BERKELEY, CA: Despite the warnings of a special Presidential Commission more than 50 years ago, the forces that threatened to create separate and unequal societies along racial lines have become reality despite improvements in economic conditions for some Black Americans, new research from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley shows.
“The Road Not Taken: Housing and Criminal Justice 50 Years after the Kerner Commission Report” examines what has and hasn’t changed for Black Americans since the wave of race-related uprisings in 1967, which led to the formation of a bipartsian national commission to investigate the underlying causes of the unrest, known as the Kerner Commission.
The report was co-authored by Richard Rothstein, a senior fellow at the Haas Institute and author of the critically-acclaimed book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, and Stephen Menendian, who is the assistant director of the Haas Institute.
Focusing on housing inequality, and policing and the criminal justice system, the report was produced as a follow-up to the “Race and Inequality in America: The Kerner Commission at 50” conference hosted at UC Berkeley last year by the Haas Institute, in partnership with the Economic Policy Institute and the Johns Hopkins University’s 21st Century Cities Initiative. The conference, held on the 50-year anniversary of the release of the original Kerner report, examined the history, legacy, and contemporary significance of the Kerner Commission in a series of panels of the nation’s leading experts in housing, education, health, criminal justice reform, and more.
The new report determines that in two areas studied—housing segregation and policing/criminal justice—very few of the recommendations issued by the Kerner Commission in a 600-page report in 1968 to remedy the causes of the social unrest were implemented. A result of the failure to implement the recommendations has been the persistence of stark racial inequalities across the US until this day.
“The Road Not Taken” finds that while a Black middle class has grown since the time of the Kerner Commission, Black Americans on the whole remain sharply disadvantaged in employment, the criminal justice system, housing, and education.
Particularly when considering our criminal justice system, the new study finds that the conditions facing Black Americans is actually worse today than they were 50 years ago. For example, incarceration rates are drastically higher today for African Americans than they were in the 1960s. In many cases, police still operate using a “broken windows” philosophy, which leads to more frequent and aggressive policing in mostly Black, high poverty urban areas.
The new report emphasizes drastic changes that are needed in policing, including the use of civilian review boards to allow independent community members to provide input and oversight as a mechanism for accountability.
Another key recommendation includes the creation of better grievance mechanisms for community members to lodge complaints against police for misconduct. The report cites data showing that in many cases, people are dissuaded from filing complaints against police in the first place, and that those who do file complaints rarely see any action taken.
“The Road Not Taken” also finds that police standards governing the use of force and procedures for addressing police misconduct are inadequate. Furthermore, the report shows that on the whole police still favor motorized patrols, which are more prone to fueling tensions in communities, as opposed to foot patrols, which research shows help build police-community relations.
Governments have also failed to meaningfully redress residential segregation as the Kerner Commission had called for, the new report shows. While the commission had called for a radical integration in the area of housing, what has actually taken place over the past half century has been a revitalization of urban centers where low-income African Americans are concentrated.
This has resulted in a reinforcing of racial segregation, and a persistence of disparities in academic achievement, health, income, wealth, incarceration, life expectancy, encounters with police patrols, and exposure to violence.
The conference included NAACP Legal Defense Fund director-counsel Sherrilyn Ifill, former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, Economic Policy Institute President Thea Lee, Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen, as well as the only surviving member of the Commission, Senator Fred Harris.
A video archive of the conference panels and other presentations is available here.