Every once in a while I feel a need to revisit what I wrote years ago, describing the US as a developing country. Read that as a place with elements of the Third World.
Inspirations came from my youth in Fall River where the average adult hadn't finished 9th grade, and several years as a young academic in the Deep South.
Baltimore brings it back, against the background of similar events in Ferguson, South Carolina, Florida.
Nothing I've learned in 50 years teaching and thinking about public policy brings up anything that can claim to be a solution, or a set of programs that will make things a lot better.
Those who claim to hold the keys to problems of America's underclass, which is a euphemism for something that is largely Black, resemble statements out of Europe, where the worthies concerned about uncontrolled migration suggested providing enough aid to Africa to make it unlikely that people would feel a need to leave.
Good luck to all. I doubt it'll happen.
One can talk about African Americans and European-bound Africans (with an emphasis on North African Muslims) without being a racist.
We should applaud as signs of openness and success the family currently in the White House, and every other African American plus others who have made it out of depressing conditions to professional success and wholesome lives.
Cheers appropriate for my friends who made it out of Fall River, as well as US Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz, who graduated from the public high school a decade after my cohort.
No surprise that Barack Obama is in the spotlight ignited by Baltimore, and has expressed his distress and at least a bit of candor about the issue. He cites the limitations of federalism as a problem in dealing with local standards of policing, as well as the wildness that seems always poised to explode from the ghettos.
We might forgive his downsizing what he called “a handful of people taking advantage of the situation for their own purposes.”
He also adhered to Presidential balance by saying that his thoughts were with police officers injured, which “underscores that that’s a tough job, and we have to keep that in mind.”
The President is among those lamenting that the rioters destroy businesses and opportunities in their own neighborhoods, "rob jobs" from people who need them, and discourage Black investors and others who had invested in community enterprises that have been trashed.
Some would criticize Obama for minimizing the numbers of those rioting, insofar as that might get in the way of serious efforts.
Yet if the problem is intractable, it doesn't matter what he says.
We see signs of the Third World in the quality of American police as well as who knows how many young Blacks on the borders of illiteracy and immersed in webs of sex, drugs, gangs, and violence.
One can see the excessive force used by individual police officers as a response from the bottom of government, and the huge percentage of Americans--compared to people of other countries--currently in prison or with a prison record as reflecting the policy responses of those who have reached the tops of politics and government.
Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, Jews of Ethiopian background, along with leftists may have sought to mimic Baltimore by demonstrating in recent days against police brutality.
There have been out of control cops in Israel as well as Europe, but the advantages of professional training, the hierarchy of national police services and professional, national judiciaries show themselves against what has occurred in various American jurisdictions.
One doubts that there is enough will, money, or knowledge to deal with the problem(s) in American cities, or to reduce them significantly.
The history goes back centuries or decades, depending on whether one marks its beginning with slavery, abolition, or civil rights movements that began in the 19th century and peaked in the 1960s.
Some claim that civil rights have made things worse at the bottom. Strong families left the ghettos for new opportunities. The role models that remain are gang leaders and their girl friends.
Other minorities, and not a few Whites, suffer from teenage pregnancy, lousy schooling, limited or no information about birth control and healthy eating, broken families, drugs, gangs, violence, and incarceration, but the conditions are most prominent among African Americans.
There is no shortage of efforts to improve policing, but federalism and localism get in the way, along--no doubt--with residual racism.
No society is free of an underclass with chronic problems that pass from one generation to the next, but the proportions in the United States defy any standard set by other western democracies. Those who doubt the details can Google incarceration, murder, and adolescent fertility by country.
With this, America remains an ideal, at least in the eyes of Americans who write to me. Some are harsh critics of anyone who would say otherwise. A few have demanded that I remain silent, repent, or surrender my US citizenship.
I hear about Europeans who come to the US to live, for medical care, or education.
There are some, but the vast majority of migrants to the US come from the Third World. Official statistics show that most of the Europeans moving to the US are from the poor countries of Eastern Europe.
We can trade anecdotes of Americans who have moved overseas for a better life, and Western Europeans who have gone the other way.
One can find the best of education, health care, and housing in the US, but not superior to what can be found in the better places elsewhere.
Moreover, the people who enjoy the best in the US resemble their counterparts elsewhere, concerned to protect themselves from those on the other end of the spectrum.
Baltimore is the most recent sad reminder of a stain on American excellence.