Racism Undermines the Quality of Life in New York

Racism Undermines the Quality of Life in New York

by Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones, 2014 Green Party candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor

Everyone has stake in civil rights and racial justice. A society increasingly polarized into affluent gated communities and impoverished ghettoes puts everyone's freedom, safety, and material security at risk.

Racism has recently become an issue in the gubernatorial race over the question of exclusionary zoning in Westchester County. The Republican gubernatorial candidate, Rob Astorino, has defied court orders to remedy the problem as Westchester County Executive and lost millions in federal housing funds as a consequence. The Democratic incumbent, Andrew Cuomo, has done nothing to desegregate our schools and housing other than to point fingers at Astorino.

Media commentators have noted that both camps feel that their sparring on this issue has helped them with their base. But where is the positive program of reform?

New York has the most segregated housing and schools of any state in the nation, by both race and class. New York also has the highest income inequality. By one index of the most black/white segregation in the 100 largest U.S. metros, New York City ranks 2nd, Buffalo 6th, Syracuse 11th, Rochester 21st, and Albany 37th.

Social science research is conclusive that the race and class school achievement gap is the result of poverty concentrated by race and class segregation into disadvantaged communities and schools that are under-resourced. Municipal and school district lines that divide property-poor from property-rich communities perpetuate the segregation and under-funding of schools in disadvantaged communities.

Desegregation should not mean merely dispersing poor children into affluent communities. It should also mean empowering disadvantaged communities with the wealth and resources they need to truly control their own schools and community development. All children deserve the same small classes, full curricula and resource-rich education that elites receive.

Racism in our society unfortunately goes even deeper to the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration of poor people of color by a biased criminal justice system, from heavy-handed policing in disadvantaged communities, to the negligible public defense system, to excluding people with criminal records from education and jobs.

Blacks and whites use illegal drugs at the same rates, but black men are 11 times more likely than white men to be incarcerated for a drug offense in New York. African-Americans and Latinos comprise 94% of the drug offenders in our state's prisons.

Racism is also reflected in the inadequacy of our social safety net and the refusal to provide equal labor rights to farm workers (and until recently, domestic workers). Racism is a problem throughout our employment system, where people of color experience lower wages and higher rates of unemployment, poverty, and access to quality health care.

We would establish a cabinet-level Civil Rights Department within the executive branch. The Civil Rights Department should be constituted as a law enforcement agency with an authoritative legal mandate, an independent funding source, the power to streamline procedures and cut across government agency jurisdictions, and the responsibility to recommend programs to reduce race and class segregation and disparities in employment, education, housing, criminal justice, and other areas.

We also call for a major new public housing program to help desegregate residential patterns. Unlike the old large-scale projects that concentrated poverty and minorities in poor communities of color, the new public housing should be built in the cities and the suburbs as humanly-scaled, scatter-site, high-quality projects that are mixed income and ethnicity.

From the war on drugs, to broken windows theory, to stop and frisk, to arrest quotas for police officers, policing practices in our state have targeted poor communities of color. It is time for state government to redress this failure to guarantee equal justice under law.

We would appoint a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission to review the impact of the war on drugs and mass incarceration, including the devastating and lingering impact on communities of color. The Commission would assess the impact, hear from the people affected, and recommend policies to end mass incarceration and repair its damages.

We would legalize, regulate, and tax drugs, starting with marijuana and heroin. We should treat drug abuse as a health problem, not a criminal problem. Drug treatment on demand, not mass incarceration.

We support freedom and amnesty for all drug war prisoners, present and past, who were convicted for non-violent offenses. The savings should be reinvested into re-entry support for former prisoners and reparations for the communities most damaged by mass incarceration. I would “ban the box,” ending the practice of employers and public colleges screening out people with criminal records on their initial applications.

Racism remains a real problem in our state. Unfortunately, it has yet to be addressed with a pro-active program by any of the major party candidates for Governor or Lieutenant Governor. We look forward to debates with our opponents.

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