This week on Florida Matters, we hear why Black Americans get arrested at a rate higher than other groups.
It's a very complex issue, and there there are many reasons - some believe they're overpoliced or targeted by police for no reason. One professor says it's the result of centuries of discrimination that are built into our culture.
A little later in the show, we'll take a look at some people who are trying to make a positive change. We'll take a trip on the Black Business Bus Tour, which is drumming up support to keep businesses that face new challenges from the coronavirus outbreak open.
You can hear Florida Matters Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on WUSF 89.7 and at WUSFNews.org.
First, WUSF's Cathy Carter speaks with James Unnever. He's a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. His research generally examines the relationships between race, racism, and crime.
Here's an excerpt from the show:
What I teach is the relationship between race and crime. We know that Blacks constitute roughly 13 percent of the population, but they constitute 26 percent of all arrests. So what I focus on is why does that disproportionality exist?
I'm sure with 40 years of experience in academic research, we could speak forever about some of those causations. But can you tell us a little bit about what are some of the reasons that occurs?
Traditionally, researchers have argued that that disproportionality may be driven by poverty.
But my argument is that the cause is primarily, though not entirely, a result of centuries of systemic oppression of Black Americans, the institutionalization of white people privilege (that) has resulted in institutions that discriminate against African Americans.
If you at birth were thought of in a derogatory way, but also have a history of centuries of people making derogatory stereotypes of you, what does that do to the nature of that person?
And what is the intersection of policing at this juncture with systemic racism?
Well, I wrote a book and a theory of African American offending, race, racism and crime. And we have an entire chapter that highlights the role of policing as a significant, if not one of the more salient causes of black offending.
And it essentially argues that the more blacks mistrust the police and the legal system in its entirety, the less likely they are to obey the law.
So when you have centuries of oppression that targeted African Americans in order for whites to maintain their privileges, the spearhead of that oppression was the criminal justice system. Throughout the South, most of the lynchings were led by the Klan, but the active members of the Klan were generally, but not entirely, members of the criminal justice system. So the police and the African American community live two worlds far apart.
There's often talk of reform, but here we are, are there any reforms that would work or do we need a whole deconstruction of the system?
The only way that I think the Black community will feel enfranchised is if they believe that there is a transparency in public ability so that their voices are heard and at the city level, it’s whether or not we create a Citizens Advisory Board that is independent of the police themselves.
And throughout the entire United States, this becomes mandated so that it isn't something that becomes divisive at the local level. But to have a patchwork of reform only suggests that the murder of George Floyd did not resonate within the population in its entirety, that in fact, we as a nation are not moving forward on our race relations.
And here's an excerpt of our conversation with Candy Lowe, founder of the Black Business Bus Tour:
With the coronavirus shutdown affecting so many businesses out there, and now all the marches in support of Black Lives Matter, is there a real added need for this right now to help out Black-owned businesses? Do you see Black-owned businesses maybe lacking in the capital or the ability to advertise and get the word out?
That is probably the number one thing...capital. I spoke to so many small African American businesses in the city of Tampa that did not get the Paycheck Protection Program and the loans.
I have been reaching out to several of the banks here in the city of Tampa, that are still not giving loans to small African American businesses. Those are things that you can actually Google about small African American businesses, not just here in the city of Tampa, (but) the state of Florida (and) throughout the entire country.
I would imagine that the coronavirus shutdown has really caused a lot of these businesses to struggle. Are you seeing any businesses that you have gone to in the past close because of a lack of people coming in right now?
Yes, one of my favorite businesses did close, but she's actually doing all of her sales online and that is Switching Up Styles. She has been very popular with the Black Business Bus tour and I want to say three weeks into this thing, three weeks she was closed.
Tell me what the future will bring for you. I mean, do you hope the need for your bus tour will eventually wither away?
Absolutely not. We are in the planning stage... Just like the Brew Bus takes people around on a regular basis, my goal is to have in the city of Tampa, (the) Black Business Bus tour every Saturday. And those buses probably will not be a 50-passenger bus, but smaller groups that would like to go out to support small African American businesses. We can circulate the money throughout the small African American businesses in the city. So that's what I see coming up here in the near future.
I am just so excited that our city gets it. I've seen on other people's posts that are not in the city of Tampa, and they get really ugly remarks about them being prejudiced, 'Why are you just doing Black businesses?'
We do Black businesses because we only have a few. We need to patronize those African American businesses. And I think we have something here and it started here now (in our) city.
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