While equal employment opportunity is manifestly important for economic justice, the ability to travel to and from work is just as crucial. Inadequate transportation access is one of myriad impediments to job access for African Americans and one that is often caused by discriminatory government action. This is the case in the cancellation of Baltimore’s Red Line light rail system.
Historically, eminent domain was routinely invoked to displace African Americans from residential areas in cites and surrounding suburbia to make room for highways and other roadworks. In the rare instances that relocation assistance was provided, African Americans were often moved to overcrowded public housing in economically depressed areas, with fewer job prospects, less connectivity to vital commercial hubs, and where epidemic poverty created a perception of irremediable urban blight. Officials and policy makers often cast a blind eye to the disparate impact that these decisions had on the lives of African Americans.
In particular, these decisions had a direct impact on the extent and quality of public transportation. Many cities, because of public transportation shortages and infrastructural weaknesses, failed to create reliable public transportation systems that penetrated all areas. Black communities were thus denied meaningful connection to areas where jobs were most plentiful.
Baltimore, riven by a history of racial disparities, is one glaring and troubling example. In June 2015, Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan announced the cancellation of the Red Line, a planned east-west mass transit light rail. Instead, all state funding earmarked for the Red Line was redirected to a newly created Highways, Bridges and Roads Initiative, which focused largely on rural and suburban areas outside Baltimore. The Red Line would have cut Baltimoreans’ commuting time, increased their accessibility to job centers, and dramatically decongested traffic along highways and roads inside of and leading into the city.
Expert analysis, research and community interviews, as well as the state’s own analysis pointed to the disparate impact of Red Line’s cancellation on African-American residents of Baltimore and the State of Maryland. In 2010, approximately 25 percent of Baltimore’s 620,961 African-American residents — 63.7 percent of the city’s total population — relied on public transportation to travel to work, compared to only eight percent of whites. Since the 1970s, Baltimore has had a history of racially-charged resistance to public transportation projects that would have benefited African Americans. Typically, a vocal population of affluent white voters would protest and government would cave.
The state and federal governments had already spent almost $290 million on the Red Line project since planning began in 2001. Furthermore, in cancelling the project, Maryland forfeited $900 million in federal funds. Perhaps most galling was Governor Hogan’s move to continue with plans to construct the Purple Line, which would service, among other counties, Montgomery County, which has Maryland’s highest per capita income.
This transportation disparity in Baltimore was reflective of other racial disparities in the city in employment, wealth and education. Unemployment in Greater Rosemont — a primarily African-American neighborhood that would have been served by the Red Line — is nearly 25 percent, compared to the city’s overall unemployment rate of 14.2 percent. Whites in Baltimore earn nearly twice as much as African Americans, and a condition some have called “educational apartheid” continues to exist in Baltimore’s hyper-segregated public schools.
LDF, along with the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Covington & Burling LLP, and the ACLU of Maryland, filed a complaint with the United States Department of Transportation on behalf of the Baltimore Regional Initiative Developing Genuine Equality, Inc. and African-American residents of the State of Maryland. The complaint states that the cancellation of the Red Line violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits state agencies that engage in discrimination from receiving federal funds.
To read the full complaint, click here.
A report on the implications of the Red Line’s cancellation can be found here.
Long-time resident Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the [NAACP Legal Defense Fund,] and author D. Watkins, who grew up in Baltimore, talk with Chris Hayes about how the city can move forward, even as the trials begin for the six police officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray.
We have an update on a federal complaint filed against the administration of Governor Larry Hogan earlier this week, by a coalition of civil rights groups including the NAACP and the ACLU, claiming that the cancellation of Baltimore’s Red Line light rail project discriminates against African-Americans. With: Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
Listen to the Podcast here.
Apr 10, 2014
Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and The Century Foundation discussion on the long-term and devastating impact of growing up in high-poverty neighborhoods has on children, with leading experts Paul Jargowsky (professor, Rutgers University and Century Foundation Fellow) and Patrick Sharkey (professor, New York University). They [were] joined by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic and Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. EPI Research Associate Richard Rothstein will moderate.
In 1987, William Julius Wilson transformed urban sociology by showing that when urban jobs disappeared, “truly disadvantaged” children growing up in concentrated poverty had little chance to overcome obstacles to their success. Now, a quarter century later, two social scientists have shown that these obstacles are even more serious than Wilson could know. Patrick Sharkey, in his 2013 book Stuck in Place, found that for African Americans in particular, there is little mobility out of truly disadvantaged neighborhoods — if parents grew up in high poverty neighborhoods, their children are likely to have the same debilitating experience. Paul Jargowsky, in his report for The Century Foundation, Concentration of Poverty in the New Millennium, has found that despite significant gains during the 1990s, the number of high-poverty census tracts has increased by 50 percent since 2000, resulting in more Americans than ever before living in such neighborhoods.