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Cincinnati Shows America's Racial Divide


Earlier this year I wrote an op-ed for Newsday - the major New York City daily newspaper - regarding the tensions in Cincinnati. In light of the acquittal of Officer Stephen Roach on all charges in the slaying of a young unarmed Black teenager,Timothy Thomas, we thought it would be appropriate to run that opinion editorial today. Here it is:

Cincinnati Shows America's Racial Divide

April 23, 2001

Newsday

By Cedric Muhammad



When one listens to the emotional appeals and arguments being made inside and out of Cincinnati regarding the shooting of a young unarmed black man and the riots that ensued, it becomes readily apparent that the recent events there are not being viewed in context. What happened in Cincinnati is not simply about racial profiling or even the historically tense relationship between the city's 43 percent black population and its police force. Cincinnati is about America's racial divide and the legacy of unresolved issues that it has produced.

America's original sin- the peculiar institution of slavery- has produced a litany of seemingly intractable problems that make what happened in Cincinnati possible. In truth, Cincinnati is only a microcosm of the racial divide in this country that was written of most poignantly in the famous 1968 Kerner Commission Report that stated there were two Americas, unequal- one black and one white.

A mere retraining of law enforcement officers or the reform of bureaucratic procedures, regardless as to how thorough it may be, cannot overcome the loss of identity, the educational deficit, barriers to capital formation and broken family structure that slavery created and which blacks and whites perpetuate today.

Until the black community is healed of its external and self-inflicted wounds, it cannot become an equal partner in American society- or in this country's political and economic spheres. And until America's political establishment recognizes that its policies have failed to solve the most serious problems in black communities in urban America, this country will remain divided, with Cincinnati-like violence possible in virtually every major city in this country.

The barriers facing blacks in America are not simply political, economic or about justice. Blacks are wrestling with basic issues of humanity in terms of self-realization and their living conditions in many parts of America. As blacks continue to struggle with this burden, many whites, including some law enforcement officers, view blacks if not- as the Constitution once did- as three-fifths of a human being, then as human beings who are only manifesting a small percentage of their human potential. It is this "profile" and the poor quality of life experienced by many blacks on a daily basis that serves to justify in the minds of many whites disrespect and mistreatment of blacks.

Of course, there are many blacks who operate under this same type of thinking. The result on both sides of the racial divide, manisfested in different ways, is the devaluation of black life.

When the devaluation reaches its apex on both sides, riots are the result. The pain, suffering and damage which result from riots is never as great as what has already occurred in the mind of the individual undertaking such action. It is only when the dissatisfaction that exists inside the heart and soul of an individual becomes unmanageable and the person believes that no justice is forthcoming by any action of the state that individuals willfully destroy their own communities.

Blacks are right to be concerned about police brutality and racial profiling. But by solely focusing on these issues and not the deeper pathologies that permeate the inner city, black leaders allow politicians to use rhetoric, studies and new rulings to substitute for real change.

As an example, blacks would be far better served by an effort to have black Christians, Muslims and grass-roots organizations patrol their owm communities as opposed to making police officers "more sensitive" to race. With churches, mosques and community centers present on almost every other block in a black community, there would be no excuse for the amount of drug abuse, alcoholism and crime that takes place.

Lastly, Congress must embrace public policy initiatives that reduce regulatory burdens and tax burdens in order to spur capital formation. Because the black economy disproportionately depends upon its manual labor for its sustenance, in the event of an economic downturn, it is black Americans, especially black teens, who are worst affected. This was evident earlier this month when it was revealed that the unemployment rate in black America dramatically rose from 7.6 percent to 8.7 percent while holding steady at 3.7 percent for whites.

A combination of community development and government reduction of barriers to capital formation would not only leave police officers with a lot of idle time on their hands, it also would pay a huge dividend for race relations in America.

Now that would be getting to the root of "Cincinnati."


Cedric Muhammad

Monday, October 1, 2001

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