Racism and racial injustice, especially against African-Americans, unquestionably persist in our country. They are rampant in, among other realms: (i) public education, where minority students are too often confined to racially isolated, underfunded, and inferior schools and programs; (ii) other public programs, where minority communities receive less than their fair share of services and infrastructure investment; (iii) our criminal justice system, where minorities are more often pursued and much more aggressively punished; (iv) employment, where they enjoy fewer opportunities and receive lower pay; and (v) financial sectors, where they are much more likely to be denied mortgage loans and other assistance. In addition, blacks are also much more frequently targets of violence by police and other law enforcement officers, by extremists and by punks in “street crime.”
The quest for racial justice and equality requires a multifaceted approach. Legislative actions to date have been at best a “mixed bag”:
(i) In the realm of education, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 was replaced late last year with the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. The new law, with its more flexible approach toward testing and accountability, appears to have been a major step forward toward improved outcomes for all students. It may particularly help currently underserved populations, including minorities, poor students, students with disabilities and those for whom English is a second language. It is obviously, however, too soon to evaluate the effectiveness of the new law;
(ii) As regards other public programs, Flint, Michigan is a poverty- stricken, majority-black city of nearly 100,000 people. The state government was aware of corroded pipes and other problems with the Flint drinking water systems, but nevertheless failed to act with the result that lead-contaminated water poisoned thousands of children and adults. Thereafter, Congress gridlocked over a bill to provide emergency aid for the city; but even had the bill passed, it would have been a mere drop in the bucket in relation to the larger problem of systemic racial injustice;
(iii) Regarding criminal justice reform and prisons, the United States prison population has exploded over the last few decades. This country has many times the incarceration rates of other countries, and the African American rate is more than five times that of white Americans. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is at least one bill that appears to enjoy a considerable degree of bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. On a related matter, this country also need to ban private, for-profit prisons; they are more expensive, more dangerous and less effective in terms of rehabilitation than comparable public institutions;
(iv) There are multiple federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. With particular regard to racial injustice, such legislation goes back at least to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which now bans employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Still, as of June 2016 the unemployment rate for whites was down around 4.4% (seasonally adjusted), while that for blacks was nearly double at 8.6%; and
(v) Concerning discrimination in the financial sector, there is also the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which now prohibits discrimination based on nine criteria: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age (provided the applicant has the capacity to enter into a binding contract), receipt of income from public assistance programs, and good faith exercise of any rights under the Consumer Credit Protection Act. But again, it seems clear that the ECOA is falling short as to race and national origin, which criteria generate by far the most reports of violations.
Despite all the paper improvements, one area that should be mentioned especially at this time is regression of the as law as to the right to vote. New voter identification and other electoral laws unquestionably have the result of disproportionately disenfranchising minority populations.