The Crisis Continues
By Arthur Z. Schwartz
I had an interesting experience a couple months ago, entering the R Train at City Hall, just before a tall guy named Bill de Blasio. It took him five minutes to walk the length of the car because he was mobbed. High fives, lots of selfies (by passengers), handshakes, words of endearment. I thought back to our last two Mayors and how unlikely that scene would have been.
When he reached me I got a hug, and we launched into a discussion about the City helping to fund representation of tenants being harassed out of their apartments by rapacious landlords. We both exited at 49th Street, and his greeting from Black and Hispanic New Yorkers continued to be effusive. De Blasio’s popularity in Black and Hispanic New York remains high; not so among White New Yorkers.
Contrast this pleasant ride with the continued reports of police shootings of unarmed, young Black men across the nation. In Atlanta a naked, mentally troubled vet was shot by a white cop, another Black man was shot in Philly, another in Madison, Wisconsin, and another in Roxbury, Mass. None had weapons. Then we all watched the video of Walter Scott being shot as he ran away from a cop, across a field, in South Carolina, and then watched some more as the cop planted a taser near the body of the dying man, who he cuffed as he bled to death.
Then there was Freddy Gray in Baltimore, whose spinal cord was severed after a questionable arrest, leading to riots. This, most horrifically, was followed by the shooting of nine parishioners at a church prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. And last week Sandra Bland, a Black young professional, was arrested for Driving While Black and “committed suicide” 24 hours later in a Texas jail, which she was sitting in because she could not pay the $5000 bail.
Blacks and Hispanics continue to have a much harder time getting jobs, make less than Whites for the jobs they do get, make up an astoundingly large percentage of the prison population, and suffer from far less access to health care and educational opportunities.
Amazingly, even with a Black President and a Black Attorney General, progress seems stalled, and the divide between Whites and non-Whites continues to grow—perhaps even faster than the gap between the top 1% and the rest of working America.
On July 24th the New York Times published an amazing poll: 60% of Black Americans and 68% of White Americans view race relations as “Generally Bad.” The numbers were half of that, for each group, as recently as 2010. And 40% of each group felt that things were getting worse. When asked whether President Obama had been judged more harshly because of his race, 80% of Blacks agreed, but only 47% of Whites. The anger and the distrust is palpable, but experiencing the reaction to Bill de Blasio in the subway shows me that the divide can be overcome.
What can we do, here in our little enclave in Greenwich Village? We need to support affordable housing efforts—in the Village—not just because we don’t want to live in an “all-wealthy” community, but because we want to live in a racially integrated community as well. We, as educated adults, need to make sure our kids and our grandkids learn about slavery as part of our national heritage, and about how persecution continued after the Civil War with Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan. Instead of platitudes once a year on Martin Luther King’s Birthday, we need to teach our children, and learn ourselves about the real stories about the Civil Rights Movement including those of the Freedom Riders, the Black Panther Party, Malcom X, Julian Bond and Andrew Young.
And we need to let our kids and neighbors know that we are upset whenever racial injustice occurs, and that we take it personally
We—residents of Greenwich Village, perhaps the most racially un-diverse community in the United States, a community which has a 2% Black population—need to be more conscious of how we address race in our everyday lives.
And we need to demand that our political leaders do more. City Council Member Corey Johnson participated in a “die-in” on Broadway after the Grand Jury cleared the cop who killed Eric Garner; but we need to see more, a lot more, if our City is to become more liberal and diverse in the future, and our children and grandchildren can live in a country which is less divided.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Village Democratic District Leader