Friday, May 8, 2015

The long, hot urban unrest

We have just gone through a long, hot period of urban unrest, accusations and videos of police violence against minorities, from white ruled Ferguson to minority governed Baltimore.  We in a mountain valley far from those maddening crowds come up with all kinds of theories of why, including a statement  from a writer in this paper that Democrats rule the cities so the problem “apparently” is  corruption.
 In a long hot summer of the  1960’s a Denver neighborhood called Five Points burned.  Five Points at one time was the thriving center of African American life, but as a post war economy boomed, it was clear that neighborhood was left behind.   Resentment boiled over against those in charge, including the white, good ole boy mayor who put his eggs in the basket of developing urban renewal skyscrapers.  Even the health center where my husband was a staff doctor was fire bombed and anger seethed in streets where I have walked door to door registering voters and running surveys of grocery stores that revealed the poor paid more.   
It was not until the 1980’s  that a series of  Denver mayors,  one Hispanic, two Blacks, and a far-sighted  Anglo  led  about as clean a local government as one could wish. And, oh yes, they were all Democrats.  Infrastructure   attention was paid to Five Points, including light rail to transport them to jobs.  From time to time, police brutality is still alleged, but police chiefs are reprimanded or fired.  Their schools are underperforming, but improving.  Few however doubt that the city administration does not care about them. Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock, an African American, was elected to his second term with 80% of the vote last week in a city that is over 50% white.
Often ignored are the demographic and economic shifts that characterized the last century. It was the migration of southern African Americans to the north or Latino immigrants to the west in search of jobs requiring little education. That worked until those manufacturing jobs moved to the lower wage south or replaced workers with robots. That is particularly true in Baltimore that recently lost its auto manufacturing base.
 Indeed, policy decisions have consequences, but policy is not always dictated by corruption.  Baltimore put its development money into a harbor front renewal project where wealth failed to trickle down to its neighborhoods. Those projects are often a Chamber of Commerce dream, but provide little hope for the urban poor if the tax money they generate fails to address their needs, especially to provide good schools to make their citizens employable.
So why are big cities nearly always governed by Democrats? The party’s makeup has more potential for a chance their voices will be heard.  The GOP is heavily composed of white men from the south and mid west rural areas . Urban dwellers understand the GOP has few policies that address their concerns. The GOP budget now in Congress, like others before, will worsen income inequality with tax policies.  It propose to take away some of what little the government provides in assistance and opposes job generating infrastructure projects.  At the same time, the GOP crusades to make it harder for them to vote and be heard.  

A version of this appeared in the May 15,2015

Felicia Muftic served in the administration of Denver Mayor Federico Pena as Clerk and Recorder and his liaison to City Council.

No comments:

Post a Comment