Unraveling Racism

It was necessary to deploy 5,000 police officers and 1,500 members of the National Guard to quell the violent protests that took place at the beginning of this week in Baltimore.

The root of the protests was the death — while under police custody — of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man. This is a plot that the U.S. has lived through before, more specifically in August of last year in Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown — also an African-American — during a struggle with a police officer.

These are not rare occurrences within the framework of what has been happening in the last few years. The conclusion we can draw is that the equality that this demographic group has achieved after decades of courageous struggle does not extend to matters of law enforcement.

Four days later, the agitation seems to have diminished. What has not diminished, however, is the anxiety of accounting for the questions generated by such an event, many of which are linked to the paradox that all this can occur while a black president sits in the White House.

The truth is that, while segregation has vanished from many areas of U.S. culture (to the point that, when it does surface, it draws strong and well-deserved scorn from society), its ghost seems to be unwilling to disappear. This is seen, for instance, in the urban planning of many cities, where the black population is still concentrated in specific places where indexes show the greatest need for basic necessities. Social indexes are also revealing: The poverty level among African-Americans is 28.1 percent, compared to 12 percent among whites.

Most telling are incarceration statistics. A recent study that analyzed data about the ethnic origins of inmate populations concluded that an African-American person is six times more likely to be imprisoned than a white person. Michelle Alexander, a researcher and lawyer, has demonstrated that the “the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.”

Obama’s arrival represented a milestone in the struggle for equality, but each day it is more evident that this long struggle is not yet over.

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