Over the police radio, the dispatcher shares details of a recent fight: “Reports of a female victim, white, approximately 25 years of age, says she was punch in the face and beaten by an African American man, approximately 6’2 tall.” When news crews arrived on the scene to interview this victim, Brianna Owen, repeats the report of being beaten by a black male for all to see and talk about around the dinner table in suburban Detroit and across the country. Days later, surveillance cameras outside of the party store reveal how this woman was beat up, but by another Caucasian woman and not an African American at all. “Why would she lie like that?” says Sam, the owner of Grand House of Liquor.
A more important question to ask, is why did this happen? Answer: While the City of Detroit attempts to rebound from its economic woes, there are still major social concerns, especially in underserved and mostly populated by African American and Latino communities. Touting statistics like a 43% unemployment rate, 50% functionally illiterate rate along with high rates of crime, continued problems of real learning in urban schools, the result of splintered approaches to education and an over focus on compliance, the wealth gap in America continues to expand, with Caucasian Americans enjoying 10 times the net worth of African Americans.
As individuals in minority populated cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago and St. Louis, experience astounding high school dropout rates and low household incomes, the war on poverty, which was started in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, has not produced the kind of relief that individuals and institutions need. According to a recent report, today, “there are nearly 49.7 million Americans grappling with the economic and social hardships of living below the poverty line, including 13.4 million children.” Unfortunately, students from poverty stricken homes don’t often see much difference in their income levels as they grow into adulthood.
When crimes happen, particularly in minority communities, the transgressions can often be the result of unaddressed frustration, a feeling of being stuck and pinned up rage. It can be said, and many do, that the war on poverty, the war on drugs and the war on blight are fights that America is losing. “The riots of the 60’s, across the country, didn’t start themselves,” says Eric Turner of Detroit. There was a frustration in the black community that received little attention and it only took a small incident to ignite civil unrest.” To this point, the real opportunity lies in policy that requires social workers, schools and community based organizations alike, especially those that receive federal funding, to address this chain reaction and the long term affects of how illiteracy, joblessness, and homelessness often lead to racial tension and crime. The end result should be focused on achieving specific social and targeted economic goals, so that the condition of people living in America in 2064 will look much better than they do in years 1964 and 2014.