and durable the dynamics of race and racism can be.

Last week, the cover of Time featured an image of Baltimore aflame, with the year 1968 crossed out and 2015 pencilled in. On social media, split-screen images of the riot that followed King’s death and the one that followed Gray’s proliferated. The temptation is to believe that nothing has changed, but something has: Baltimore is blacker and poorer than it was then. It was not difficult to see who set buildings on fire there last week. The more salient concern is how cities become kindling in the first place.

What Bernie Brings to the Race — Bill Curry in Salon on how Bernie Sanders will focus Democrats on defining their message.

At 73, Bernie Sanders must still like to campaign. On Thursday he kicked off a race for president of the United States, the Iron Man triathlon of politics. He has run 20 races already, as many as Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton combined. He says this one, like all the rest, will be a grassroots movement financed by small-donor giving. All politicians say that, but in a career spanning 43 years, Sanders has shown he means it. It’s just one of the reasons why people say he can’t win.

It isn’t the only one, as Washington handicappers hasten to explain. Another is his allegedly unsociable personality. It’s true that he isn’t much of a networker; you won’t see many “Friend of Bernie” pins. He’ll do well with small groups; one on one, not so much. He doesn’t even have quiet charisma. He relies more on logic than charm — and everyone he’s met says that’s the right call.

Most other analysis is standard-issue political punditry. Noting that “there have been no top-flight hires,” Politico quotes a “labor strategist” who says Sanders “doesn’t have a shot” at union endorsements. Bloomberg says “his aversion to big-dollar fundraising raises questions about whether he can collect cash at the level needed to compete with Clinton.” No doubt working with inside sources, the New York Times’ Nate Cohn confides that Sanders “will most likely champion the liberal cause” and then explains why that can’t possibly work: “The left wing of the Democratic Party just isn’t big enough to support a challenge to the left of a mainstream liberal Democrat like Mrs. Clinton.”

Cohn backs up his thesis with a 2014 Pew poll that says lots of Democrats aren’t really liberals. How 2008 turned out the way it did, he doesn’t say.

Clinton loyalists welcome Sanders’ entry because they know she needs a contest, or at least a tune-up. Of course, to get the full benefit she’d have to agree to debate, something she has yet to say she’ll do. That Sanders is six years older than Clinton must feel like a bit of great good luck to them. Some call him a perfect foil; a lesser threat than Warren, yet enough of one to provide progressives with some catharsis while bestowing Clinton with the legitimacy that comes only from competition.

“We’re going to win,” Bernie told ABC’s Jon Karl on Thursday, but everyone assumes he won’t. That assumption marginalized him from the moment he got in the race. On his big day, “CBS This Morning” gave him 34 seconds of coverage. On the Times’ web page, a 662-word news story spent a few afternoon hours beneath a report of the American Psychological Association’s condoning of Bush-era torture tactics before being relegated to a link headlined “Bernie Sanders to Run for President, Opposing Clinton.” A 900-word piece on Hillary’s recent departure from Bill’s old crime agenda helped push it off the page.

It won’t get any easier for Sanders. I hate horse race coverage as much as anyone, but there’s no sense denying such long odds. Liberals who fretted that Hillary might escape a challenge now fret that a poor showing by Bernie may weaken their case. You’d think by now they’d have tired of tactical thinking, but no. There are better ways to think about 2016. You could, for example, think like an organizer. If you haven’t done it in a while, you needn’t worry. It’s like riding a bicycle.

Now or ThenThe Onion reports on the possibility of marriage equality ruling from the Supreme Court.

WASHINGTON—Anxiously anticipating the Supreme Court’s decision on the issue, the nation was reportedly on edge Wednesday as it waited to see whether the court would legalize gay marriage now or in a few years. “Americans are standing by with bated breath while the justices decide whether to recognize same-sex couples immediately or in two or three years when public opinion has shifted even more overwhelmingly in favor of gay marriage,” said legal analyst Jermaine Masse, adding that whether the court would legalize gay marriage at once or merely very soon was still too close to call at this time. “At this very moment, nine individuals are deciding whether to fundamentally alter this country’s definition of marriage right away or by the end of 2018, latest. What’s at stake is nothing less than a 24- to 36-month delay on same-sex marriage being the law of the land.” Masse went on to say that the fact that the nation’s highest court agreed to hear the case in the first place signaled that it was prepared to reject the more conservative notion that gay marriage could wait until the end of the decade.

Doonesbury — Life’s purpose.

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. Item: you neglected to note that David Price pitched a gem last night as the Tigers beat the Royals 2 to 1.

    Item: Bernie Sanders is revving up. I sent my small contribution and so have a lot of others. Some of us prefer an “un-political” politician.

    Item: there seems to be a contingent of potential voters who fall into the category of ABH (anyone but Hillary), sad to say.

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