Friday, April 19, 2013

Caged Bird

I would like to further build on Alexander's idea of the caged bird.  While we focused on the War on Drugs and the growing disparity of African Americans in jail, I would like to call attention to the communities from where these Black men are being plucked.

Earlier in the semester, I posted about my being native to the city, and if you've travelled outside of Foggy Bottom into my neighborhood, or the "lower income" part of the District also known as Ward 8, you'd probably agree with this hypothetical.  While in recent years, gentrification has become more evident, prior to this influx of White residents, the city has largely existed in segregation; the White population remained in the limits of the Northwest quadrant in neighborhoods like Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, Georgetown and Tenleytown.  There's shopping, grocery, restaurants, florists, metro access, you name it-- they've got it.  However, on a drive down Martin Luther King Avenue, the only thing you can bet on seeing on every block in a liquor store and a carry out.  Needless to say, MLK Avenue runs through Southeast.

Aside from Sidwell Friends, Banneker and The School Without Walls, all of which are in Northwest DC, High Schools in the district fail to prepare students for college.  There are growing numbers of Teach for America members in schools who do not know how to reach the children and they are being promoted in order to make it seem like the school systems are improving. Thus you have large numbers of young Black males who have either not made it to college or have dropped out because they were not prepared academically.  Their fathers? They may or may not be present in their lives, but let's focus on this generation.

Now there's Black males hanging out in their "low-income" neighborhoods during most of the day and night.  If they're working, it's for minimal pay, because we all know that a high school diploma isn't enough to gain employment for a decent salary.  Like your average college student, they probably smoke weed. BUT, there's patrol cars and jump outs in this neighborhood because a congregation of Black people means trouble, apparently.  One of the guys gets arrested for possession of an illegal substance, does a small sentence and then is released.  He's lost his job and is having trouble finding another one because of the felony.  There are no small businesses or retail stores in HIS neighborhood that might hire him, but there are liquor stores.  So now he's drinking, if he wasn't already.  Finds a job in Georgetown, but can't afford the uniform or the travel expenses to and from work, so he starts selling drugs in order to get himself on his feet.

A crime alert is issued for a suspect near Foggy Bottom snatching iPhones, he's Black and thus fits every detail of the description "Black Male", and is stopped, questioned and frisked.  No iPhone, but they find more drugs, and he's arrested yet again.  If he had a child or family, the struggle and need for money would increase, and thus the cycle continues.

REFORM. REHABILITATION. Unlock the cage.  

1 comment:

  1. Dayna, I could not agree with you more. 1 in 15 African-American children have a parent in prison (compared to 1/42 Latino children and 1/111 white children). For black men in their 30s, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. The percentage of blacks and whites who use illegal drugs is about the same, but 2/3 of those in jail for drug-related offenses are young black men. These are just a few of the many statistics illustrating the institutional racism apparent in our U.S. administration of 'justice' system.

    I have seen the documentary "The House I Live In" that you mentioned in your class presentation. This film discusses the problem of the lack of fathers in low-income, minority communities. Fathers are being taken away from their families, even for non-violent, victimless drug crimes. And when they are in jail, they are surrounded by real criminals who have become their peers. So, once they are released from jail and have difficulty finding a job because they now have a criminal record, they go back to drugs. It is a vicious cycle that the War on Drugs is only perpetuating instead of fixing.

    We need a system that is less punitive and more rehabilitative and educational.

    Thank you for further bringing our attention to this issue, Dayna. You should check out "The House I Live In" if you get the chance.


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