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Years Have Done Little to Help Local Blacks

Times Staff Writer

Forty years after the Watts riots exposed the dismal social conditions afflicting many African American communities, blacks continue to trail other ethnic groups in housing, healthcare and criminal justice, a report issued Wednesday concludes.

Blacks in Los Angeles County are twice as likely as other groups to be victims of violent crimes, their death rates from homicide and HIV/AIDS are more than three times higher than for other racial groups, more blacks receive public assistance and more black children live in poverty.

The findings are included in “The State of Black Los Angeles,” a report by the Los Angeles Urban League and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles presented at a USC conference attended by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, police Chief William J. Bratton and other civic leaders. The report, compiled with U.S. Census, state and county data, includes recommendations for creating jobs, developing affordable housing, expanding parks and establishing prison programs geared to reentry into society.

Particularly disturbing are crime data showing that blacks -- adults and juveniles -- have arrest rates far higher than other groups. In addition, black and Latino drivers are searched by the LAPD four times more often than whites or Asians, yet only 38% of blacks are found to be carrying illegal items compared with 55% of whites, 65% of Latinos and 54% of Asians.

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Villaraigosa said the racial inequalities revealed in the report “should put a chill in our spine.” He called the findings a call to action and said new housing, jobs and education initiatives should be targeted first at poor South Los Angeles neighborhoods.

“This is a challenge not just to the mayor, not just to city leaders but to everyone,” he said. “A great city can’t be a shining example with so many left behind.”

Villaraigosa and other speakers noted that the report comes only a few months after the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and shortly before congressional debate on reauthorization of some of its key provisions, and a month before the 40th anniversary of the Watts riots, which caused 34 deaths and widespread damage. The McCone Commission at the time identified lack of jobs and inferior housing, schools and medical care as reasons for the violence.

Although progress has been made, the report notes that many of the most egregious disparities are virtually unchanged. Among other key findings, in L.A. County:

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* Blacks have the lowest median household income, $31,905, when compared with Latinos at $33,820, Asians at $47,631 and whites at $53,978.

* Although just 10% of the population, blacks are estimated to make up 30% or more of the homeless population.

* Blacks are the target of 56% of hate crimes.

* 44% of black high school students fail to graduate with their class in four years.

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* Blacks receive only 5% of all home loans, half as many as their share of the population, while whites -- 31% of the population -- receive 72% of all such loans.

* The premature death rate among blacks of 40.6 (per 100,000 population) far outstrips that of Latinos at 11, whites at 4.5 and Asians at 3.8. The teen death rate at 131.4 is far higher for blacks and is fueled by gang-related homicides.

The report includes some brighter news: L.A. County has more high-income black households than the national average, a high rate of black children -- 94% -- have health insurance, and 63% of black 3- and 4-year-olds attend preschool, which research has shown can make a difference in future school achievement and job attainment.

In addition, African Americans have increased representation among the county’s top elected offices from 1% in 1960 to 14% in 2004. Indeed, according to the report, blacks rank highest of all groups in civic engagement, including voting, military service, union membership and citizenship.

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The report used a compilation of data on economics, housing, health, education, criminal justice and civic engagement to come up with an “equality index” score to compare conditions among ethnic groups. Blacks scored the lowest at 69, Latinos scored 71, Asians 98. Whites are used as the baseline group with a constant score of 100.

Panelist Constance L. Rice, a civil rights attorney, called the education findings a “smoke alarm” warning that schools are in crisis, and she argued that the black middle class is losing ground. Bishop Charles E. Blake, of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, said that blacks must reassert moral values in their communities.

“We have to teach the reading and the mathematics, but we also have to tell our children why it’s right to do right and wrong to do wrong,” he said.

Data on racial disparities in criminal justice were compiled by UCLA and UC Berkeley researchers and make up a special section of the report. The findings document that a historically tense relationship with law enforcement continues. For example, according to Los Angeles Police Department consent decree data for 2004, 19.8% of black drivers are stopped by police, compared with 12.6% for whites, 11.2% for Latinos and 10.1% for Asians. The national rate for blacks is 12.3%.

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“There is a dual justice system,” said John W. Mack, immediate past president of the Los Angeles Urban League. “This is something Chief Bratton and I have had many discussions about. Crime is real, violence is real and out of control in many parts of our community. But (enforcement) must be done in such a way that the sheriff’s and the Police Department are not an occupying force and that not all young men are viewed as gang bangers.”

Law enforcement officials have denied that they engage in racial profiling.

Bratton insisted Wednesday that laws will be enforced fairly and consistently in every community.

“We will do it constitutionally,” he said. “We will not allow officers to break the law to enforce the law.”

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He mentioned one of the findings he found “chilling”: An estimated 32% of black men born in Los Angeles in 2001 are likely to go to prison in their lifetime, compared with 17% of Latino men and 6% of white men, the report states.

“That statistic is horrifying, frightening. We cannot accept that, that should not be the future,” Bratton said.

Some speakers referred to the familiarity of the issues and suggested that the prescriptions of the past had failed, foundered on a lack of public and political will. But Mack and others said past shortfalls should not be an excuse for inaction, and they argued for more innovative solutions, such as targeting with intensive services neighborhoods that are considered hot spots.

“This report is about the truth ... but it’s not just gloom and doom either, it’s not just about wringing our hands,” he said. “I’m optimistic we’re going to come to grips with these serious challenges.”

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The report was sponsored by several public and private organizations, including the California Endowment, Bank of America, the James Irvine Foundation, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Kaiser Permanente, the Los Angeles Times, Southern California Edison, Verizon, Washington Mutual, Citibank and the California Wellness Foundation.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Inequalities

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A new report uses data on economics, housing, health, and other factors to come up with an “equality index” comparing conditions among racial and ethnic groups in L.A. County. With whites as the benchmark at 1.0, blacks scored the lowest at .69.

Asians: .98

Blacks: .69

Latinos: .71

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Whites: 1.0

Sources: United Way, Los Angeles Urban League

Los Angeles Times


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