The latest issue of Time has an article on how the 2016 presidential contenders are tackling urban issues. Yet, the article only discusses crime and violence:
It’s an improbable plot twist after two decades of Republicans and Democrats embracing the tough-on-crime mantra of more cops and tougher sentencing. And like most political shifts, it’s driven by calculation as much as courage. As crime rates tumbled and budgets tightened, concern has grown over the financial and human cost of mass imprisonment. A recent Reason-Rupe poll found that 77% of Americans now favor eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, while 73% support allowing nonviolent drug offenders who have served their sentences to vote.
In response, nearly every candidate this year has jumped into a new national debate about how to reshape the criminal-justice system. “It’s an incredible political shift,” says Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan policy institute at New York University School of Law…
Urban politics has been fraught for liberals for the past 25 years, and arguably longer. The scars of the 1988 election were slow to fade: a generation of ambitious Democrats had watched Michael Dukakis get pilloried as a wimpy, soft-on-crime liberal, and they vowed to avoid the same trap. “You have moderates in the Democratic Party who frankly have been raised up with this deep faith that their political success is dependent on them being tough on crime,” says Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP. “You’re asking them to challenge an article of their political religion, and it’s very scary for them.”…
Of all the 2016 hopefuls, perhaps nobody else grasps the complexities of urban policy like O’Malley, Clinton’s closest rival for the Democratic nomination. The former Maryland governor spent two terms as Baltimore’s mayor, transforming the crime-ridden city into a laboratory for urban policy, wielding data-driven crime-fighting techniques like CompStat and a zero-tolerance approach to community policing. Crime plunged. But in the eyes of some critics, his tactics laid the kindling that was set ablaze when 25-year-old Freddie Gray died April 19 of injuries suffered in police custody. (Six officers have been charged in connection with his death.)
In an article that is supposedly about how more politicians are now getting it right (turning to the large issue of the criminal justice system/mass incarceration), they miss the boat in tying urban politics to dealing with crime. Cities are only about crime and violence? Doesn’t this just feed the same stereotypes of urban areas that have been held for decades and are consistently portrayed through the media?
If politicians were serious about tackling urban issues, how about they start with these two issues:
1. Residential segregation. A century or so of separating where people can live based on race (and class) has long-term consequences. Read American Apartheid by Massey and Denton again, particularly to see how white-black relationships have been shaped by residential patterns.
2. Economic opportunities. Globalization and deindustrialization have devastated numerous urban neighborhoods as jobs – particularly in manufacturing – disappeared. Read William Julius Wilson’s work in The Truly Disadvantaged and When Work Disappears. How are jobs and capital going to flow to poor neighborhoods?