I admire the Urban League because it has, unlike the NAACP of recent years, taken an optimistic approach to solving the problems of race in this country. [Note: In the interest of full disclosure a good friend of mine is president of one the Urban League's chapters in this region.] The great equalizer in America is economic opportunity and the Urban League has worked hard to open that door and keep it open for black Americans. However, the Grand Rapids chapter has taken a turn in the wrong direction with its report alleging that local black residents are targeted by area police departments for arrest under obstruction charges.
There are two problems with Grand Rapids Urban League issuing this report. First is the report itself. Correlation is not causation. An apparent lack of proportion in two sets of figures says nothing in itself about what may be the cause for the difference. Few statistics in American life yield to proportionality in terms of race and ethnicity. This is unsurprising and uncontroversial. Therefore the mere fact that the percentage of blacks arrested for obstruction (e.g., resisting an officer, making a false police report, failure to move on) is about three times the percentage of blacks residing in the Grand Rapids area does not tell us a thing about why this may be so.
Unfortunately, the Urban League and other leaders of the black community have leapt to the conclusion that the disporportionate obstruction arrest figure is the result of institutional racism in local police departments. But I don't see the facts that would support this conclusion. Yes, there are problems with the police driven by race, but if they are systemic in any way, it is a lack of professionalism not genuine racism at the root. Even if we take that into consideration, there are the tragic and indisputable facts of the disporportionate violence and criminality in the black community and a culture of hostility to the police who must suppress it that would seem to be the most likely explanation of the high arrest figures for obstruction that concern the Urban League.
Second is the backward step this report takes. I don't expect the Urban League to be pollyannas when it comes to the lingering problems of racism, but America has cleared a crucial threshold in race relations. Institutionalized racism, segregation enforced by law, and a culture of apartheid have disappeared over the past four decades and been replaced by a great well of goodwill. The barriers of race have fallen even if there remain reprobates and fools who futilely try to raise them again. We'll never be shed of bigots, but we are shed of the cover our society once gave them. Once reason why residual racism is slicker and smoother is because the last bigots among us know they can no longer be open about their shameful beliefs.
So, we have passed through a threshold where now our black fellow Americans have the means more than ever to address the difficulties they face. We've come to the point where it is patronizing to blacks to identify "The Man" as the only source of their problems and enlightened whites as the only source of help. In this sense the Urban League report was a retro feel to it. It smacks of a helplessness that is uncharacteristic of this organization dedicated to bootstrapping black Americans to success. More worrisome, the report has the effect of discouraging the self-examination that is truly needed at this late date to remedy the pathologies rampant in the inner city afflicting us all.