by CHARLES M. BLOW
New York City holds a special place in the collective conscience of Black America.
Not only does it have the highest concentration of blacks — according to the 2000 Census, there were more blacks living in New York City than in all but four whole states — much of black intellectual power and cultural capital has been accrued within its borders.
It gave voice to Shirley Chisholm, refuge to Malcolm X, legs to Althea Gibson and opportunity to Jackie Robinson. It was the incubator of the Harlem Renaissance, the proving ground of jazz and the birthplace of hip-hop.
It was a black Mecca and magnet. Was.
Next week, the Census Bureau will release local data for New York. And if those data come in as expected, they will show the first drop in the black population of New York City on a census since at least 1880, according to Professor Andy Beveridge, a sociologist at the City University of New York. (The white, Asian and Hispanic populations are all expected to grow.)
Part of the shift is likely from an overall trend in black migration toward the South and the suburbs. For example, the 2010 Census figures show that Georgia’s black population grew by 23 percent and Florida’s by 25 percent, but as The Associated Press reported Friday: ”The share of blacks in large metropolitan areas who opted to live in the suburbs climbed to 58 percent in the South, compared with 41 percent for the rest of the U.S.”
There is also the city’s continued shedding of manufacturing jobs and shrinking middle class that is pushing it ever closer to becoming a dim, stilted wasteland of the wealthy, from edge to edge.
But to the soup of reasons and recriminations I would like to add one more possible factor that must be considered if not studied: the hyper-aggressive police tactics that have resulted in a concerted and directed campaign of harassment against the black citizens of this city.
According to a report in The Times last year, there were a record 580,000 stop-and-frisks in the city in 2009. Most of those stopped (55 percent) were black (a large portion were also Hispanic), most were young and almost all were male. For reference, according to the Census Bureau, there were about only 300,000 black men between the ages of 13 and 34 living in the city that year. A mere 6 percent of the stops resulted in arrests.
The Times article revealed that in one eight-block area of an overwhelmingly black neighborhood in Brooklyn, the police made 52,000 stops in just four years, an average of nearly one stop for each resident each year.
And many of those arrested are charged with having small amounts of marijuana. According to an analysis of these arrests by Harry Levine, another sociologist at the City University of New York, the New York Police Department under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made more of these minor drug arrests than under his previous three predecessors combined. These targeting tactics mean that blacks are arrested for minor drug possession at seven times the rate of whites although on national surveys whites consistently say that they use marijuana more than blacks or Hispanics.
Why would people stay and withstand this if they had the wherewithal to leave?
If this is even part of the reason blacks are fleeing from, or simply not coming to, our great metropolis, then the city, knowingly or not, is engaged in its own subtle form of ethnic cleansing — a sort of eradication by intimidation.
CHART: Possession Obsession: New York City marijuana possession arrests and charges, the lowest level misdemeanor, for those ages 16 and older. (Source: Harry G. Levine, Sociology Department, Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York; New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, Computerized Criminal History System)
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”