Moral Voice: Racial profiling perceptions and proofs

What is the role of ecumenical Moral Voice? Can reconciliation be achieved? Racial and gender bias put aside? Ethnic origin and religious affiliation differences settled?

“From January of this year to May of this year 2014, we’ve had one shooting related incident,” said Conroy Chance, chief of police for Lincoln Heights Village. The chief’s recorded statement came in response to school officials’ public announcement of the possible closing of the elementary school, owing to widely held perceptions of the existence of rampant crime in the historically African-American community located within the Diocese of Southern Ohio.

Lincoln Heights Village incorporation procedures began in 1923. Its history is tied to the establishment of the Wright Aeronautical plant famous for its manufacture of the WWII B-29 bomber, a jobs attraction for migrant Negro workers fleeing Jim Crow existence in the South. More interestingly, that history is inadvertently tied to an African-American mechanical engineer and inventor, Lewis Howard Latimer, who in 1876 was employed by Alexander Graham Bell as a draftsman for the drawings of Bell’s telephone patent application. Preceding his employ by the Edison Electric Light Company, Latimer received a patent for his own work on carbon filaments in light bulbs and was later hired by the famous Thomas A. Edison, co-founder of General Electric Corporation.

The GE aviation plant is located in Evendale across from Lincoln Heights, the lands of the two communities separated by I-75. Is neighboring Evendale (racially 87.8% white) a safer place to live than (racially 96.4% black) Lincoln Heights? AreaVibes.com, a livability score website, contains algorithms for identifying ‘best places to live’ by comparing, among many other factors, the crime indexes of American towns and cities.  AreaVibes indicates that Evendale is “367% more dangerous to live in than Lincoln Heights.”

There are many sub-themes associated with racial profiling: among them, ‘black-man-as-criminal’ ethnic stereotype persisting since the Transatlantic Trade in African slavery. That the stereotype was used to justify the enslavement of black persons in the Americas and the Caribbean Sea is a major point cited by the research study on racial profiling commissioned by the bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Blacks in America, especially males, have the highest statistical chance of going to prison at some point in life. Are residents of Ohio’s Lincoln Heights community rightfully fearful that the potential closing of their school may simultaneously portend a prison appearing in its place? What urgent challenges do the people face?

School closuresMoreover, a recent National Opportunity to Learn Campaign blog broadcasts the closing of 49 Chicago schools, 22 in New York City, and 23 schools impacting more than 81% of black Philadelphia students. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has voted to invest $400 million to building two correctional facilities. What was the responding ecumenical speak of Moral Voices?

This country has moved away from a tradition of states’ general fund allocations supporting education to one now characterized by public appropriations practices providing more dollars for prison building than for education. NAACP Smart and Safe Campaign 2011 research also indicates that neighborhoods having the highest rates of incarcerated persons also have the highest numbers of poorly performing schools. Poorer neighborhoods whose zip codes record the highest numbers of the incarcerated are dubbed ‘million dollar blocks’ – since low-wage (Georgia and Texas reportedly pay $0) inmate labor generates high profits paid to unseen collectors of profit. The Virginia Supreme Court in 1871 explicitly declared prisoners to be “slaves of the state,” while the “except as punishment for crime” loophole written into the 13th Amendment to the Constitution implicitly accomplishes the same end.

mythCloser to home and back to dispelling misperceptions on high crime in poorer neighborhoods, AreaVibes algorithms declare the Lincoln Heights crime index to be 48% lower than the Ohio average. Evendale median household income is $101,071; Lincoln Heights $24,240. Evendale is safer than 1.1% of the cities in the nation; Lincoln Heights is 39.7% safer. The chance of being a victim of a crime in Evendale is 1 in 12; in Lincoln Heights 1 in 57. The chance of being a victim of a violent crime in Evendale is 1 in 396; in Lincoln Heights 1 in 299; while the chance of being a victim of a property crime in Evendale is also 1 in 12, in Lincoln Heights the odds are 1 in 70. Evendale poverty level is 0.3%; Lincoln Heights 29.9%. Evendale median earnings male is $65,332; Lincoln Heights male $21,816.

Besides perceptions and prisons and poor schools, what challenges do the people of the nation face? When it comes to controlling the tyranny of drugs, both legal and illegal, what are responsibilities of the people? Writer Jenee Desmond-Harris’ March 2014 article posted in The Root asks “Why are black people nearly four times as likely to be arrested for weed?” Her report is accompanied by ACLU statistical illustrations showing that blacks and whites use pot at about the same rate.

And although the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 effectually reduces the federal incarcerations of cocaine offenders sentenced before the passage of the Act, sentence reduction is excluded for state offenders. ProCon.org lists the 20 states and DC that have already enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana. The sale of marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Pot graphicNow that prisons are filled beyond capacity, as described in a Cato Institute article titled U.S. Prisons Thriving on Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests, what will be the impact of legalized marijuana on the future of American incarceration? On gun violence? On voter rights? On legal racial profiling? On the growth of violent crime? If District of Columbia voters were to approve Question 71 in the coming elections, says News Channel 4 NBC page, possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana, growing up to 6 plants, and sharing (but not selling) up to 1 ounce of marijuana to anyone 21 or older would all become legal. Use or sale of drug paraphernalia would also be legal.

In all of this, what is the role of ecumenical Moral Voice? Can reconciliation be achieved? Racial and gender bias put aside? Ethnic origin and religious affiliation differences settled?

Forging Moral Voice leadership partnerships with the work of experienced and reputable organizations like the heroic National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. (NAADPC), led by the venerable retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Louis Burnett Sr. – change agent partnerships steeped in dedicated challenges to public policy and its governing agencies – would be significant to the ultimate answer to the question on Moral Voice role. Such partnerships, infused and informed by education and advocacy, have proven records of effectiveness.

Who should be involved? Religious leaders acting in the role of commissioners of change, like the members of the Bishop’s Task Force, must harvest the knowledge and skills held by professionals in every field:  the judiciary, medicine, law, social work, law enforcement, public health, education and prevention, political science, so as to more nearly assure accountable results. The religious community should iteratively and collaboratively sponsor symposia for educating congregants and the general public concerning the present dangers to American posterity – the sustaining stronghold of healthy economic prosperity.

And for how long should Moral Voice linger? Until the mass incarceration by racial profiling threat is vanquished, reconciliation is fulfilled and the practice of unjust law reigns no more.

Merelyn Bates-MimsMerelyn Bates-Mims, PhD serves as Principal Researcher for the Bishop’s Task Force on Racial Profiling. She is a former parishioner of St. Simon of Cyrene Church and former Lincoln Heights resident of 25 years.