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Editorial: A tipping point on racial discrimination

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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On Tuesday, President Obama announced the creation of “My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.” The nonprofit is a spinoff of a previous White House initiative put in place to increase opportunities available for young minority men.

Several well-known companies, including American Express and Pepsi, have committed $80 million to the project.

Obama has spoken frequently, recently, about the residual effect of institutional racism in the United States. On the “Late Show with David Letterman,” Obama said Jim Crow laws, slavery, and discrimination have had lingering effects that have fueled the riots we see today. Moreover, he said, these problematic aspects of U.S. history have been a major contributing factor in the disadvantages facing many minorities.

To that end, defining Obama’s presidency in one word is an easy task: irony. How can it be that the first black presidency in this country has been headlined by racial unrest the likes of which have not been seen since the ’60s?

Most students go through middle school and high school under the impression that race riots and questionable civil rights in this country are a thing of the past. From Baltimore to St. Louis to Oakland, and every major city and small town in between, American history books retell the horrifying stories of slavery, the civil-rights movement, and the plethora of other questionable race relations in the history of the United States.

It appears, however, that these history books are missing a very important chapter in this story — the present.

It’s nearly impossible to watch a news program without hearing about protests or riots caused by poor race relations — most recently, of course, in Baltimore.

But the rioting and protesting has not been contained to the cities in which these instances have occurred. Individuals across the country have taken to speaking up against institutions they believe have oppressed minorities for decades. This includes protests in Iowa City.

Iowa City and other college towns across the country have become popular locations for “Black Lives Matter” and other anti-discriminatory campaigns. Why, though, is there so much anger in cities that don’t appear to reach the national scale for stories of discrimination?

As more and more instances occur, it is clear that in the entire country, not simply in isolated communities, discrimination is a big issue and it affects everyone.

Johnson County is not a stranger to a disproportionate percentage of arrests when comparing white juvenile arrests to those of African Americans and Latinos.

According to the latest data (from 2011) released by the Criminal & Juvenile Justice Planning Department of Iowa, 303 of 8,273 white juveniles in Johnson County were arrested in 2011.

Conversely, 217 of 1,063 African American juveniles and 72 of 677 Latino juveniles were arrested.

The claim cannot be made that ethnicity was the only factor in these arrests; however, the obvious variance in percentages among the three is striking. Moreover, that the latest data available come from 2011 is equally as shocking. The county has made strides to address this issue, however. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors has approved the submission of a $150,000 grant to study disproportionate minority contact in the county, and it has budgeted $30,000 for the purpose of conducting the same study if it does not receive it.

There is very little arguing that the United States still has a race problem. And it is entirely possible that these issues arise not from police departments but from the American history of institutional racism. Something must be done to prevent America from stumbling 50 years back into its own frightening past.


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