By: Khanya Dalton
As we educate ourselves on police brutality and the prison industrial complex, many people have asked me how and why so many black people are arrested and subsequently incarcerated. This question doesn’t have one answer. The criminalization of black people directly after the abolition of slavery, the implicit biases of police officers, and discriminatory laws such as Jim Crow Laws, Black Codes, and the War on Drugs all play a part. But I want to focus on the over policing of black communities, and how redlining contributes to it.
Redlining is a classic example of systemic racism. After the Great Depression, the United States government examined neighborhoods big and small to evaluate the risk of mortgages in different areas. The Home Owners Loan Corporation graded neighborhoods on a scale from A to D. Those graded D were marked in red, hence the term “redlining.” Unfortunately, race was a huge determining factor in what grade neighborhoods received. “Infiltration of Negroes” was a common reason cited for lower grades. “Respectable people but homes are too near to a negro area” was said of a B grade neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia. Neighborhoods across the country were frequently graded not just on income and population, but on their proximity to majority black neighborhoods. Black neighborhoods were rarely given high marks, and were more likely to be outlined in red. The maps the Home Owners Loan Corporation drew were available to local government and mortgage lenders, allowing both to precisely and easily discriminate against Black people. In the 20th century, one of the biggest contributors to upwards social mobility was home owning. However, mortgage lenders were wary to allow black people to obtain mortgages, as they often lived in red or “high risk” neighborhoods. The Federal Housing Association did not make neighborhoods rated D or marked red available for backing and loans. This meant that in order to purchase homes, entire black communities were forced to turn to less legitimate mortgage lenders. Unfortunately, this meant black people often became stuck in predatory loans which prevented their upward social mobility and actively impoverished them. It also effectively kept communities segregated, as black people were not given the opportunity by banks or government associations to move into wealthier, higher ranked white neighborhoods. The process of “redlining” became much larger than racist maps drawn by the Home Owners Loan Corporation. It became a systemic denial of funding and public investment into black communities.
As the government cemented the segregation of Black communities, suburban developers offered low interest rates to white families to encourage them to move into new suburbs. This became what is known as “white flight.” White families were given the incentive to move into newer areas with better public spaces such as parks, good schools, and hospitals. Their low interest loans allowed them to continue growing their generational wealth, and pump money into improving their communities, reducing crime. Meanwhile, the Federal Housing Association told suburban developers not to sell to Black families if they wanted to keep their low interest loans.
Most crime is a direct response to social conditions. As Black people were forced to continue living in underfunded communities with no way out, generational poverty was strengthened and their social conditions worsened. And so, crime increased. Black people are not predisposed to commit more crimes, years of disinvestment and underfunding cause more crime in their communities. Local government’s response to crime is to send in more police officers to regulate it. Instead of pumping funding into schools, hospitals, and public spaces for Black communities, governments fund the police forces operating within those neighborhoods. And so a self fulfilling prophecy was created. As Black neighborhoods were labelled as high crime areas, more police were sent into them. With a higher police presence, it is inevitable that more crimes will be caught. And so Black communities did truly become high crime areas from a purely statistics standpoint, based on the numbers of arrests made and crimes witnessed by law enforcement.
But this over policing of Black neighborhoods has not decreased crime. Instead, more and more police officers are sent into to Black communities, decimating them. Stop and frisk laws and Broken Windows Policing have allowed police officers to criminalize Black people based on their race, and contribute to their mass incarceration. When members of families are imprisoned, that family loses a source of stability and income. The higher rates of incarceration for Black families further prevent them from achieving upward social mobility and creating generational wealth. Instead of investing in largely segregated communities of color, governments continue to deny loans to these “risky” communities and fail to adequately fund any institution within the communities except for the police. This is what we mean when we discuss systemic racism. Systemic racism is the intentional and insidious intersection of all institutions, which work to oppress Black people and prevent them from achieving social, political, and economic equality.
The disparity in criminal justice created in part by over policing of redlined communities has not disappeared. Black drivers are 30% more likely than white drivers to be pulled over by the police. 1 in 3 black men is likely to serve time in prison, compared to 1 in 17 white men. 1 in 18 black women is likely to serve time in prison, compared to 1 in 111 white women. Black people are 20% more likely to be sentenced to jail time than white people, and receive sentences 20% longer than their white counterparts. In total, Black people make up 13% of the United States population, but account for 40% of the US prison population. Beyond criminal justice, the effects of redlining can be seen in wealth disparity between black and white people. 72% of white adults are homeowners, while only 42% of black adults are. Black adults also continue to be shown fewer apartments and homes than white people. And lastly, white families hold 90% of US national wealth, while Black families hold only 2.6%.
Redlining is just one example of the systemic racism that prevented, and continues to prevent, Black people from avoiding persecution and building generational wealth. The police force as an institution has historically operated to unfairly target and persecute Black people in this country. The only way to dismantle the corrupt police force and reform a cruelly designed criminal justice system is to understand the intersection between all the systems in this country designed to oppress Black people.