Paul R. Lehman, Gentrification is a double-edged sword for the African American communities.

May 5, 2020 at 2:21 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American Dream, American history, American Racism, anglo saxons, Baltimore, Bigotry in America, blacks, Brown v Topeka, chicago, Community relationships, desegregation, Disrespect, employment, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European Americans, fairness, Oklahoma, poverty, Prejudice, Race in America, riots, segregation, social justice system, Tulsa Riot 1921, white supremacy, whites | 1 Comment
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Occasionally, on talk radio, television talk shows, and social media the topic of improving the African American community is discussed and reasonable and logical points, as well as opinions, are offered in that regard. In many of those discussions, the most salient point regarding success in the African American community revolves around ownership and control of the property. Many people of color have experienced financial success in these communities usually because they owned and controlled their businesses. However, the primary lesson we learn from history is that all African American communities are tentative because the ultimate control of their property is not in their hands.
Many of the opinions and advice offered for improving African Americans involve four essential elements: finance, subsistence, education, and religion. Take away any one of these four and the community cannot endure very long. Even when all four of these elements are functioning well, the community is constantly at risk. Yes, individual people of color can and do fair very well financially from their efforts within the African American community, but their businesses are usually confined to that community and not the larger European American community. History reminds us of what has and can happen to successful African American communities in the examples of Wilmington, North Carolina; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Atlanta, Georgia, and Rosewood, Florida, just to mention a few. These examples are not given to indicate that efforts to improve one’s condition should not be made, but to recognize that the social progress that has been made has not altered the conditions facing African Americans relative to their community including owning and controlling property.
In the cases of the four African American communities mentioned above, each was met and destroyed by violence, abuse, and death. Today, African American communities have one major destroyer that comes with a plethora of weapons; that enemy is known as gentrification. Unlike the violence of the past, gentrification works so slowly and gradually like cancer that the loss is hardly noticed until it becomes obvious. An article appeared in (The Charleston Chronicle, February 20, 2020) that identified and described this process: “Gentrification involves the transformation of under-invested, predominately poor communities from low value to high value. During this transformation, long-time residents and businesses are displaced; unable to afford higher rents, mortgages, and property taxes.” The article added that “For some, gentrification is a process of renovating deteriorated urban neighborhoods through the influx of more affluent residents. To others, gentrification magnifies the racial divide as it shifts a neighborhood’s racial composition as white residents move in and minorities are moved out.”
In essence, this process can rob a community of the four essentials it needs to exist. A brief example can underscore how the process works. In his book Boom Town, Sam Anderson states that the Land Run that occurred in Oklahoma and particularly in Oklahoma City “was for white men.” The spirit of dominance and control by Anglo-Saxons was quite evident during his event. He noted that African Americans did not take part in the actions of the first day and when they did arrive, “They found themselves relegated to the least appealing pockets of the remaining land, up against the railroad tracks and down by the river. One of their neighborhoods, Sandtown, flooded so often that its houses were built on stilts. Residents were frequently rescued by boats.”
As time progressed, the African American community gradually began to expand north from the river and the railroad tracks and eventually was permitted to establish businesses and residence on the south side of 2nd street. The north side of the street was reserved for European Americans until in May of 1919 when through the efforts of Roscoe Dungee an African American family was able to move “into a house on a street that touched the very bottom edge of a white neighborhood. And so, after many years of confinement, by the tiniest possible increment, OKC’s black world began to expand.” This area became known as the “deep duce.”
The expansion of the African American community continued and by the 1940s had grown to include the south side of northeast 8th street. The area from the railroad tracks to northeast 8th street and east from Walnut Street just passed Bryant Avenue came to be known as “The East Side,” or “Colored Town.”The community experienced success in many areas, except the majority of the homes occupied by African Americans were not owned by them, but rented. Homeownership for African Americans also came in the early ’40s with the arrival of Hassman Heights (Edwards Addition) and Carverdale Addition. Edwards was an African American while the owner and builder of Carverdale was a European American. Other additions reserved for people of color soon followed.
The enterprise areas that defined The East Side were located on 2nd Street, 4th Street, and Bath Street between 5th and 6th Streets. However, once desegregation came into effect after 1954, the African American community began to slowly disintegrate. First to suffer was the mom and pop businesses because they could not compete with the new, larger, and generally, lower-priced choices offered by the European Americans’ goods and services. Today, because of gentrification, little to nothing remains of those once-thriving areas to makes reference to earlier days of The East Side. Certainly, some African American businesses still remain on the northeast side, but they are simply businesses that no longer comprise an element of an African American community. Two businesses that continue to embrace the concept of the community are the churches and funeral homes. Any plans for revitalizing that African Americans community as such are no longer viable.
The article made note of a study that was done on gentrification and noted that “In Washington, D.C., 20,000 Black residents were displaced, and in Portland, Oregon, 13 percent of the Black community was displaced over the more than decade period that was studied. Seven cities accounted for nearly half of the gentrification nationally: New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Diego, and Chicago.”
In Oklahoma City, slowly over the years, gentrification has come to deprive a once vibrant African American community of a powerful population, political voices, community leadership, health, education, and food facilities owned and controlled by African Americans. Segregation and bigotry invented these African American communities and gentrification is destroying them.
Consequently, since gentrification is today’s reality, our thinking must shift to that of participating within a diverse community where the well-being of the individual is the concern rather than one defined by ethnicity. For a novel example of how gentrification is manifested in society today, just tune into the TV show, “The Neighborhood.”Hopefully, we will all get through this together.

Paul R. Lehman, Changing the criminal justice system and mass incarceration starts at the local level

July 10, 2018 at 4:13 am | Posted in African American, criminal justice, justice, justice system, law, lower class, Michelle Alexander, minority, non-violent crimes, Oklahoma, poverty, race, Race in America, social conditioning, social justice system, The Oklahoman | Leave a comment
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Often times, when something happens involving the criminal justice system that has a negative effect on a segment of society, that part of society that is not seemingly directly impacted will pay little or no attention to the problem Usually, they remain uninvolved and uninformed relative to the criminal justice until it affects them directly. What they do not realize is that they have always been directly affected by the system whether they know it or not. One way they, the public, is affected is through the high rate of incarceration and prison overcrowding that the citizens are financially responsible for paying. However, since they do not receive the bill directly, they give little attention to it. The groups that are forced to pay the bills are the poor and people of color. So, for many years mass incarceration has been about controlling people of color and the poor right in plain sight while nothing was done to correct the injustices that were committed against them.

Studies have been conducted relative to mass incarceration ascertaining that the phenomena are not simply an act of maintaining law and order, but a system of economic profit-making. A number of scholars have referred to the criminal justice system as the prison industrial complex because of the vastness of the system and the many people involved at many different levels. Although this system is a nationwide organization, what keeps it going happens at the local levels of society. So, if an effort is made to replace the unjust system, the initial action must take place at the local level. The first order of business is to re-educate the public and present a transparent picture of what happens to a citizen that is incarcerated at the local level and how he or she becomes part of the bodies working for the system.

Many citizens are led to believe that because a person is arrested, charged, and sent to prison that they deserve to be there because they broke the law. Generally speaking, that would be an accurate assessment. However, what created the present situation of mass incarceration had nothing to do with citizens breaking the law, but with the laws being changed to expand the number of people being incarcerated. When President Reagan instituted his war on drugs and crime, he caused a modification of the charges and length of sentencing. The system has since added the fees, fines, and numerous charges to the sentence of the incarcerated person, making freedom almost impossibility if one happens to be poor or a person of color. So, the more people introduced into the system, the more efficiently it runs. For an in-depth look at the subject of mass incarceration please read Michelle Alexander’s book THE NEW JIM CROW.

The state of Oklahoma is one of the national leaders regarding mass incarceration in general, but number one as far as incarcerating women is concerned. This problem was brought to the attention of the Oklahoma citizens in the form of two state questions that addressed the rate of incarceration of people with drug problems and non-violent crimes. The state actually passed the two questions 780 and 781 that sought to reclassify drug possession and some other lower-level crimes as misdemeanors. The objective of the questions was to use the money saved from not incarcerating people of these types of crimes and use that money for alternative programs. These types of programs are necessary for addressing the problems and redirecting the money.

Kris Steele, a former Speaker of the House, is the chairman of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and leader in attempting to stop the mass march to prison of many citizens. Based on his studies and experiences relative to criminology he understands that prison is not the answer to problems involving drug use and low-level offenses. He expressed some of his concerns in an article, “Justice reform must have buy-in,” (7/9/2018) that underscored the injustice of the sentencing today. He also noted the importance of the people involved in the working of the criminal justice system understanding the problems and helping to overcome many of these problems, not trying to maintain the status quo. Steele noted the need for elected officials and others to accept the programs. He stated that “Unfortunately, some elected officials still haven’t accepted this approach. In the six months after the state questions were enacted, 882 people were sent to prison with drug possession as their most serious offense—directly rebutting the will of voters.”

One of the problems in this matter is the lack of concern of many of the citizens; they either do not care or do not know the seriousness of mass incarceration. Steele noted that citizens pay the price and it is significant: “If each of these 882 people sentenced to prison for drug possession spent one year in prison, it would cost the taxpayer $15 million, and if they were imprisoned for the statewide average for drug possession—25 months—it would cost $32 million.

We know that mass incarceration is a feature of the criminal justice that keeps the system going; we also know that the system is unjust and unfair to people of color and the poor. We realize that we can start to resolve the problem if we work together. Steele noted that “Once this cultural change is embraced by those responsible for implementing reform, Oklahoma can safely reduce its incarceration rate, boost public safety and strengthen families.”  Oklahomans must keep the pressure for corrective action open and out front for change to occur.

Along with addressing the problem of mass incarceration is the need for prison reform from a national perspective. Michael Gerson in an article “An idea that should succeed in Washington,” (7/9/2018) citing the need for prison and sentencing reform referenced two scholars, Steven Teles and David Dagan who identified reform as “an example of ‘trans-partisanship,” and “a agreement on policy goals driven by divergent, deeply held ideological beliefs.” Everything depends on how people view crimes and criminals. They stated that “Liberals look at mass incarceration as see structural racism. Libertarians see the denial of civil liberties, Fiscal conservatives see wasted resources. Religious activists see inhumane conditions and damaged lives.”

Gerson summed up the solution for mass incarceration, prison, and sentencing reform by making one simple statement—“ All these convictions converge at one point: We should treat offenders as humans, with different stories and different needs, instead of casting them all into the same pit of despair.” Easy to say, harder to accomplish.

Paul R. Lehman, Actions speak louder than words.

April 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Posted in African American, American Indian, criminal activity, discrimination, education, equality, European American, justice, law enforcement agencies, lower class, minority, Oklahoma, police force, poor, poverty, public education, Public housing, race, social justice system, socioeconomics | 4 Comments
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What can be frustrating to many people who attend public panel discussions that focus on a particular concern is the lack of resolution to the problem; that is, they leave the event with a few new data, but nothing to build or act on. For example, a recent public panel discussion on the “Mass Incarceration in Oklahoma: When Will It End?”Featured on the panel were representatives from the clergy, the state legislature, and the criminal justice system. The obvious and over-riding question for the panel was “Why are so many people being sent to prison in Oklahoma?”

The first panel member was from the clergy and he spoke to the problems involving the laws that place an unfair hardship on poor people and people of color. He mentioned the laws that treat minor violations as major ones such as small quantities of marijuana or drugs found in the possession of first-time offenders. In Oklahoma the law involving possession of drugs calls for prison time regardless for the person’s criminal record or lack of one. He continued in casting blame on the state and what was referred to as the “Criminal Prison Complex System,” that view prison as economic engines and fosters a climate of greed. References were made to the State’s high ranking nationally for incarceration in general, but also for the disparity of African Americans and Hispanic Americans in the prison population compared to the general population. The number one national ranking of women incarcerated in Oklahoma was underscored. The basic response of the clergy’s representative to the question was simply greed.

The second panel speaker represented the state legislature and non-profit organizations working to decrease the rate of the poor being incarcerated. The audience was greeted with information relative to the number and variety of programs that are meant to help relieve the number of people in poverty who are constantly being incarcerated for lack of funds to pay fees and fines. He focused on the need for attention and treatment of the mentally ill and drug addicts who would benefit greatly from pre-prison programs which would not destroy their efforts to rebuild their lives without a prison record. His response to the question of mass incarceration was a lack of funding for the programs that could help to eliminate the prison over-crowding conditions. He lamented that unfortunately, with the state suffering from a budget deficit of over one billion dollars, the likelihood of any programs receiving relief was slim to none at the present time.

The third and final panel speaker represented the criminal justice system; he brought with him many years of service in the law enforcement area. He defended the system by first disagreeing with the clergy with respect to the lack of fairness towards the poor and people of color. He maintained that every person in prison was there because he or she committed a crime or was found guilty by a jury. In essence, the people in prison are there because they deserve to be there. In his staunch defense of the system he never made reference to the system of poverty and neglect that the low socio-economic level of society experience or the exploitation they receive because they are easy prey. As far as he was concerned the system of criminal justice was totally impartial towards all citizens and made no difference because of ethnic, social, or economic status. His response to the question of mass incarceration was due to a lack of family values, education, and unemployment.

The responses of each panel member were offered to show how an audience can become frustrated when no one actually addressed the question. Each representative had a response, but not an answer to the question of why the mass incarceration. What they had to say was related directly to the problem of incarceration, but more to the effects of the system in place rather than an alternative to the system to decrease the prison population. If all we had to do in order to solve a problem is to say the words that identified how it could or should be resolved, then no problem would too big to solve.

Unfortunately, the panel never approached the real issue involving mass incarnation because they were talking at each other rather than communicating with one another. An example should underscore the problem. If the three panel members were riding in a car and suddenly to car started to move erratically, one might suggest that the cause is the rough road; another might say the cause was maybe a flax tire, still the third one might suggest in might be a problem with the car. All three individuals might be correct to an extent, but they will never know for certain until they stop the car, get out and look for the cause of the problem. If it turns out to be a flax tire, they must decide if they will changes the flax tire and put on the spare, or call the auto club to come and fix the problem or should they call someone to come and pick them up and deal with the car later. First, the three people must agree that the problem is the flat tire. Once they agree on that, they must also agree on what plan of action to take. Finally, they must put the plan of action into effect or all their efforts will have gone for nothing.

What panel discussion organizers and participants should keep in mind when offering problem solving information are plans that can be put into effect to address solving the problem. Most people know what the problem is and how it manifests itself with them and the community. They want to know how to go about resolving the problem—do they sign petitions, join protest groups, donate money to organizations fight for the cause, start groups, write letters? The people want to be given an avenue of approach for working toward resolving the problem. Words are important, but change comes from action.

Paul R. Lehman, An investigation of the Baltimore police by the DOJ will reflect systemic problems

May 8, 2015 at 12:08 am | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, Baltimore, Bigotry in America, blacks, criminal activity, democracy, Department of Justice, discrimination, entitlements, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, Freddie Gray, justice, justice system, law enforcement agencies, lower class, minority, police force, poor, poverty, Prejudice, President Obama, social justice system, socioeconomics | Leave a comment
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The mayor of Baltimore has asked the Department of Justice to look into the practices of the police force in her city. Although the results of such an investigation might help improve the community relations, the real problem that leads to conflicts time and time again is never mentioned—the system invented and managed by the majority society. We have heard the terms system and culture many times when the condition of the police and community relations is discussed. Unfortunately, discussing both the system and the culture of any city and its supporting elements does not focus on the cause of the problem and therefore cannot offer a remedy for the problems. A few observers recognize and understand some aspects of the system. For example, Michael Gerson of the Washington Post Writers Group, wrote in an article, ”The intricate knot of urban poverty,” about the problems facing Baltimore and how different aspects of the system affects its progress.

Gerson commented on an aspect of police attitude in Baltimore:”An element of the police—on the evidence, a relatively small element—became desensitized during its daily application of power. One result can be dehumanization, which may help explain Freddie Gray’s long, last trip.” He continued: “But some of the worst outcomes are not found in abuses of the system but in its design: a cycle of incarceration and return that reinforces criminality.” Actually, Gerson confuses the system with the culture when he references “abuses of the system.” What he does not understand is that the system was invented to dehumanize people of color as well as people of low socio-economic status. The abuse is actually a manifestation of the system expressed through the local culture. The police did not develop a concept of viewing people of color in a denigrating way prior to joining the force; society had already accomplished that part of the training.

To his credit, Gerson does recognize other conditions contributing to the problems of poverty and incarceration, but noted that “So, the imposition of order in impoverished communities through police and prisons is possible but costly, prone to abuse and probably unsustainable at the scale we have seen.” He then asked the question “What can be done to encourage economically and healthy communities where order is self-creating a imposed?” He answered the question by referring to the government’s role in why these poverty-related problems exist: “The reason reflects the complexity of the problem. Large economic trends, particularly globalization and the technological revolution, have pushed the blue-collar economy in many places into a permanent slump. Wages have stagnated or declined and workforce participation has fallen.”

He further noted that “At the same time, the connection between child-bearing and marriage has been broken. Chronically stressed parents—often single parents—have less time and fewer resources to invest in their children. Community institutions, including public schools, are weak.” He next associated these conditions with the police: “When children get into trouble, there is little support structure for addiction treatment and legal help. We cannot expect police power to confront these complex, interrelated difficulties.” For help in these circumstances, Gerson added:” But someone, in addition to local religious and community leaders need to try.”

Finally, Gerson pointed to individuals on the “right,” Rep. Paul Ryan, and Sen. Marco Rubio who offered suggestions relative to the problems of urban poverty. On the “left,” he listed President Obama and Hillary Clinton and their suggestions to deal with the problems as well. He noted that all of the suggestion offered by both the right and left were “insufficient to the scale of the problem. Much about the justice and unity of our country will depend on the increased ambition of their next iteration.” What next iteration? The system converts any and all new ideas into feeding itself. Apparently, Gerson does not understand that all suggestions regarding urban poverty, the police, incarceration, employment, education, and justice are all part of the system—a system that has always viewed people of color and others as having little or no social value, and that viewpoint has served to justify the treatment they have experienced over the years.

Regarding the system and the police, if education and instructions focusing on systemic changes are not required for the police force to treat everyone justly and fairly with clear and definitive repercussion for failure to do so, the officers will exhibit the lack of value society has told them to exert towards people they regard as have little or not social value. The system provides the concepts and attitudes toward the people; the culture of each department determines how those concepts and attitudes will be manifested.

If some people were surprised to see three African Americans pictured along with the three European American officers arrested from Baltimore and wondered how that was possible, the answer has to do with the culture in the department and the importance of group identity and solidarity. In most local departments the culture is usually established by the majority before the minority members are employed. If the minority members buck the culture, they are ousted.

If the Department of Justice decides to investigate the Baltimore Police Department, chances are it will discover what has been discovered in most police departments—a pattern of discrimination against African Americans and other people of color over and beyond their percentage of the total population. That discrimination results in arrests, fines, and finally, incarcerations. Gerson suggested that the reason has to do with poverty, and that certainly has some impact on the problem, but to get at the primary cause one has to examine the nature of the system that created the problems. We do not have to look far to recognize bigotry as the main ingredient that continues to engage in a system of control over people of color as well as people of low socio-economic status.

If progress is to be made with respect to the plethora of social injustices that are presently represented in the lives of many American citizens, then the cause of these injustices must be discovered and addressed. Unfortunately, when one discovers the cause of the injustices, another problem is added to the ones already at hand. No one seemingly wants to be made uncomfortable if it means relief and benefits for another for whom one apparently holds little social value.

Paul R. Lehman, African Americans and law enforcement agencies’ relationship

August 26, 2014 at 11:52 pm | Posted in African American, American history, blacks, Constitutional rights, democracy, discrimination, Disrespect, equality, European American, fairness, integregation, liberty, minority, poverty, Prejudice, President Obama, Race in America, skin color, skin complexion, socioeconomics, The Oklahoman, whites | Leave a comment
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The relationship of the African American community and law enforcement agencies has never been good, and at time, simply tolerable. Some people say this lack of a positive relationship between these two groups has to do with the majority society’s ignorance, stupidity, and bigotry. In essence, the law enforcement agencies reflect the mind-set of the majority society—European Americans. In some instances, the actions of the law enforcement agencies seem to manifest a fear and anger towards the African Americans. Why? What would be a reason for European Americans via the law enforcement agencies to hate African Americans?
Historically, European Americans have been conditioned by society to see themselves as superior to all people of color. They generally do not view themselves as a race, but as the model of the human race. The reason for this view is based on the efforts of society to create the concept of the European American as “normal.” For example, when a European American woman walks into a department store and asks for stockings that are “nude” in color, she is given stocking that match her complexion. Maybe she wants facial make-up, so she goes to the cosmetic counter and asks for a “natural” shade, she receives make-up that matches her skin complexion. What these two examples suggest is that the skin complexion of the European American is the model of normal, natural, and nude skin. Where does that leave the rest of society—the people of color?
When people believe that they and the people who look like them are normal, then the people who do not look like them, will appear un-normal or less-than-normal. What the society knows, but chooses to ignore, is the fact that 80% of the world’s population is people of color; that means that only 20% of the world’s population has fair complexions. Using those facts and common sense, the people of fair complexions would seem to be the less-than-normal at 20%. However, if the fair-complexion people in the minority can convince the majority people of color to view themselves as less-than-normal, then the fair-complexioned people have an advantage. The advantage grows when positive social and personal attributes are associated with the fair-skinned people while negative and degrading qualities are associated with people of color. Add to this concept the idea that every gain that people of color make towards being “normal” is viewed as a deduction from the fair-skinned people’s sense of superiority and power. This idea of having something taken away from them creates fear, anger and even hatred of the people making the advances. So, the African Americans represent the enemy. This picture is a reflection of what has taken place in America over the last four-hundred plus years. The irony of it all is that the reference to a superior and inferior group of people based on skin complexion is pure conjecture—illusion; only one race of people exist on the planet and it come in a variety of shades.
The fact that the concept of race is a myth has not been communicated to many of the European American communities or if it has, they choose to ignore it. Unfortunately, what cannot be ignored are the changes taking place in society, changes like those stated by Ronald R. Sundstrom, in The Browning of America and the Evasion of Social Justice, (SUNY Press, 2008)
The United States is undergoing the most profound demographic changes in the country’s history so that in a few decades, if not sooner, persons identified (and identifying themselves) as white and tracing their ancestry to Europe will have become part of the nation’s racial and ethnic plurality, no longer its numerically dominant racial group. This historic development portends others equally historic and transformative, among these the gradual — possibly even dramatic — displacement of white people as the dominating group politically, economically, socially, even culturally.
These changes are not what the majority European Americans expected or anticipated relative to their tenure in America, so the changes must be discarded whenever and wherever possible. In effect, President Obama cannot be accepted as the President because that takes away the superiority from the biased European Americans.
The ignorance and bigotry against the African American is reflected in the treatment of the African American community by the law enforcement agencies. Because of the social conditioning of the law enforcement agencies, they show little or no respect towards the African Americans. They feel empowered to act this way because of the general lack of power the African Americans and poor people have in the society and the “us versus them” attitude of the agencies. Our society is not viewed as unified, but separated by color and socio-economic status. Taken together, the attitude and treatment of the law enforcement agencies towards the African Americans leaves little or no room for trust in fairness and justice.
An example of how this lack of trust in the system works can be seen in a recent story printed in The Oklahoman, ”More victims are possible in sex crime case against officer” (8/22/2014). The story involved allegations of a series of sexual attacks by a police officer while on duty in a largely African American community. The article noted that the officer was accused of “stopping women—some as they walked through neighborhoods—and threatening them with arrest….Police said …[the officer] forced women to expose themselves, fondled the women, and in at least one instance, had intercourse with a woman…” The officer is European American.
Why did these alleged crimes go on so long? We might suggest that the officer believed that his word, as an officer, would over-ride the word of any African American female. And in most cases he would be correct because of past experiences of officers in situations regarding African Americans. Many of the women who filed complaints held little hope that this officer would be stopped. More than likely the mere number of complaints to the department finally got someone’s attention, so some action was finally taken. The number of women reported in the article was seven and their ages between 34 and 58. The lack of trust comes from the repeated experiences of lack of respect and negative treatment by people who are paid to enforce the law, serve and protect, but who often assume to be the law, judge and jury.
We must come to the understanding that we are all family—the human family, and our society and world must change for the better for everyone. At some point in our changing society, we will realize “that the twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.”

Paul R. Lehman, LBJ’S Great Society assessed by Geo. Will as a failure

May 20, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Posted in African American, American history, blacks, Civil Right's Act 1964, discrimination, entitlements, Equal Opportunity, European American, George Will, politicians, poor, poverty, President Lyndon B. Johnson, socioeconomics | Leave a comment
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In a recent article entitled, “50 years later, LBJ’s mixed legacy,”(05/18/2014) George Will expressed his reasons for thinking that all of Johnson’s efforts regarding his concept of the Great Society while seemingly a good government effort, created the problems our society is experiencing today. He stated:”In 1964, 76 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing ‘just about always or most of the time’; today, 19 percent do. The former number is one reason Johnson did so much; the latter is one consequence of his doing so.”
In other words, according to Will, Johnson and his Great Society programs are the cause of the problems our society is experiencing today. Will referenced Nicholas Eberstadt and his work at the American Enterprise Institute for much of the statistics regarding this situation. For example, Will provide the following numbers: “Between 1959 and 1966—before the War on Poverty was implemented—the percentage of Americans living in poverty plunged by about one-third, from 22.4 to 14.7, slightly lower than in 2012.” Then he added: “But Eberstadt cautions, the poverty rate is ‘incorrigibly misleading’ because government transfer payments have made income levels and consumption levels significantly different.” More specifically, Will noted that :”’Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, disability payments, heating assistance and other entitlements have, Eberstadt says, made income ‘a poor predictor of spending power for lower-income groups.’”
What Will and Eberstadt did was to look at the statistics relative to what they call entitlements that were created as part of Johnson’s Great Society programs and made assessments as to the success or failure of those programs in achieving their objectives. We are told that anti-poverty policy has become institutionalized and created “a’ tangle of pathologies.’ Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined that phrase in his 1965 report calling attention to family disintegration among African Americans. The tangle, which now ensnares all races and ethnicities, includes welfare dependency and ‘flight from work.’”
Continuing his presentation of information regarding the problems created by Johnson’s Great Society programs, Will stated that “Twenty-nine percent of Americans live in households receiving means-tested benefits. And ‘the proportion of men 20 and older who are employed has dramatically and almost steadily dropped since the start of the War on Poverty, falling from 80.6 percent in January 1964 to 67.6 percent 50 years later.’” Will and Eberstadt presented this information as if this social phenomenon happened within a vacuum. No mention was made regarding the many government handouts made to the oil industry, banking industry, automobile industry and agricultural industry, to name a few. Nor did they mention the fact that the government provided opportunities for banking, corporations, and companies to reorganize and rid themselves of employees along with their retirement, healthcare and pensions. Also not mentioned was the disproportionate rate of incarceration of young African American men.
Will and Eberstadt took a very narrow view of Johnson’s Great Society programs with an emphasis on the negative aspects of them. The article continued with “For every adult man ages 20 to 64 who is between jobs and looking for work, more than three are neither working nor seeking work, a trend that began with the Great Society.” What Will and Eberstadt did not provide here were rational reasons for these adult men not being employed or finding employment. Their statement suggests that these men were not concerned with working or looking for work when other condition might have influenced their actions. For example, if some of these men were working for companies and the companies closed or relocated to another area or country, what were these men supposed to do? If the jobs were lost and replacement jobs were not available, the men and their communities found themselves in a quandary.
What appeared to be a direct attack on African Americans and a negative aspect of the Great Society programs was the following comment in the article:”And what Eberstadt calls ‘the earthquake that shook family structure in the era of expansive anti-poverty policies’ has seen out-of-wedlock births increase from 7.7 percent in 1965 to more than 40 percent in 2012, including 72 percent of black babies.” Why the reference to “black babies”? Will and Eberstadt, evidently, wanted to point their fingers at African Americans as the villains who created this problem. But, not to divert too much attention away from the real cause of our social conditions, they returned their focus in the last portion of the article to LBJ.
After fifty years Will resolved that “LBJ’s starkly bifurcated [two-part] legacy includes the triumphant Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965—and the tragic aftermath of much of his other works.” So, rather than looking at the successful works, Will and Eberstadt take the other view:”Is It ‘simply a coincidence’ that male flight from work and family breakdown have coincided with Great Society policies, and that dependence on government is more widespread and perhaps more habitual than ever? Barry Goldwater’s insistent 1964 question is increasingly pertinent: ‘What’s happening to this country of ours?’”
The question is a very legitimate and valid one that deserves an answer. Will concentrated his attention of the policies from Johnson’s Great Society program and the people who relied on those programs now for support. What Will failed to focus on or even mention are the people and policies that created the need for the Great Society programs. We went to the book by Hedrick Smith, Who Stole The American Dream, (2013) for one explanation. He stated that:
In our New Economy, America’s super-rich have accumulated trillions in new wealth, far beyond anything in other nations, while the American middle-class has stagnated. What separates the Two Americans is far more than a wealth gap. It is a wealth chasm—“mind-boggling’ in its magnitude, says Princeton economist Alan Krueger. Wealth has flowed so massively to the top that during the nation’s growth spurt from 2002-2007, America’s super-rich, the top 1 percent (3 million people), reaped two-thirds of the nation’s entire economic gains. The other 99 percent were left with only one-third of the gains to divide among 310 million people. In 2010, the first full year of the economic recovery, the top 1 percent captured 93 percent of the nation’s gains.
Will never attempted to include the part that wealth and politics have played in bringing our society to the place it is today. He would rather blame it on Johnson’s policies meant to help the Americans in need. Regarding that matter, Smith continued:
Americans, more than people in other countries, accept some inequality as part of our life, as inevitable and even desirable—a reward for talent and hard work, an incentive to produce and excel. But wealth begets wealth, especially when reinforced through the influence of money in politics. Then the hyperconcentration of wealth aggravates the political cleavages in our society.
If LBJ’s policies and programs had been given an opportunity to work unencumbered and without other negative influences, our society would be a step closer to what he envisioned as a Great Society.

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