POLITICAL MYTHS & SOCIAL TRUTHS:

O'Malley, Ehrlich and Steele Get Kudos, But Blacks Don't Benefit

by Rodney Foxworth

Why is the school-aged child poverty rate in the city so high? Quite possibly because half of the potential labor force in the city is unemployed.
The April 25th issue of Time Magazine concluded that Baltimore’s Martin O’Malley distinguished himself so much among his peers that his mention as one of the country’s “best big city mayors” was inevitable. This comes on the heels of praise heaped upon the State of Maryland’s Governor, Robert Ehrlich, by none other than former Def Jam impresario Russell Simmons, who, as quoted by the Washington Times, described Ehrlich and his black lieutenant governor Michael Steele as men who should be “held up to the light as examples” of good Republicans.

With such honors and compliments endowed upon their respective executives, things must be good for blacks in both the City of Baltimore and in the State of Maryland, no? Of course, such assumptions should never be made--nor is this question posed in the national discourse.

The so-called Free State and its most recognizable city have a history dogged by racism that they would rather shy away from. The year 2004 alone brought with it a repeat of a typical American crime that is oft-forgotten: the death of one Noah Jamahl Jones at the hands of four white males in the town of Pasadena in Anne Arundel County. Though the facts surrounding the incident are not yet clear, thus far the incident conjures images of Emmett Till. Meanwhile, the false rape accusations against three black adolescent males of an unidentified white girl summon memories of Dick Rowland, and, more recently, the tale of Marcus Dixon. We're not even a full year removed from either event, and already the stories are forgotten, replaced by feel-good tales of mighty politicos.

What, then, have these two opposing politicians done relating to blacks during their terms in office that would merit such praiseworthy attention? The answer very obviously is that neither has done much to deserve praise from the black community at large. In fact, the city and the state, whether by malicious intent or not, have colluded against “their” black citizens' most prized commodities: the youth.

Baltimore, casually referred to by many of its denizens as either “Harm City” or “the City that Bleeds” (as opposed to the government-preferred "Charm City" and "the City that Reads"), has failed its youth for years, and continues to do so. Fully 88 percent of the students enrolled in the public school system are black, and the system is saddled by a 54 percent graduation rate. Such a dire statistic should demand the attention of a "best" big city mayor, but only recently has O'Malley decided to direct his energies toward the horrid school system--in the form of partially overseeing future school reconstruction. If that weren’t bad enough, the lives of the youth don’t get much better beyond the dilapidated classroom buildings: there is a 29 percent school-aged child poverty rate in Baltimore, as compared to the less than 10 percent overall figure in all of Maryland.

None of this inequality should be a surprise: Ehrlich is the same man who referred to multiculturalism as “bunk” while pandering to his constituents on a right-of-center talk radio program.

The inadequate education of black youth is an example of the multitude of problems bludgeoning the entire community. Why, for example, is the school-aged child poverty rate in the city so high? Quite possibly because half of the potential labor force in the city is unemployed. With the mass “capital flight” exodus during the latter part of the 1990s, the individuals who were left behind had lower salaries than those who left--if they had jobs at all. This newly-created concentration of poverty and joblessness explains why the typical Baltimore City resident makes only about half as much as his or her fellow Marylanders. The problems of the city are cyclical: even when jobs are available, a great number of workers are marred with criminal records and too little education to qualify to obtain them. All of this occurs in one of the country’s richest states.

The “Free State” might more accurately be called the “Prison State,” at least for black Marylanders. While blacks comprise only 28 percent of the state’s population, blacks account for 76 percent of those incarcerated. Among states, Maryland, on a proportional basis, is the largest jailer of blacks. And while blacks make up 68 percent of those arrested on drug charges in Maryland, blacks constitute 90 percent of those jailed on drug-related offenses--an important figure, as 42 percent of Maryland’s prison admissions are drug offenders.

Consider what former “drug czar” Lee Brown had to say about this: "There are those who bring drugs into the country. That’s not the black community. Then you have wholesalers, those who distribute them once they get here, and as a rule that’s not the black community. Where you find the blacks is in the street dealing."

Why are blacks overwhelmingly arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses? George Lipsitz, American Studies professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, asserts: "...officers know that it is easier to make arrests and to secure convictions by confronting drug users in areas that have conspicuous street corner sales, that have more people out on the street with no place to go, and that have residents more likely to plead guilty and less likely to secure the services of attorneys who can get the charges against them dropped, reduced, or wiped off the books with subsequent successful counseling and rehabilitation."

Lipsitz’s assessment is backed by Vincent Schiraldi, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, who has been quoted as saying, “Blacks tend to sell drugs in public and whites do it in private.” Don’t fret, concerned citizens: after learning of these massive disparities, good Governor Ehrlich responded with a “hefty” $750,000 for drug courts that stress treatment over incarceration.

Whether any of this can be properly termed as “racist” is not the issue: it is certainly inequitable and affects blacks en masse.

Need more statistics? In Baltimore, black youth represent 76 percent of the city’s child population but 88 percent of the juvenile arrests; in the state, black youth are 32 percent of Maryland’s youth population, while representing 64 percent of arrested youth and 72 percent of the youth committed to state detention facilities. To illustrate Lipsitz’s point even further, white juveniles in Baltimore are eleven times more likely to be represented by private counsel than their black counterpartst. This might explain why white juveniles comprise only six percent of Baltimore’s committed juvenile population. White juvenile offenders are nine times less likely to undergo formal proceedings after being arrested.

None of this should be a surprise: Ehrlich is the same man who referred to multiculturalism as “bunk” while pandering to his constituents on a right-of-center talk radio program. At least things are on the up and up in Baltimore: the O’s have gotten off to their best start since ’96. Of course, that doesn’t make a difference in the lives of black Baltimoreans, and the one difference Ehrlich will make in the lives of black Marylanders is when he decides to dismantle the various minority business programs. The question then becomes, how much faith will multi-millionaire Russell Simmons have in him then?


Rodney Foxworth, a 2002 graduate of Baltimore City College High School, attended Washington and Lee University for a year before withdrawing. He is currently an editorial intern for the City Paper while taking classes at a local college. He may be reached at Theboyfox21215@aol.com.

Sources for this article include the U.S. Census Bureau; “Half-Century After Brown Ruling, New Inequalities Take Root in State’s Schools,” Capital News Service, May 4, 2004; Maryland Report Card 2004; “Baltimore isn’t working because its people don’t,” Baltimore Sun, March 28, 2004; “Blacks Imprisoned Disproportionately in Md., Study Says; Legislative Caucus Hope to Address Wide Disparity; 76 percent of Inmates,” Baltimore Sun, October 23, 2003; Paula S. Rothenberg, White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism, 1st ed. (New York, Worth, 2002), pp. 69-70.



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This story was published on May 3, 2005.