Race / News / Economy
Black Academics Call for a Citywide Plan to Make Everyone, Including the Black Community, a Part of Seattle's Success
by Ansel Herz
on Thu, May 29, 2014 at 2:30 PM
CRISIS Black folks have been in a "permanent recession" in Seattle, says a local group of professors.
While the city council debated the minimum wage this morning, where was Mayor Ed Murray? He'd stopped by Seattle Central Community College to attend a presentation on "The Crisis in Black Seattle" by several African-American professors.
You can read their new report in full here (PDF). Mostly, it's a litany of yawning wealth, employment, educational, and incarceration gaps between African Americans and whites in Seattle. Some examples:
"Black wealth in Seattle is only 6% of White wealth"
"An estimated 20% of Black households experienced some form of food hardship during the year"
Declines in home values and foreclosures disproportionately affect blacks
Black students are suspended and expelled at roughly triple the rates of whites
"The unemployment rate for African American men in Seattle today matches the unemployment rate across the country during the Great Depression."
"Seattle, King County and Washington State independently incarcerate Blacks at a higher percentage relative to their population than does the state of Mississippi! Seattle incarcerates Black juveniles at a rate that is at least four times higher at which White juveniles are incarcerated."
"We've been in a permanent recession," said Thad Spratlen, a University of Washington marketing professor. "We have communities that cannot be part of the glitter and success of Seattle."
The authors of the report emphasized—and this might be disappointing to some—that they don't have a solution-oriented plan for the crisis, although the report suggests a "stimulus" of some kind. They are simply calling on the city to come up with one. The implication of this is that the city's Race and Social Justice Initiative, the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, CareerBridge, and similar programs either need to be drastically expanded or combined with other, stronger measures to combat racial injustice. What currently exists isn't cutting it.
Carl Livingston, one of the co-authors and a political science professor at Seattle Central, thanked the mayor for following through on a commitment to show up. Then he called out to the crowd in the packed lecture hall: "Any legislative aides for Kshama Sawant here?" Bruce Harrell? Nick Licata? That was awkward, because none of them were there.
Murray talks a wonderful talk on these issues, and it's great to see him using the bully pulpit to draw attention to a largely forgotten, marginalized community (blacks make up only about 10 percent of the city population). "Are we doing enough? The answer is no," Murray admitted.
"Do I have the solutions? No. But I believe we can find them," he said. He urged the crowd to come back to him annually and gauge his progress, then joked that this might hurt his reelection chances.
Among the few specifics Murray discussed: He reiterated his support for renaming the Central District to "Africatown" and doing more (e.g. creating landmarks) to "tell the history of that neighborhood" and "preserve the ability of people to live in their neighborhood." He also talked about starting a Mayor's Summer Employment Program, where the mayor goes out and knocks on doors to get at-risk youngsters jobs—something many other cities have.
Murray said folks should ignore stuff in "newspapers" about how he's placing too many taxes on the November ballot, touting the impact universal preschool will have on African-American kids.
But at the end of his remarks, Murray did a weird thing, suggestive of the discrepancies that sometimes emerge between his policies and his high-minded rhetoric: he praised the interim Seattle police chief who bungled misconduct complaints and under whom SPD reforms stalled ("I want to thank Harry Bailey. He has not gotten the credit he deserves," Murray said). In the next sentence, he declared that he's got a message for the dozens of police officers who sued him and the feds yesterday to block new rules designed to stop their use of excessive force: "They don't want us to follow through on police reform...But this is not the 60s and this not the South."
"We are going to work with the federal justice department's civil rights division," not fight it, he repeated. That earned him a hearty round of applause.