The State Of Black Los Angeles: Dismal?

Kevin Herrera, Los Angeles Wave, July 13

LOS ANGELES—The lives of most African Americans here are dismal and have not changed much since the 1965 Watts riots, according to a study released by the local chapters of the Urban League and the United Way.

Black Angelenos are at the bottom of the barrel in almost every aspect of life, suffering from a lack of affordable health care and housing, poor graduation rates and high levels of unemployment that threaten the survival of the family structure, the report said.

Entitled “The State of Black Los Angeles,” the report, which was released yesterday and is available online at www.unitedwayla.org, found that African Americans participate in the electoral process and the military more than any other ethnic group studied—the lone positive note—but are still far behind whites, Asians and Latinos in terms of their quality of life.

“The state of black Los Angeles does not look good and it’s getting worse,” said David Horne, Ph.D., a political science professor and the former director of Pan-African Studies at Cal State Northridge, who is concerned about the lack of leadership training for black youth. “I just don’t think we get it. We think we’ve overcome or that we’ve won something, but the reality is, it is a very frightening time for black folk not just in Los Angeles, but in all urban communities across the nation. We have become complacent in the struggle, with our greatest danger seeming to be ourselves.”

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The overall California High School Exit Exam passing rate in 2002 was 28 percent for blacks, compared to 30 percent for Latinos, 65 percent for whites and 70 percent for Asians. Nearly 60 percent of African Americans fail to graduate from high school.

One of the more sobering statistics contained in the report stated that 32 percent of black males born in Los Angeles in 2001 are likely to spend some time in prison, compared to 17 percent of Latinos and 6 percent of white men.

Blacks here are also twice as likely as other groups to be victims of violent crime and a hate crime.

“That is often a wedge issue that is used by the right wing to argue in favor of more harsh sentences and severe punishment for blacks,” said Jody Armour, law professor at USC, who has studied race bias in the courts as well as disproportionate sentencing for blacks and Latinos.

“Those advocating harsher sentences say it is good for the black community to support these sentences because they are more than likely the victims of these crimes. But what is breeding higher criminal activity is nothing genetic or innate, but rather poverty and bad education and poor health care; all of the blights that face urban America.

“People trapped in desperate situations will inevitably turn to desperate measures and will turn to those who are closest at hand and to those who are most vulnerable, meaning those in their neighborhoods. Simply locking people up will not do the trick. There can be no Band-Aid solution to the problem. Poverty breeds crime, so we need to start there,” Armour added.

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The report states that African Americans have the lowest score on the “Equality Index,” a measurement scale based on 150 elements in six categories: economics, housing, health, education, criminal justice and civic engagement.

Blacks have a score of 69, with Latinos not far ahead at 71. Asians and whites are at the top of the index with scores of 98 and 100, respectively. The index was created by analyzing data—from preschool enrollment to mortgage rates—and interviews with thousands of Angelenos.

In the area of health, blacks have the highest overall death rate and are three times more likely to suffer from homicide and HIV/AIDS.

Child obesity is also higher for blacks and Latinos, which corresponds to higher diabetes rates.

“One in every three black babies born today is destined to become a diabetic,” said Dr. Robert Ross with the California Endowment. “To reverse the trend, we must transform neighborhoods into places where our children have safe places to play and exercise and have access to more than just fast food.”

John Mack, recently retired president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said the organization has already established groups that are working with the report to identify strategies that are attainable and will continue to do so throughout the year.

While the report dealt specifically with African Americans, the authors said it is important for every one to become involved. Quoting civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., the authors wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

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