It happened abruptly. Jessica is an excellent navigator and I usually just turn as she instructs. “Left. Right. Two stop signs and a diagonal to right.” We had cruised along a bike path and wound through Venice and over a bridge to reach East St. Louis. The magnificent, sparkling Arch was off to our left. Two young children saw our tandem and asked, “What is that?” Many abandoned buildings, cars barely operable, people sitting on stoops. All Black. Then it happened – as if we were on a yellow brick road – we crossed into the Central West End Neighborhood. Upscale, hip, outdoor cafes, Almost all white. Jessica and I are listening to The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi. The book describes how the massive crimes that led to the financial crisis of 2008 and the government bailouts were not criminally prosecuted because of the the “collateral consequences” that would follow such as lost jobs, further financial instability and just plain uncertainty. But that same concern for collateral consequences has not been followed when prosecuting low income Black people who lose jobs, suffer family breakups and become bitter as victims of broken windows, zero tolerance and other law enforcement strategies that have caused mass incarceration – mainly of Black men.
In many respects Jessica and I are at ground zero of The Divide. The New York Times recently wrote that per capita, Ferguson Mo has the most Black men “missing” from the community due to incarceration and early death – more than any other place in America! At dinner last night with local civil rights attorney Steve Ryals and his wife Karen (Thank you Steve and Karen!) he told us of a dad arrested because he had guided his toddler to a large bush in a park to urinate. The wife was then arrested when she took her cell phone out to video his arrest. Jessica and I have much to learn here.