Thursday, August 11, 2016

Institutional racism

There isn't much that one can add to the report of the Justice Department regarding Baltimore police, nor is it my field of expertise. I am wondering though, to what extent this kind of institutionalized completely uneven handling of different communities is not ingrained in many other city departments,  even into areas normally associated with planning and urban design or indeed, in everyday life itself.

We know that the Housing Department has been the subject to consent decrees because of past discriminatory practices.

What about transportation, education, health, planning, preservation and many other fields that make up the tapestry of our daily existence? They all look innocent to many of us and so rigged to others who are less privileged. Once it is proven that overt and institutionalized discrimination is in effect in one place, who can believe that that place is just an egregious exception? 

In fact, that whole narrative that the vast majority of police officers are wonderful and the problem resides only with a few "bad apples" looks increasing implausible. However, the conclusion is not that all or even most police (planners, politicians, teachers, whatever) are bad but that very many well meaning people are organized in systems that are not set up to benefit all equally. To most, this isn't news, of course, just as it isn't news that it isn't  enough to change a few people out and do re-training. What has to be relearned over and over again is, how deep the roots of discrimination go and how tainted many systems are by systemic unequal approaches.

So when the NAACP alleges that the cancellation of the Red Line is a civil rights violation, this isn't as far fetched as it may sound to many that see transit mostly as a cool thing that cities ought to have to be competitive. 

When the ACLU alleges that certain new developments would increase the divide in our city, it needs to be taken seriously as well, even though I have myself argued against that notion.

At this moment in time, when Baltimore has been held a mirror in front of its face and what was to be seen was not pretty, everybody needs to ask some real tough questions about almost anything we have been doing and considered normal and innocent. The police is in many ways reflective of the society in which it operates. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Here some links to relevant materials and reporting:

DOJ website with links to report and report elements
Link to the Report
Washington Post Opinion
NPR
The Atlantic
The Guardian and here