Why My Answer to Dr. King Would Be: 52 Years Later, We Are Still Working on That Dream

08/28/2015 05:17 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2016

On August 28th, 2015, the United States will commemorate the 52nd Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an event recently best described by Civil Rights icon, fellow Huffington post blogger and my friend, Dr. Clarence B. Jones as: the day that most persons associate their memory of The March with the soaring oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have A Dream Speech." Dr. Jones would know, as he also happens to be the man who helped Dr. King draft that world renowned speech. As we take time as a country to reflect upon the issues that led up to the impetus for a March on Washington in 1963, I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon the statistical data I would share with Dr. King if he were still alive today and asked me for an update on whether or not his dream had become a reality. My findings are best summarized by this title: Racism & Poverty Disproportionately Plague African American Youth in the 21st Century With Women & Children First for U.S. Victims of Violence.

Violence, physical or emotional, is about power and control, survivors and perpetrators. The 20th century (January 1, 1901 and December 31, 2000) has been dubbed "one of the most violent periods in human history" with 191 million people, mostly civilians, dying due to conflict according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Since 2000, over 8 million people have been killed worldwide due to Interpersonal Relationship Violence (IPV). This figure is based on known homicides; it does not include missing persons or unreported acts of violence. At this pace, the 21st century IPV estimate stands at 187.5 million deaths/murders, a figure that does not move the needle in making a meaningful reduction.

In the United States, Americans know that "violence is particularly acute in urban neighborhoods" with minorities and our most impoverished "most directly impacted" and that the unfavorable consequences of these statistics go beyond the walls of our inner cities according to a 2009 collaborative, federally-funded study that included the National Institutes of Health. In fact, we have had access to/have known, about these statistics for over a decade. While a variety of efforts have been implemented to try and fix the flaws in our system that have caused these grave disparities, the consequences of these acts remain: the segment of the U.S. population most affected by violence in the United States continue to be our most defenseless and vulnerable, ou precious children and youth, followed by their caretakers, who are most often female according to a special edition of the 2014 Shriver Report. Females in particular continue to comprise the highest percentage of indirect and direct victims of every subcategory of IPV family violence which includes child maltreatment according to an even more recent WHO report (2015). As such, it is vital to examine IPV facts and statistical data as well as risk and protective factors which can better explain WHY IPV disproportionately affects African American communities from a macro and micro perspective, what the United States can do to help remedy these system flaws and most importantly, speed up the reduction of the ongoing epidemic of interpersonal violence in America.

Interpersonal Relationship Violence Defined

At its most basic definition, IPV, according to a 2002 World Bank report, has been described as "violence inflicted by another individual or a small group of individuals;" IPV is also separated into two categories: family violence or community violence." Community violence focuses on the perpetrator and is classified even further into "acquaintances or strangers" while family violence, in contrast, is about "victims of child, intimate partner, or elder abuse." Essentially, IPV encompasses nearly every form of violence outside of violence "in which the perpetrator and the victim are the same person" such is the case of suicide" or "collective violence, or violence committed by "organized political groups, militia groups, and terrorist organizations." Interpersonal relationship violence may appear with and without the word, "relationship;" it has been described as the "physical, sexual, emotional, economic, psychological, actions or threat of actions that a reasonable person in similar circumstances and with similar identities would find intimidating, frightening, terrorizing, or threatening. Such behaviors may include threats to one's self, one's family or one's pet" according to the University of North Carolina (2014). IPV can be interchanged to describe the following forms of abuse: intimate partner violence, dating violence, domestic violence, and relationship violence" as well as "child maltreatment, youth violence, sexual violence and elder abuse" according to the World Health Organization 2014 Violence Report.

Who Will Encounter IPV

According to the WHO via the Centers for Disease Control 2013 data, violence continues to be the leading cause of death across the world for people between the ages of 15-44 years old. While IPV affects everyone, recent demographic data however, reveals alarming ethnicity, age and gender trends regarding leading cause(s) of death. At first glance, the top two causes of death for females and males across all age groups in 2001 and in 2013 overall continue to be heart disease and cancer. Upon further examination of age group, ethnicity and year, however, data and cause of death varies with several striking highlights. Females consistently comprise the largest percentage of survivors in each of the individual IPV family violence descriptions (domestic violence, relationship violence, teen dating violence) including child maltreatment. IPV male victims are impacted by community violence with the homicide rate for all males being almost four times the rate of females; African American males are seven times more likely to die from homicide than their male counterparts. The top leading causes of death for all females between the ages of 15-34 are: unintentional injury, suicide or homicide. Less than one decade ago, in 2002, it was heart disease, homicide or cancer. For all males between the ages of 15-34, the second and third causes of death are either: suicide or homicide. Over a decade ago, in 2002, it was the same: suicide or homicide. The number one cause of death for African American males between the ages of 15-34 is homicide; the number two cause of death for African American females between the ages of 15-24 is homicide. OVERALL, beginning at just age 15, only African American or Hispanic young males or African American young females have the highest probability to have murder as their number one cause of death. White females and males between the ages of 15-24 have a higher rate of suicide, which is the number two cause of death for both age groups. Other striking statistics: cancer has increased in the last decade as a leading cause of death for the less than 44 male and female groups. To review CDC stats for all females follow this link: http://www.cdc.gov/women/lcod/#a2004. For more CDC data regarding males follow this link: http://www.cdc.gov/men/lcod/

The United States, IPV, Race & Socio-Economics

Macro Perspective
From a macro perspective, IPV has been identified as the form of abuse which "disproportionately affects low and middle income countries" and "countries with a high degree of economic inequality have higher levels of violence." Although the United States is the sixth richest country in the world, when poverty and economic inequality were examined in a 1995 international study, "findings indicate that the U.S., while a very wealthy society, has far more inequality and is far less committed to providing a decent life for the poor than are other developed nations" according to a study provided by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service Office of Justice Programs. The U.S. has "by far has the highest poverty rate and the biggest gap between the rich and the poor of any of the developed nations" and that "poor American children are extremely poor compared to children in other countries" with research affirming that "it is the most deprived children who face the greatest risks of engaging in crime and violence."

In 2010, 27.4 percent of African Americans, and 26.6 percent of Latinos were poor, compared to 9.9 percent of Whites and 12.1 percent of Asians. Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are African American or Hispanic according to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. In comparison to Whites, African Americans are "three times more likely to be poor, have lower average incomes, smaller net worths, and fewer net financial assets according to a study conducted in 2009 regarding racism, African Americans, stress and pregnancy. According to the United States Census (2011), "the median White household had $111,146 in wealth holdings in 2011, compared to $7,113 for the median black household and $8,348 for the median Latino household." Nationally, African Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population but account for 43% of intimate partner homicides (IDVAAC, 2007, p.4). While minority households are disproportionately represented and have the highest rates of poverty according to the National Poverty Center(2015), it is Whites however, that are predominantly the recipients of food stamps at 40%. . cc: Donald Trump.

Micro Perspective

This macro perspective mirrors the data that shapes the U.S. micro perspective as low socio-economic status and detrimental health outcomes are interrelated with correlations between poverty and violence resulting in a "chronic vulnerability to being imprisoned, enslaved, beaten, raped and robbed." The highest percentages of Americans living in poverty are children who comprise 24% of our population but account for 36% of our most impoverished according to the National Poverty Center (2015). As our impoverished are more likely "to experience both acute life events and chronically stressful life conditions," this makes our poor "more likely to suffer from psychological distress." Adding another layer of stress is the fact that poor neighborhoods lack a plethora of resources ranging from human services to "poor access to healthy and affordable food" and other basic needs according to a 2013 UCLA study. Just the simple task of walking to school in these areas can be a life-threatening event for a child leaving marginalized populations permanently trapped in high stress environments. Doesn't that fact just make you pause?

Urban youth who reside in neighborhoods with high levels of poverty are exposed to IPV more frequently and chronically. Over 80% of children in inner cities have witnessed IPV and 70% are victims of IPV. The stress and anxiety caused by living in these conditions are elevated for these children with both males and females suffering equally from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms as well as other adverse outcomes such as depression, substance abuse, academic disengagement, dropout, truancy, non completion and dismissal. IPV in the form of community violence disproportionately affects males who respond with external behaviors that are found to be more aggressive among African American and Latino male children. Family violence disproportionately affects females who experience the highest levels of exposure to family and community violence and tend to internalize their behaviors (depression, anxiety and distress). All these facts can be found in this 2009 study.

Studies affirm that overall, "adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 years old are victims of crime more than any other childhood age group" with "African American children on a national scale disproportionately affected" and "more frequently exposed to chronic and severe community violence." Minority populations disproportionately comprise our most impoverished who not only live with these higher levels of stress due to poverty, but racism and violence as well. These statistics provide greater insight regarding the aforementioned leading cause of death outcomes cited by the CDC. Even more significant, these findings also affirmed that youth exposed to community violence are also exposed to interfamilial violence. Identification of these correlations between community and family violence is HUGE and helps disentangle the picture regarding IPV as well as strategies and solutions.

Moreover, "African American male joblessness has been linked to the rise in African American female headed households" according to Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson. According to Dorothy Roberts, a Professor at Northwestern University School of Law, a fellow at Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research and author of "Fatal Invention" and "Shattered Bonds:" "localized, impoverished areas where male unemployment is high, places already vulnerable families at even greater risk for child abuse and neglect" as these neighborhoods are in dire need of repair, "have insufficient healthcare facilities, high levels of crime and are also subject to more government surveillance." Recent empirical data consistently confirms that African Americans are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated at nearly six times that of Whites and therefore, comprise over half of our prison population. Research also affirms that post prison populations are unable to obtain employment due to the stigmas associated with having a criminal record as well as employers' reluctance to hire those with a criminal history. The collateral effects of these facts go beyond immediate violence and harm and are actually far worse because these factors, which are influenced by racist behavior(s) cause not only a lifetime of unemployment which perpetuates intergenerational poverty which has also has proven correlations to violence and slavery. The system continues to be broke, not the people. Poverty is lack of money, not character. In the words of Dr. King, from his "I Have A Dream Speech," "...But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt."

As 40% of U.S. households with children today are primarily supported by the income of a woman, according to 2013 Pew Research, it is disconcerting that of the 37 million people living in poverty in the United States, HALF are women, with EVERY female ethnic group earning less money than their male counterparts and full time working women earning 77 cents to every man's dollar. In fact, "inadequacy of income more than any factor, constitutes the reason that children are removed" from a household and placed in foster care according to Professor Parker (page 35). Compounding this economic violence and destroying families even further is the beyond painful and disturbing fact that: "Females from impoverished families who are placed in foster care and are between the ages of 12-14 are at a higher risk for becoming victims of trafficking according to the 2015 Human Rights Project for Girls. Slavery is not at all over; it has actually become a $150 billion dollar business that disproportionately impacts females worldwide according to the International National Labor Organization because apparently, it's a business model that has "low risk and high profits." LOW. RISK.

Moreover, studies affirm that African American female survivors "may not report abusive behavior to avoid having her partner interact with the criminal justice system, one that is already perceived as biased against African American men; and/or she may not want to bring negative attention to the African-American community" according to a 2009 University of Minnesota, Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community. This silence may be compounded if clergy are not trained regarding domestic violence issues as 95% of survivors turn to clergy as a source of guidance and 2009 Pew research affirms that African Americans "are more markedly religious." Research has also uncovered that men in medium or low security prisons admit to battering their partners at rates higher than the general population. In 2002, one study found that 33% of inmates admitted to physically assaulting their intimate partners the year before their incarceration.


Mass Incarceration, Systemic Racism & Permanent Unemployment

The United States has chosen to create the largest prison population on the planet. In fact, "no other society in the world has imprisoned so many of its own citizens according to the Centre for Research on Globalization (2014). In 2004, five private prisons existed in the United States, with a population of 2,000 inmates. In 2014, those figures have jumped to 100, with 62,000 inmates. What makes this reality even more disturbing is that according to the 2010 U.S. Census figures, African Americans are incarcerated five times more than Caucasians, and Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to be incarcerated as Caucasians. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), African Americans and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners even though both groups combined only account for one quarter of the U.S. population (2008). Even more disturbing is the data featured is this 2015 report which identifies the ten states with the highest number of people in prison. Of the 23 states that have been identified as locations in which the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) continue to operate, all ten of these states are on that list. Of the ten, six were also the states with historically, the highest number of lynchings from 1882-1968: Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas. In light of recent, national events regarding opposition of the removal of the confederate flag and the definition of interpersonal violence to include groups, along with the idea of utilizing prisoners as labor tracing back to slavery, (Centre for Research on Globalization, 2014), mass incarceration it seems has become a modern day disparity that disturbingly mirrors race related injustices of the past best summarized in the words of keynote speaker Rubin "Hurricane" Carter who has spent three life terms for crimes he did not commit, "First, we have to understand what anger is," he said. "We were not born angry...we were born into it."

According to Civil Rights attorney, legal scholar, and author of "The New Jim Crow," Michelle Alexander, America's insatiable appetite for mass incarceration coupled with the failed 1972 War on Drugs has resulted in "a new racial caste system" that is "built on the foundation of demonizing people of color, particularly Brown and Black men and boys...even though most Americans break the drug law in their LIFETIME. One study estimates that former felons are now categorically barred from working in more than 800 occupations because of laws and licensing rules. Moreover, as prisoners are instantly segregated upon entry into prison, life in prison not encourages and perpetuates racism but it also is known to causes the mental and physical health of those incarcerated to deteriorate while in prison. Dr. Williams also attributes the United States' shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy compounded this violence of permanent unemployment for the African American community as 70% worked in these blue color jobs. This deprivation and social exclusion are related to the high rates of violence found in the United States and sheds greater light regarding the financial inequities of African American families in America.

Incarceration is not limited solely to males. A new study from The Human Rights Project for Girls, has found that girls are initially arrested for truancy, curfew violations, or running away, often due to abuse and then they "tend to get locked up" creating "a sexual abuse to prison pipeline" that is disproportionately affecting African American children who now comprise 59 percent of all prostitution-related arrests in the U.S. Previous abuse is the most significant contributing cause for the arrest and incarceration of Girls of Color, who make up about two-thirds of all imprisoned young women according to the 2015 study. These figures provide even more insight regarding correlations to the leading causes of death among our youth.

IPV Strategies to Consider

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "The best way to solve any problem, is to remove its cause." If current IPV trends continue, "one in three African American males and one in six Latino boys born in 2001 can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime" according to the Children's Defense Fund (2015). The injustices experienced specific to African Americans in the U.S. leaves all age groups and genders across this community destined to not only disproportionately live in poverty, encounter IPV in and outside of their homes, but also perpetuate these intergenerational and inhumane disparities. This is unacceptable. It is time to for the U.S. to: 1) Abolish mass incarceration and expunge criminal records for those who have committed non-violent crimes and have fulfilled their commitment to society. This effort will also create the opportunity to create entire job industries that are more effective at reducing and eliminating IPV thereby replacing any job loss that may be encountered. With over 50% of our incarcerated in prison due to dated War on Drug laws (NAACP, 2015) often committed during youth, this is long overdue. 2) The U.S. needs to establish a federal living wage that supports the basic needs of all families by the end of 2015. With the amount of money the U.S. has spent on imprisonment and violence containment tactics that do not work in the trillions of dollars, it should be able to reallocate this spending into rehabilitative, educational and proactive prevention models as well as provide: 4) Tax and other financial incentives for corporations, industries, cities and states that join this effort to end poverty by increasing their wage(s) especially in fields disproportionately represented by women such as teachers and 5) Tax and other financial incentives for corporations, industries, cities and states that support efforts to increase family preservation such as providing childcare subsidies or creating childcare centers which First Lady Jacqueline Onassis provided for the White House staff for example. As interpersonal violence disproportionately affects youth between the ages of 15-24, the U.S. should: 6) create prevention models that target youth in the 10-14 year old age group in particular, and will blend in with their ecological system(s). 7) The U.S. government should examine police department practices, standards and training across the country and consider establishing a federal policy of these best practices. As 40% of police households experience domestic violence as well (The Atlantic, 2014), we should address the stress that police also face from such chronic exposure to violence in their profession. 8) An intervention that could be therapeutic would be to create a program with police officers mentoring and assisting rehabilitated youth with the expungement of their records. 9) Develop re-entry and in prison/in parole programs for men with a focus on family violence that requires the completion of measurably improved outcomes for men. 10) Utilize school and religious community leaders to develop supportive programs that encourage participation in mental health as well as substance abuse programs as well as communicate and emphasize that these issues are resolvable, normal, and the collateral effects caused by a system that has not remedied poverty and racism. FINALLY 11)Recognize the KKK as a terrorist group. Rates of youth violence are also higher in countries where social protection policies are weak, income inequality is high, and where a culture of violence prevails according to a WHO 2002 report. If we don't allow KKK type behavior on flights, we should also abolish the remote possibility for this abhorrent behavior on land too. KKK behavior, which WE KNOW has historically included lynchings and murders, was not at all the intention or part of the protections our forefathers had in mind when they created the First Amendment.

Indeed, the business of violence has become an integral part of the United States' capitalist driven economy and society. As we continue to move from a manufacturing to a service economy, it will be vital to examine the economic limitations we set for ourselves as a country and world leader if our primary form of business is to rely on the turmoil that plagues our own people like mass incarceration, poverty, child maltreatment, homelessness, mental health issues and other cancers as a stream of revenue and employment in our national business model. The United States has developed a cost prohibitive and ineffective system that holds people down both in and out of prison. It is also a glaringly obvious fact that denying specific segments of the population the same opportunities is a Civil Rights violation not to mention inhumane. It is also a financial planning 101 error; intentionally perpetuating unemployment is ineffective and unintelligent fiscal policy. Moreover, while the contiguous and non-contiguous United States of America have not encountered war since 1963 during War World II (Battle of Attu), decades later, the United States spends more on defense than any country in the world alongside military spending which takes up the largest percentage of the U.S. budget and dances close to the trillion dollar mark. Simultaneously, the cost of violence to the U.S. was estimated at over $460 billion with the U.S. accumulating an estimated $300 billion dollars in costs related to interpersonal violence with violence containment costs at over $1.7 Trillion according to the World Health Organization(2015). These figures are astronomical and do not reflect measured success as U.S. IPV continues to be a health crisis that has yet to be resolved.

The time has come for change. It's time to seize this opportunity and permanently alter this path American society has been on far too long. The fork in the road is before us. Empirical data affirms that the road less traveled, that utilizes education, family restoration and healing interventions, resolves known risk and protective factors is a successful, preventative solution that will save our most vulnerable and impressionable, our children. The system is flawed, not the people. It is time to make the dream a reality and take these final steps that will make 21st Century America, the country our forefathers wrote about, with liberty and justice for all.

The Non-Violent Crimes Discrimination Act of 2015 NVCDA espouses the preference Americans have for rehabilitation over incarceration and magnifies the success of the Second Chance Act. Please consider supporting this sealing and healing process and sign the petition found here: https://www.change.org/p/barack-obama-we-the-people-would-to-end-unfair-hiring-barriers-and-acts-of-delayed-discrimination-by-sealing-the-records-of-non-violent-felons-so-that-all-of-us-or-none-of-us-has-that-equal-chance-at-life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-happiness?recruiter=159826139&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive

This is Part I of a series regarding Interpersonal Violence in America. Tania Bradkin can be found at: @TaniaBradkin on Twitter, @TaniaBradkin on Instagram and at https://www.facebook.com/tania.bradkin on Facebook.