White Americans increasingly live in gated communities. Even if there’s no fence or guard house out front. (More)

Unglued, Part I: Gated Communities

This week Morning Feature considers our segregated nation. Today we begin with increasingly homogenous and exclusive white communities. Tomorrow we’ll see how policies isolate and impoverish communities of color. Saturday we’ll discuss why we must overcome our political and racial segregation to fulfill the Framers’ vision of “a more perfect Union.”

“People, please stop making my job so difficult”

That was the title of a police officer’s post in Reddit’s Protect-and-Serve community:

Ya know, I’m just going to complain and get some stuff off my chest.

So I’m working last week and get dispatched to a call of ‘Suspicious Activity.’ Y’all wanna know what the suspicious activity was? Someone walking around in the dark with a flashlight and crow bar? Nope. Someone walking into a bank with a full face mask on? Nope.

It was two black males who were jump starting a car at 930 in the morning. That was it. Nothing else. Someone called it in.

People. People. People. If you’re going to be a racist, stereotypical jerk … keep it to yourself. Don’t call the police and make them get involved into your douchebaggery.

The thread was highlighted at Vox and the Washington Post, although the officer disputes the Post’s headline that implied all of the callers were whites.

And the targets aren’t always black:

Old white lady sees a family of Hispanics horsing around at a gas station. 18 year old brother pulls his 16 year old sister into the car because she’s on her phone not paying attention. Van drives away with mom, dad, brother, sister, and two bonus children in the third seat ages 4 and 5. Comes out as a kidnapping in progress. Respond code 3. Quickly find the van nearby because they aren’t hiding, they are going home. Do a felony stop. Cringe as progressively younger and younger people emerge from the vehicle. Finally call off the felony stop when the first child emerges from the back seat. Apologize profusely. Speak to the reporting person, the old white lady. The next day she calls [Internal Affairs Department] to complain on you because she found you disrespectful when you were trying to figure out why she felt it was a kidnapping. Also get complained on by the family you did the felony stop on.

He was cleared on both complaints, but another cop wasn’t so lucky:

Had a similar situation a while back, except it was 3 Black Males and they’d just gotten done with their church bowling league. It took my partner and I about 2 seconds to figure it out, wished ’em a good night and on our way.

They were really pleasant, but part of me can’t help but wonder if they felt profiled for being black in a white neighborhood. And ya know what? They were, just not by me. It was the d-bag who called it in. We were just going to a suspicious subjects call.

Of course it didn’t end there. Mr. D-bag didn’t like the fact that we cleared the call so quick and didn’t even try to find “something”. So he lit into the Watch Commander, who passed it on to our SGT, who promptly took us to the woodshed. My partner tried to argue it but you can’t fight gravity … gravity being the reason s–t rolls downhill.

We’re just a clearing house for a bunch of unnecessary hate, anger and pain.

“White Americans live in communities that face far fewer problems and talk mostly to other white people”

Part of the problem is that – despite Brown v. Board of Education, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act – many communities and schools are more segregated than ever:

By a number of measures, segregation seems to have gotten worse. One way to see this is by looking at the growth of “highly segregated” schools, meaning those schools where at least 90 percent of the student body is non-white. Massachusetts now has seven times as many highly segregated schools as it had two decades ago. And while, in 1980, just one in fifty black students attended such a highly-segregated school, the number is now one in four.

A 2011 report found the same problem in Chicago, and a study by Wilhelmina Leigh of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies concluded:

The level of governance at which African American segregation was most intense decreased during the 20th century. In other words, by the end of the century the segregation of African Americans had increased at lower levels of governance (e.g., cities, neighborhoods) and decreased at higher levels of governance (e.g., regions, states). The increased degree of segregation at lower municipal levels has direct implications for the provision of public services (including health care) to African Americans. [Citations omitted]

That is, our neighborhoods are increasingly segregated by local policies – often informal – and that leaves most white Americans with not a single person of color among their close friends:

Fully three-quarters (75 percent) of white Americans report that the network of people with whom they discuss important matters is entirely white, with no minority presence, while 15 percent report having a more racially mixed social network.

One result is a starkly different perception of events like those in Ferguson and Baltimore:

Clearly white Americans see the broader significance of Michael Brown’s death through radically different lenses than black Americans. There are myriad reasons for this divergence, from political ideologies – which, for example, place different emphases on law and order versus citizens’ rights – to fears based in racist stereotypes of young black men. But the chief obstacle to having an intelligent, or even intelligible, conversation across the racial divide is that on average white Americans live in communities that face far fewer problems and talk mostly to other white people.

A follow-up study this month showed the same pattern:

Perceptions of the fairness of the criminal justice system are heavily influenced by race, with nearly a 30-percentage point gap between black and white Americans. Only 17% of black Americans agree that blacks and other minorities receive equal treatment to whites in the criminal justice system, compared to 78% who disagree. White Americans (46% agree vs. 47% disagree) and Hispanics Americans (39% agree vs. 48% disagree) are more divided on this issue. White evangelical Protestants stand out as the religious group most likely to say the criminal justice system treats racial minorities and whites equally (57% agree, 37% disagree).

Much of that reflected party affiliation:

Partisan differences on racial equality within the criminal justice system rival racial and ethnic differences. Roughly two-thirds (66%) of Republicans say that blacks and whites are treated equally in the criminal justice system, while majorities of Democrats (66%) and independents (53%) disagree.

“My wife … drew a smiley face on the map”

Much of the segregation in our communities happens at a subconscious level, as Bill Bishop explained in the introduction to his book The Big Sort:

We rented a Ford Taurus at the airport, bought an Austin map at the U-Tote-Um quick stop, and toured the city in search of a place to live. We didn’t have a list of necessities – granite countertops or schools with killer SATs – as much as we had a mental image of the place we belonged. We drove and when a place felt comfortable, seemed right, my wife, the daughter of one of Kentucky’s last New Deal liberals, drew a smiley face on the map.

Without ever discussing or even consciously considering it it, Bishop and his wife – both liberals – bought a home in one of Austin’s most liberal enclaves. And when one of their few Republican neighbors endorsed a GOP candidate on a neighborhood email list, the response was immediate:

Stephen, you’re in the minority politically on this list and in this neighborhood, and while your opinions are your own to have, this isn’t the place for them … This is my home, and this list is an extension of that … I hope we can all agree to prevent it from becoming a battleground.

Gated communities don’t require fences or guard shacks. They require only people who are willing to tell neighbors-who-don’t-fit that “this is not the place” for their opinions … or people who call the police when they see Those People.

Tomorrow we’ll see how exclusion plays out in communities of color.


Happy Thursday!