We have seen the image of mostly black teenagers rushing into a store together, taking anything they wanted and completely overwhelming the store clerk. We have seen other images of black youths snatching cell phones out of people’s hands in broad daylight.

The Seattle Times has a story each day about a young, black male being arrested, tried or killed on the streets of Seattle and south King County. If you conclude that this is a crime wave, you would be right, but it’s much bigger than that.

Black youths between the ages of 19 and 34 have a 45-percent unemployment rate and spend most of their day hanging out in groups that you call gangs, trying to figure out how to survive.

It’s the result of a horrible social experiment that ends in disaster. The social experiment started sometime after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to remake the inner-city communities and cities in general. In broad terms, this experiment started out as “urban renewal,” but most African Americans saw it as “urban removal.” 

No community cohesion

The first step was to take those factory jobs out of inner-city America and put the factories in countries where they could hire workers far cheaper. The second step was to create redlining, where banks drew a red line around black communities and refused to loan to anyone inside that boundary, and the communities gradually decayed until many homes were condemned.

Then the drug epidemic — notably crack — hit our communities, followed by the Weed & Seed program (introduced by first-time black mayors all over America), which was intended to weed out the bad and seed these areas with something new. All it really accomplished was to help the city take black people’s homes for drug abatement and further destroy black communities.

In the meantime, Section 8 voucher holders for low-income housing found themselves squeezed out of places to stay inside the city and had to move outside for affordable housing. We took people out of the public housing and moved them to private apartment complexes, ironically built by major developers just in time for them to move in. This displacement of people was not followed with any attempt to create a social service framework for them, and the small cities they ended up living in, like Federal Way, are not equipped to deals with the problem financially or otherwise.

African Americans are the only group of people in America that has been manipulated socially and economically for the 395 years we have been here, since 1619. Every time we have built a strong business or social base, it has been destroyed with the collusion of state and federal officials. The constant displacement process is still killing any chance of community cohesion.

It’s that community cohesion that creates the social norms that people live by. When that is destroyed, you have what you have in Federal Way, Renton and Kent: Young men and women — many from low-income, single-family homes — are in a social quandary not of their making, and they are lashing out at everyone around them, including other African Americans.

This is where our experts start talking jails and police, when the conversation should be about creating a social service network by first creating counseling and referral agencies, training these youths so they can be employed and finally working with employers to give them a chance to do something different.

Stopping banks’ racist loan practices should also be on this list because we must build a business base to employ some of these youths ourselves.

Visible, yet not

We have a tendency to say, “There is no excuse for armed robbery or a carjacking”; I agree. But there is also no excuse for this nation to keep putting African Americans in this position and then demanding that they function like communities that have been left intact for a 100 years or more, like the Chinatowns of America.

America has a strange relationship with African Americans: We are visible and invisible. White America refuses to link the past with the present, so it will not be prepared for where this relationship may go in the future. I hope what we see in south King County is just a blip and not a social trend.

CHARLIE JAMES is co-founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. County Institute (mlkci.org).

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