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Economy spurs biggest concern among blacks
Jul 13 2000 12:00AM  

By ALEXANDER DWORKOWITZ, Times-Ledger, Contributing Writer

It’s the economy.

More than crime, or racism, or treatment by police, the greatest concern among black New Yorkers is the economy — employment and business development — according to a poll conducted by the New York Urban League.

The poll, “The State of Black New York 2000 — Optimism and Vulnerability of the Black Community,” surveyed 801 black New Yorkers 18 years and older on topics as diverse as discrimination and volunteerism.

When asked what was the greatest problem facing the New York black community, 18.5% answered economic development. The second most common response was police brutality (13.3%) followed by discrimination (12.5%), both seen as a greater problem than crime (11.4%) and education (10.2%).

Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), was not surprised by the results.

“Generally the poll confirmed the things I have felt in dealing with the community,” he said, adding that he thought events such as the Amadou Diallo case have caused police brutality to be high on the list of problems. “The black community has had their opinion shaped by the media and accounts of outrageous incidents.”

The poll also asked respondents to detail what they thought were the greatest problems for black students in New York schools. Large classes were seen as the biggest problem (23%), followed by troubled student home environments (21.9%), poor curriculum and standards (15.5%), poor administration (15%) and lack of safety (10.2%).

Respondents were asked what should be done if more money were available to schools. The largest responses were to spend the money on hiring more and better teacher, and on having better facilities, equipment and books.

Scarborough said that simply getting the money for such projects was enough of a problem.

“We are right to demand more of the youngsters,” he said, “but by the same token they have to receive better resources.”

“Smaller class sizes, better teachers, all these things need to be done in the early years. If the government does these things, students can overcome bad teaching later on.”

Scarborough and Rev. Charles L. Norris of Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Jamaica agreed that families are key for education.

“Changing an anti-education mindset is important. Kids who do well in school are sometimes ostracized,” said Scarborough. “This is an issue that has to be dealt with in the family.”

Respondents also suggested solutions to the issue of police brutality: diversity training, hiring more black officers. Some believed a residency requirement should be instituted.

Norris agreed that diversity training was important, but he added that “there needs to be a greater emphasis on hiring minorities in the Police Department.”

He suggested that the two issues were intertwined, saying that the dearth of minority officers and a lack of cultural awareness in police departments creates a vicious cycle.

Police brutality is an issue that Scarborough has directly addressed in his Amadou-Diallo Package, a series of legislation written by a coalition of New York politicians that includes Scarborough. Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant, was shot dead by four police officers in the Bronx.

The package includes the creation of a police academy for minorities, the creation of a special prosecutor for allegations of police misconduct, incentives for officers to live in the city, and financial benefits for bilingual officers. The package has passed the Assembly and is pending in the state Senate.

The poll indicated that more than a third of black men in New York City have been arrested, and that overall, the arrest rates had little to do with income; middle class blacks reported about the same frequency as did low-income ones.

Nearly two thirds of respondents felt blacks are denied equal wages due to discrimination.

“There is oftentimes an unspoken feeling that a black person has not made it on their own merit when people reach upper-income levels,” said Scarborough.

Half of respondents did not have any form of pension plan, a fact that is “absolutely frightening,” said Dennis Walcott, chief executive officer and president of the urban league.

But Scarborough was hopeful. “I am pleased that the underlying view that came through was one of optimism, and I’m pleased also that it shows levels of introspection.”

©Times-Ledger 2000

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