Hypersegregation Is At the Root of Baltimore’s Public Health Crises

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Margaret Flowers, Joshua Harris, and Lawrence Brown discuss the severity of Baltimore’s public health issues and the Green Party’s strategy for confronting present-day structural racism in the upcoming municipal elections

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: In the studio joining us, joining Margaret Flowers and Joshua Harris is Dr. Lawrence Brown. Lawrence is an activist, a global health consultant and assistant professor of public health at Morgan State University. Thanks for joining us.

LAWRENCE BROWN: Glad to be here.

JAY: Now, I know Margaret is, like, ready to explode because she didn’t get to weigh in on that. So I’m going to give you, like, a minute, because I actually want to switch topics completely–

MARGARET FLOWERS: –Yeah, no–

JAY: –And I’ll, can I switch topics completely or do you want to, [crosstalk] okay–

FLOWERS: –You can [crosstalk] switch.–

JAY: [interceding] Than I’m going to switch.

[crosstalk] Okay, then I’m switching topics.

FLOWERS: [interceding] Well, there’s a lot to say.

JAY: Well, there’ll be many occasions. You know, now that we’re into knowing who’s running against who, more or less, although we still don’t know the results of that Edwards/Van Hollen, oh, no, I’m sorry. They’ve called it for Van Hollen. Yeah, I’m sorry. At any rate, we will have a lot more conversations.

I wanted, we have some kind of specific expertise on the panel here, and I’d like to talk about this, and also in the context of Joshua running for mayor. There is a health care disaster in Baltimore. Infant mortality rates, in fact Bernie Sanders said this at the rally, it’s at third world levels. Life expectancy in some of the poorest areas of Baltimore at worse than some of the worst of third world levels. In fact, instead of me paraphrasing some of the stats, why don’t you, Lawrence, give us a picture of just how serious this crisis is.

BROWN: Well, sure. I mean, certainly Baltimore has a lot of issues with health and the health of its citizens. You look at since 1993, 37,500 of Baltimore’s children have been poisoned by lead and yet we still haven’t declared a state of emergency the way Flint has over its lead poison issue when we’re sort of, our population has been wrecked by the same sort of lead poisoning, not quite with water but here with lead paint. And so we know lead is a neurotoxin that impacts cognitive development. It impacts children’s ability to regulate their emotions, so it impacts everything from education to crime. So there’s that issue.

HIV, other STDs are always issues here in the city as well. But, you know, the real root, we look at the social determinants of health in public health, and we’re not talking about how Baltimore is a hypersegregated city, and what segregation does is it restricts resources that people have in their communities to tackle the sort of health problems that we have in our disinvested, redlined Black communities.

So, I tied these issues back to the sort of policy landscape that Baltimore has here and has had for 105 years since Baltimore mayor J. Barry Mahool passed the first racial zoning law in the entire United States. So, health is very, very much a pressing issue. And I heard these guys, they were talking a lot about Wall Street. I’ve heard Bernie talking a lot about Wall Street, but I don’t hear much about redlining of Black neighborhoods, how the big banks either avoid Black neighborhoods like the ones we have in Baltimore or they subprime our neighborhoods.

JAY: Yeah, I think for people, most people don’t know Baltimore was the petri dish. They invented subprime mortgages in Baltimore. In the year 2000 the number one cause of foreclosures in Baltimore was subprime mortgages when, in theory, most people think this all came later.

BROWN: Right.

JAY: And totally targeted the African American population.

BROWN: Absolutely.

JAY: They have, in one of the lawsuits that came out of this they got emails from Wells Fargo and, you know, the language the salesmen were using would have made, I think even Ku Klux Klan might have blushed a hair.

BROWN: Right. They were talking about ghetto loans and mud people–

JAY: –Yeah.–

BROWN: –In the testimony that Beth Jacobson gave, so, you know, I wish Bernie would have made a sharper distinction and would have driven that point home about Wall Street as well. I think there are some opportunities for people like the ones, the candidates that I’m here with today to be able to make those distinctions, to be able to draw out that Wall Street is not just impacting people’s, you know, 401(k)s, but it’s also impacting people’s lives.

Maryland leads the nation in terms of foreclosure. We’re number one. Baltimore is, I believe, number four in foreclosures, second in terms of the threat of rental evictions, second to Detroit, so people are losing their homes here and we’re wondering about, you know, the uprising. Well, when people are losing their homes, they’re having their water shut off, which is also a public health threat, when they’re losing their ability to live on a day to day level, then we have the issues that we have.

JAY: Yeah, and I think it’s very important, the point you’re making, because this word, systemic racism, it’s very easy to throw that out, and we hear various candidates throwing it out, but there’s not meat on the bones because at the heart of systemic racism is that it’s an ideology to justify intense economic exploitation.

BROWN: Right, right, right.

JAY: And, you know, because if it’s just some, you know, oh, people are prejudiced or something, then you go do some sensitivity training for police or something like that, which they keep doing over and over here and doesn’t lead to anywhere.

Go ahead, Josh.

JOSHUA HARRIS: And I often bring this point up. I think it’s extremely important for us to understand the direct correlation between acts of economic injustice and when a young African American male is killed in his own neighborhood, either by his peers or by the police, that in most cases he lived in a neighborhood that was devoid of resources or went to a school that didn’t have heat in the middle of the wintertime, or he couldn’t drink the water because there was lead pipes that the water was running through, and in most cases that happen in Baltimore City, because we have a history of giving millions of our tax dollars away to big developers and wealthy individuals that don’t need it at the expense of our neighborhoods, again, and at the expense of our schools and our children, and then we say, well, we don’t have it in the budget when it comes to that.

When he talks about lead being a major issue, we have some of the oldest pipes in the country right now that are lead pipes, and our water is running through them. We don’t have the same problem as Flint. We have the lead paint and we have lead pipes that our water’s running through right now, miles and miles of infrastructure that needs to be replaced and no one else is talking [crosstalk] about these issues.

JAY: [interceding] And children growing up with lead poisoning.

HARRIS: Yes.

JAY: And I’ve actually, Margaret, I’ve always thought this is, you know, we talk about how drugs and the war on drugs and how destructive it’s been, and lots of people acknowledge that it really should be treated as a health care issue, but the murder rate here, it’s never talked about as a health care problem because, you know, even if it is associated with drugs, I mean, to a large extent it’s addiction as a health care problem leading to violence means it’s still a health care problem. Domestic violence and just going crazy living in, you know, the kind of housing and lack of education, but, you know, the murder rate gets talked about like it’s just from the TV show The Wire and that’s the end of the story.

FLOWERS: Right. No, absolutely it’s a health problem, and again, it’s tied into the social determinants of why do we have the violence in the communities that we have, and one thing I wanted to bring up was the failed drug war. You know, why haven’t we legalized marijuana? Why are putting so many of these young men and women into jail for nonviolent crimes and then really destroying their chances of having a future when they come out? You know, can they get a job, can they get back into the economy?

And looking at our treatment of heroin addiction, and there are lots of examples now, around the world, of solutions that actually work, but again, it’s, where do we invest our money, and to me it’s driving me crazy to look at this process that’s going on in the city right now, behind closed doors, very secretive, to give, you know, 500 million dollars to Kevin Plank to build a new area when we have [crosstalk] communities–

JAY: [interceding]–Okay, hang on, hang on. Most people, a lot of people watching have no idea what you’re talking about. Kevin Plank is the CEO of Under Armour, which is a clothing line that’s doing very well, and he’s got this big development planned for Southwest, or–

BROWN: –Port Covington–

FLOWERS: –Yeah, Port Covington–

JAY: –Port Covington–

HARRIS: –Southwest Baltimore–

JAY: –Southwest Baltimore.

HARRIS: He’s going to build a new South Baltimore, a new downtown.

JAY: Yeah, which is condos and all kinds of things and [crosstalk] there’s going to be a big–

FLOWERS: –New stadium and–

JAY: –Tax break to help subsidize the whole thing. Go on.

FLOWERS: Right. So we have communities in Baltimore that have seen no investment for decades. We have people right here, that are living in the city right here, who we need to be investing in first before we build a whole [other] part of the city to attract more people into the city. So it’s, I think it’s really critical that we need, you know people like Joshua here in this city as a mayor. We need more of our Green candidates in the city council because we’re putting forward an agenda that’s the opposite to this.

I think what we’re really lucky about in Maryland is that we have institutions like Gar Alperovitz and the Democracy Collaborative, and they make it so clear that traditional development models have completely failed. Cities are fighting with each other over who can give the most to attract industry to their communities. So that industry, not only do they take money through these tax incremental financing schemes, infrastructure that we build for them, but they have no loyalty to our cities and as soon as they get a better deal somewhere else they’re going to go there. They’re holding us economic hostages.

But there are alternative models, like Joshua’s talked about. In addition to the public banks, looking at our anchor institutions and creating cooperatively owned, worker owned cooperatives right here in our city that provide goods and services that we need right here in our city. These are high quality jobs that are rooted in our communities and will lift up the communities [crosstalk] and build wealth.

JAY: [interceding] You know, I always thought a no-brainer would be to train people to renovate houses and–

FLOWERS: –That’s one piece.

HARRIS: That’s one of the things, one of the staples of my platform, actually. So, with the most recent TIF, tax incremental financing, project that was given out to the University of Maryland BioPark, another company, their developer, Wexford Science & Technology is owned by Blackstone Corporation, one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, and so the city divided to give them 17 and a half million dollars to begin building a new innovation center which sounds exciting, but when you look and see that just two blocks away is one of the communities with some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the city, what is that going to do to impact and transform their lives?

And so, on the request that we asked to be included in the community benefits agreement, was that they establish a training academy that would train people in construction, green jobs and hospitality, knowing that those are jobs that exist right now in this city, knowing that we have miles of infrastructure and lead pipes that need to be replaced, knowing that we have more than 40 thousand vacant homes here in Baltimore City that need to be renovated and rehabbed. Imagine if we made the investment in training our people here so that we transformed the narrative of cities taking the route of just merely displacing problems and investing in creating solutions to them, understanding that the root cause of many of these problems are poverty.

So once we start tackling and addressing raising the median family household income in the city, that’s when we’ll begin to see some progress and some real steps in the right direction.

JAY: Lawrence, if you were writing Joshua’s health care policy what would it be?

BROWN: Well, can I, I want to step back because I think the economic discussion is so very important. So, redlining is still taking place in Baltimore. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition, NCRC, published a report last year that said between 2011 and 2013 white home buyers received twice as many loans as Black home buyers in Baltimore City, although Black people outnumber whites in Baltimore two to one. So this redlining, where you see, if you look at the maps that they have in that report, the lending for both homebuyers and also small businesses are disproportionately concentrated in what I call the white L, where white neighborhoods are located in our city, and since we’re so hypersegregated you can see this very clearly on a demographic map.

So, redlining is still taking place. We have to stop redlining. We have to enforce the 1997, excuse me, 1977 Community Reinvestment Act which would force banks to locate themselves in Black neighborhoods and to lend the way that they should and not have this disparity we see in terms of redlining. Now, at the same time, we want to enforce the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act so that they’re not subpriming in Black neighborhoods, or reverse redlining, so we have to actually tackle this problem–

JAY: –What do you make of Josh’s idea of public banking?

BROWN: I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s fantastic, but I think at the same time we have to address how the private market and [crosstalk] private lending–

JAY: [interceding]–You can do both.–

BROWN: –Is taking place. Right. So I think, that’s why I think they’re complimentary, because otherwise you would have the private market still continuing the redlining that’s been happening for, really, since 1937 when Baltimore created its redlining–

JAY: –Now, when you’re saying let’s implement these acts, is that something that can be done at a city level?

BROWN: I think that yes. I think either the mayor could call attention to these issues and get the DOJ on the jobs to enforce the law that is on the books. I think yes, the mayor can definitely make sure that that is something that’s happening, but I think, you know, these issues are much more systemic than I think we give credit for. We ought to actually also be thinking about Baltimore reparations. We need to be thinking about taking a percentage of our budget, slotting it for disinvested, redlined Black communities so that the monies allocated to residents who are elected to, as I said, a 15-member community council so that the residents can decide the priority for those neighborhoods.

So they would have 30, 40, 50 million dollars every year for the next 20, 30 years to decide how they’re going to rebuild and reinvest in their community, and so we want that sort of, I think that is the sort of strategy that it’s going to have to take, because we’ve had 105 years in this city of intense segregation that’s happened. It’s going to take some sort of massive rebuilding program to undo it.

HARRIS: And he brings up a good point, and another part of my platform that I know none of the other candidates are talking about it participatory budgeting and making sure that we’re giving the ability to the communities to begin to build their own institutions and shape the narrative of their communities, and that’s something that we haven’t seen. What happens is, the anchor institution model can be a great model if used appropriately, but what we’ve seen is that anchor institutions come in and they say, oh, yes, we can help you. And they get tons of federal funding and funding from other places to do things and then they don’ do it. They use it to expand their institution and the neighborhoods are left behind and forgotten.

But if we put the power in the neighborhood’s hands, in the community’s hands, to really begin to build their own institutions, they can build long term wealth. They know what is best needed in their community. They know how to best police their communities and make sure that the community is involved in the process. So that’s what we really want to look towards. It’s about shifting power. I don’t want to say power because we’re not vying for power or privilege but more so justice, giving some sort of [crosstalk] justice to the people–

JAY: [interceding]–Well, you’re going to need power to get justice.

HARRIS: We’ll have to get some power then, but it’s about shifting it back into the hands of the people. That’s something we haven’t seen and there’s so many, 68 percent of the city is African American and has been forgotten about and neglected for a long time now.

JAY: Well, Margaret, I’m going to give you the last word, and this is obviously just the beginning of a conversation that we’re going to be having almost every day from now until the election, and then once the election is over we’re going to do it every day until maybe you’ve got some power and some justice. Go ahead, Margaret. Last word.

FLOWERS: Well, so, I’m really excited about what’s happening now and the uprising in Baltimore and the energy that it’s brought to our city, and I think we really need to carry this through into the elections in November. We’ve had 50 years of Democratic Party rule here, now. We’re not hearing any new ideas from any of our Democratic candidates across the board, and so it’s exciting to have people like Joshua. I’m excited to work with him. We’re working together on a platform, the agenda that we want to put forward so that I can support what he wants to do as the next mayor of Baltimore when I’m the next Senator of Maryland.

And some of these things like the healthcare crisis, we’re going to have to deal with that, I think, at the national level. I think 80 percent of Democratic voters, majority of the population supports a national, single payer, medicare-for-all health program. We need people in Congress that are going to fight to get that, and that’s what I’ll be doing.

JAY: Okay, Joshua wants the final word, and seeing as he speaks so well we’ll give it to him.

HARRIS: I was just going to say that it’s extremely important to understand, too, that we want to replicate what Senator Sanders is doing at a national level with this political revolution, and we need it right here in Baltimore. The exact same issues he’s addressing nationally impact us so much locally. When you talk about [inaud.] with Wall Street, what is that in Baltimore City? The redlining. These are all issues that come back to economic injustice. And so we’re hoping to rally and transfer that energy that we saw and that tension that we saw last spring in the uprising into a political revolution here in Baltimore City and I’m excited.

JAY: All right, cool. Thanks.

So, thanks for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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