Friday, July 10, 2020


Article Index

C. Shedding Light on Donald Trump's Inaccurate Assertions of African Americans in Inner Cities

Throughout the course of the 2016 presidential debates, Donald Trump repeatedly used the word "inner city" as a synonym for African Americans. Until now, this article also seems to conflate the two. Clarification is necessary.

During the second presidential debate on October 9, 2016, Donald Trump remarked: "I would be a president for all the people--African Americans, the inner cities." He said, "You go to the inner cities and you see it's 45 percent poverty, African Americans now 45 percent poverty in the inner cities [sic]." This is not the case.

By 1970, more than 80 percent of African Americans lived in cities. In recent decades, however, America's large cities have experienced a major exodus of black residents to the suburbs. This shift has been called the "black flight." "About nine million African Americans moved to suburban areas between 1960 and 2000." Black suburbanites now outnumber those living in inner cities. "[S]uburban black Americans made up 37 percent of those in metro areas in 1990. Today, they make up 51 percent." Further, poverty is generally higher in rural areas. "About 37 percent of rural black residents live below the poverty line ...." More inaccurately, Trump misunderstands where a majority of black Americans live. "When he equates black' with inner city,' he relies on a racial stereotype that ignores more than half of the country's black residents." The section of the rural south called the "Black Belt" remains home to the most concentrated populations of African Americans in the country. So how is that high-crime areas are still more concentrated in inner cities? More importantly, how is that these areas still disparately impact African Americans?

In the large urban cities of the northern United States, "African American populations remain mostly in the neighborhoods that were left to them as a result of "white flight" that took place after the civil rights movements and the riots of the 1960s." As African Americans moved into these neighborhoods, "whites moved further away to avoid forced school integration and the threat of dropping property values." High rates of black crime continue to exist despite nationally declining crime rates nationally partially because many African Americans still live in highly segregated and deeply impoverished neighborhoods. Throughout the twentieth century racially segregated communities have been the norm. Until now, "none of these segregated spaces experienced sustained rates of violence so completely out of step with national trends." Although violent crime remains at an all-time low nationally, it rose slightly in 2016 with half of the increase driven by Los Angeles (up 13.3 percent) and Chicago (up 16.2 percent). The murder rate rose about 13.1 percent in 2016--nearly half of the increase is attributable to Chicago alone. Chicago is an outlier. "There were 762 murders in Chicago in 2016." Homicides in Chicago "are concentrated in the segregated and poorest areas of the city, such as the South Side and the Austin vicinity." Today, the entire south side is majority African American. Thus, in 2016, Chicago "were concentrated in highly segregated pockets that are predominately black." How did this come about?

Chicago has the third largest urban Black population in the nation mostly the result of the huge influx of African Americans during both of the "Great Black Migrations" north. African Americans were attracted to the northern cities railway companies, steel mills, and meatpacking industries. "The Black newspaper, The Chicago Defender,' [s]pread the news to African Americans that there was a better life and plenty of jobs in Chicago." The majority of blacks that moved to Chicago settled in the city's south side where these major industries were located. "Chicago's black belt consisted of a 30 block long stretch of neighborhoods on the south side of old and dilapidated housing. Much like Harlem, NY, [b]lacks were over-crowded in apartment buildings that lacked plum[b]ing and healthy sanitary conditions." These are the types of inner-city areas that this Note refers to; where disproportionately high rates of African Americans live, and where there are disproportionately high rates of crime.

The more fortunate middle-class African Americans led the "black flight" to the suburbs. As explained by author Robert Wadman, the "black flight" has left those remaining poor African Americans in innercity areas without the voice and leadership of the more prosperous African American families. This absence of leadership has left a problem minority class in inner cities. In all inner-city neighborhood, "there is a problem minority that varies between about 12.1 percent (in San Diego, for example) and 28 percent (in Phoenix) that comes largely from the disconnected youth between ages 16 and 24." Most are out of school and many resort to crime and gangs. "This culture is reinforced by contemporary conditions like poverty, racial discrimination, chronic unemployment, single parenting, and a chemically toxic, neurologically injurious environments, such as the lead paint that poisoned Freddie Gray." Overly aggressive law enforcement has continued to profile all ghetto residents as criminals. Harvard professor and expert on crime trends, Dr. Robert Sampson, explains: "The cynicism and mistrust of legal institutions in poor black communities is longstanding, although recent conflicts with police have exacerbated underlying tensions." Thus, "[f]lare-ups and spikes in violence are occurring in predictable places." Dr. Sampson believes that the concentration of poverty and segregation in certain areas of cities relate to city-level differences in rates of violence. Princeton Sociology Professor Wadman theorizes that poverty and black-white segregation are the primary explanations for the disproportionately high rates of crime in urban black America. He has good reason to postulate this thesis.

Although many crime experts warn not to read too much into recent crime statistics, the statistics are hard to ignore. Out of the cities with the largest black-white segregation rates, Detroit is second highest, New York City is third, and Chicago ranks fourth highest in the country. When looking at the cities with the highest murder rates, Chicago ranks first, New York City ranks second, Detroit and Philadelphia are tied for fifth highest (Philadelphia has the thirteenth highest black-white segregation rate). While these statistics are eyebrow raising, the black-white segregation rates do not explain everything. Not all of the cities with the highest rates of black-white segregation have the highest crime rates. Historian and author Heather Ann Thompson argues that "neither racial segregation nor the racial poverty gap can account for the degree to which poor communities of color are traumatized today, ..." Racial segregation is largely ahistorical--it has long been persistent in the United States. "What is altogether new," she explains, "is the extent to which these communities are devastated by the working of our nation's criminal justice system in general and by mass incarceration in particular." As explained in the next section, the legal landscaped is stacked against African Americans.

. . .

There is nothing in the Constitution that stops police departments from deploying their limited resources to high-crime areas. There is no need, however, for courts to make it even easier than it already is for police officers to stop and frisk black people. Police officers are more likely to arbitrarily stop blacks in high-crime areas. This leads to further community-police tensions in high-crime neighborhoods, which leads to further crime.

High rates of black crime continue to exist despite nationally declining crime rates. President Donald Trump has said that crime is "out of control" and that decades of progress are now being reversed. Similar to how Richard Nixon capitalized on white voters' fear of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Donald Trump successfully exploited white constituents' anger with eight years of having a black president and by creating a false portrayal of increasing crime rates--the need to "Make America Great Again."

When Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, began an infamous protest by kneeling during the National Anthem before the start of each NFL game in 2016, it drew national ire as many Americans were appalled by his actions. How could someone disrespect the national anthem of this great country? Perhaps Colin Kaepernick recognizes that the racial caste system still exists in America today. It just operates in more discreet ways.


Deputy Public Defender, Office of the Colorado State Public Defender. J.D. 2016, University of California, Berkeley School of Law.


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