Zimmerman Reactions Overlook Broader Racial Issues in America

The focus on the Zimmerman trial and its surrounding racial controversy has left out discussion of systemic racial problems in America.

Jul 17, 2013 at 9:51 am

Over the weekend, much of the national news cycle focused on the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old. But the focus on the Zimmerman trial and its surrounding racial controversy has left out discussion of systemic racial problems in America.

For many minority youths around the country, Zimmerman’s attempts at playing cop in a suburban neighborhood and killing a black teenager understandably exemplify part of the problem with interracial relations in modern America. 

But while the public and mainstream media insist on focusing only on such cases, the issue of urban crime has gone largely ignored, even as it involves thousands of minority victims every year.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2007 found black victims make up 49 percent of homicides annually despite blacks making up about 13 percent of the U.S. population. Even worse, blacks carried out an estimated 93 percent of the murders. (Similarly, 85 percent of white victims in single-victim and single-offender homicides were murdered by someone of the same race, but the amount of deaths is disproportionate when accounting for racial populations.)

In Cincinnati, there were 313 shootings in June, up from 35 in May, according to crime-tracking website SpotCrime. The statistics leave it unclear who was involved in each shooting, but police officials have pinned the problems on the kind of criminal and gang activity that consumes so many minorities around the nation every year. 

Unsurprisingly, the violence has increased demands for city leaders to do something: hire someone to fill the vacant police chief slot, refocus police priorities, create a plan for all 52 neighborhoods or anything else that could help.

Although it’s easy for racist and simple-minded folk to put the issue on minority communities, the fact is these statistics and crimes demonstrate a decades-long failure to properly address social, cultural and economic issues facing low-income minorities in urban areas.

But despite the focus on increased violence in Cincinnati and the Zimmerman trial, city, county and state officials have actually made some of the major causes of violence worse.

The latest two-year state budget is a prime example. Although it increases education funding, money going to schools is still at a $515 million deficit since 2009. For Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), that’s $15 million less in funding than it received before Gov. John Kasich took office.

In other words, CPS, the school district that’s getting national recognition for lifting low-income, urban populations through innovative education programs, is seeing cuts.

Similarly, the latest state budget increases some local government funding, but funding is still down by $517 million in comparison to 2011. 

City Manager Milton Dohoney previously said the cuts take away more than $20 million a year from Cincinnati, or nearly 6 percent of the latest operating budget for the city.

The operating budget managed to avoid translating those cuts to police and firefighter layoffs, but it ultimately hit other vital city services, particularly human services funding that goes directly to low-income Cincinnatians.

On the county’s side, the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners effectively decreased the amount of funding that goes to mental health services each year by voting to keep levies flat in 2012. That means less access to affordable mental health care options, especially for the county’s poorest and others who can’t afford high health care costs or insurance.

The state budget plays a role in these levies as well: Starting now, any new levies approved by voters will no longer receive a 12.5-percent subsidy previously provided by the state. That means future levies will be about 14 percent more expensive for local property taxpayers, which will make it that much more difficult to pass the levies.

The changes to levies don’t just affect mental health services. All levies, whether for schools or the zoo, will no longer receive the state’s property tax rollback. That could lead to less local funding for schools like CPS in the future.

Cutting public education, mental health care and services to the needy should be questionable to anyone, but making these cuts in the context of high rates of violence among urban, low-income minorities is absolutely abhorrent.

If anything should come out of the Zimmerman trial, it’s that race relations in this country are still tense. So hopefully city, county and state leaders will use this time of national introspection to reconsider some of the policies that have held down many minorities in the first place.

CONTACT GERMAN LOPEZ: [email protected] or @germanrlopez