Young Men's Initiative: The White Mayor's Burden

Bloomberg aims to help the young black and Latino men he has been throwing in jail for a decade

Now to be fair, there are certain things the mayor has had within his control in terms of poverty in general and the plight of men of color specifically. But there are plenty that are beyond his reach.

If you think about the hell most young men of color in this city face as three concentric, Dante-style circles, Bloomberg has nothing to do with one, something to do with the second, and a lot to do with the third.

The first circle of hell involves social problems so overwhelming, so tragically ingrained in these communities, it's hard to lay them at the mayor's feet. We're talking about communities where 54 percent of black New York children are growing up in homes without a father, where Latino children are four times more likely than white kids to have a mom without a high school degree, and where the census shows that across the country, three black men live in prison for each one who lives in a college dorm.

Professor Harry Levine of Queens College and marijuana-arrests.com shows the stark disparity between who uses pot and who gets arrested for it. White people use at higher rates than black or  Hispanic people but are far less likely to be reprimanded.
Drug Policy Alliance and Harry Levine/marijuana-arrests.com
Professor Harry Levine of Queens College and marijuana-arrests.com shows the stark disparity between who uses pot and who gets arrested for it. White people use at higher rates than black or Hispanic people but are far less likely to be reprimanded.
Drug Policy Alliance and Harry Levine/marijuana-arrests.com

The second circle is largely a circle of economic hell, and there are reasonable arguments why the mayor's actions have or have not affected the lives of black and Latino men in this realm. It is indisputable that poverty increased devastatingly during the mayor's tenure, with some 3.1 million New Yorkers currently living below the official poverty line, an amount not seen since 1998. Although black and brown New Yorkers have faced an especially harsh fate during this time frame, Bloomberg's own personal wealth more than quadrupled. Meanwhile, the mayor has consistently supported keeping taxes low on Wall Street firms, or, he's always warning us, they will flee to New Jersey. At the same time, he has axed social programs that aid the most vulnerable from the city budget; and while homelessness increased 45 percent in his first two terms, Bloomberg not only tried to cut homeless funding, but he also supported (as Councilwoman Tish James points out) Atlantic Yard's eminent domain, which shuttered a homeless shelter for women in downtown Brooklyn.

Still, the national economy has not fared much better recently, nor have the nation's minorities during the first three years of the first African-American presidency. Bloomberg can't be blamed for all of this.

But then there is a third circle of hell that black and brown men face in New York, and that's the criminal justice system. Here, the mayor has had very specific levers at his disposal. And here, he clearly has made life much worse for the city's young black and brown males.

Riding into City Hall as a reformer who prided himself on thinking outside the box, it is here where Bloomberg could have done something bold 10 years ago to greatly alleviate this certain kind of hell. It is here where the self-proclaimed independent could have stopped shoving so many young black and brown boys into the meat grinder.

It is in this realm of hell where Bloomberg became the kind of typical "devil" a pre-Mecca Malcolm X would have fought so hard against were he still the face of the city's angry black voice (and not Bloomberg's BFF, Al Sharpton).

Sayegh says that after he heard about the Young Men's Initiative, he had to "give the mayor credit. There is something really good about all of this—and unusual. I'm not aware of an instance in a major city where there has been a call by the executive to examine disparities across every agency."

Sayegh hopes that "there's room for some actual positive stuff to come out of it." And yet, he's alarmed that the initiative doesn't even mention policing or drug arrests.

"Nobody paying attention," Sayegh adds, "whether you're left or right, is looking at stop-and-frisk and marijuana arrests and suggesting that if you end the marijuana arrests or you stop stop-and-frisks or the way that they're conducted, that you're going to solve the problems of black and Latino men in this city. Nobody is saying that. But to not address it is ridiculous. And it's frankly offensive."

So just what does this Young Men's Initiative actually say?

"Mayor Bloomberg, in calling attention to this crisis and charging his administration with developing a concrete plan that produces better outcomes, has exercised true leadership," states the self-congratulatory Report to the Mayor from the Chairs of the Young Men's Initiative.

"Mayor Bloomberg is nationally known for his use of data to inform City policy and to evaluate the efficacy of City services," the report immodestly continues. "We encourage the mayor to bring this same critical eye to the collection and evaluation of data when it comes to monitoring the progress of young men of color in New York City."

The trouble is, the committee leaves gaping holes when it comes to the problems facing black and Latino men that City Hall could actually do something about.

A reading of the report (available at villagevoice.com) reveals four truths:

1. It's big on puffing up the mayor. The authors of the study are not about to embarrass the man who appointed them in 2010 with a charge to investigate this problem with black and brown youngsters. Nor will they call out any of his beloved data that shows how his police department terrorizes the same people he wants to help.

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