How To Do What Must Be Done: A Suggestion
The interlocking factors of the Black Poverty Cycle are the education system, the criminal justice system and poverty itself. The fundamental issue for the education system is the fact that schools enrolling large numbers of African-American children are underfunded in regard to the challenges facing them. The reasons that those schools are underfunded are administrative and legal. The administrative issues include the diversion of funds from schools serving large numbers of African-American students to other schools within the same district (in ways that are both blatant and subtle) and the push-out and lock-out of African-American students within schools. The chief legal issues are the predominant use of local property tax to fund schools and the consequent lack of equity in the allocation of resources among districts within states.
The fundamental issues for the criminal justice system are the practices and polices of police departments in such matters as inequitable enforcement of the drug and trespassing laws; of district attorneys in deciding to prosecute such inequitable arrests and of judges allow such prosecutions to go to trial.
Black poverty is made acute and nearly permanent by the results of these dynamics of the education and criminal justice systems.
Challenge-based, in-district funding has been instituted in a few large school districts, such as Montgomery County, Maryland, with positive results. On the other hand, more typically, actions by officials in districts such as New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., are enforcing inequities. A few states are equalizing district funding, but there are none where per student funding, on average, is nearly adequate for the challenges facing Black children.
Similarly, the dramatic disparities in the nature and application of the drug laws have begun to narrow, but remain explicable only on a racial basis. And police authorities in large cities are extraordinarily resistant to efforts to lessen their arbitrary criminalization of young Black men.
Most of what is needed to dismantle the caste system in which most African-Americans live requires political activity. Political action can be effective in the first place in specific locations where African-Americans form a majority or a large plurality. African-Americans are the majority of the population in Detroit (84%); Jackson, MS (80%); Birmingham (74%); Baltimore (65%); Memphis (64%); New Orleans (61%); Flint (59%); Montgomery, AL (57%); Savannah (57%). There are also many metropolitan areas where, although not in the majority, there are large numbers of African-Americans. These include: New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington and Dallas. African-American political organization on the local level in these places can overcome gerrymandering and lead to the necessary local political changes in the education and criminal justice systems.
If the African-American population, and those allied with them, are organized sufficiently to achieve the needed changes in these cities and metropolitan areas, great pressure could be brought to bear on the governments of their states to enforce equity in the education and criminal justice systems, including revisions in the funding basis for public education.
This is a minimal program. It is something that the African-American community can initiate and perhaps accomplish by itself. But it is likely that the African-American community will not be alone in this great effort. As Dr. King saw, there are allies at hand: other minority communities; those living in poverty of every race; all those who love justice.
Simultaneously with political action, much can be, and in some cases is being done, through law suits by organizations like the ACLU and the NAACPLDF. Additional appropriate situations for such legal action should be brought to the attention of these organizations by community-based organizations and others.
Change will come when school system administrators find that because of political and legal pressure from the African-American community and its allies they must stop pushing-out and locking-out Black students and must fund, to the limit of their resources, schools in accordance with the challenges facing them (following the template of the Abbott decision, for example). Change will come when state department of education administrators find that they must support equitable, challenge-based, funding of districts in their states. Change will come when state governors and legislatures find that they must abolish the system of funding schools by means of local property taxes or otherwise provide for adequate, challenge-based funding of districts.
Change will come when police, prosecutors and judges find that they must abolish the policies and practices that have created a caste of criminalized African-Americans.
Most of those who currently enforce the inequities of the education and criminal justice systems will not change their policies and practices voluntarily. They must be persuaded to do so and if they cannot be persuaded, they must be forced to do so by political and legal action.