My View: Inequality deeper than criminal justice
In "The high cost of being black in Multnomah County" on Feb. 2, the Portland Tribune highlighted what Jo Ann Hardesty called "the hidden injustices built into the justice system." We're pleased to see the paper examine this critical issue, and we applaud the editorial board's call for better data to address police profiling — but we encourage readers and leaders alike not to stop here.
Just as one symptom can be a sign of a larger underlying disease, racial disparities in Oregon's criminal justice system are part of a much larger pattern of long-standing inequalities embedded in nearly all social and political institutions. For many African-Americans, the inequality we experience in interactions with law enforcement are compounded by interconnected barriers to secure employment, accessible health care, affordable housing and safe communities.
As editors rightly pointed out, "Oregon has a problem." The first step in addressing that problem is End Profiling (HB 2355), which will require law enforcement departments to begin collecting and retaining standardized demographic data on all officer-initiated pedestrian and traffic stops.
But comprehensive problems call for comprehensive solutions. That's why the Fair Shot For All coalition also is calling on our legislators to take action on a suite of bills that address inequality and move Oregon closer to justice and economic opportunity for all.
• Cover all kids. In Oregon, we've made good progress toward ensuring that every child has critical health coverage — yet over 17,000 kids still remain uninsured. These kids are overwhelmingly children of color and are growing up in families that struggle to afford the basics. Data shows that uninsured children achieve lower educational outcomes than those with insurance, which in turn is related to long-term productivity and earnings. By giving every child the chance to grow up healthy, Oregon can ensure that every child is on a pathway to success.
• Reproductive health equity. There are still wide gaps in health care coverage, affecting communities of color the most. Some 48,000 women of reproductive age in Oregon are categorically denied health coverage due to their citizenship status. Others face barriers to affordable birth control, and high deductible plans leave abortion inaccessible for many. The decision about whether and when to become a parent is one of the most important decisions that we all face, and it's a decision with important implications for our families, our economic security and our futures.
• Paid family and medical leave. Most Oregonians will one day need time away from work to deal with a serious personal or family illness or to care for a new child. Federal and Oregon law provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for some workers — however, these laws don't apply to everyone, don't cover all types of family members and don't help with lost income. Workers in low-paying jobs — disproportionately women and people of color — are least likely to have access to paid family and medical leave. Paid family and medical leave insurance will help ensure all workers have the ability to take care of someone they love without losing the income they rely on.
• Stable homes for all. Gaps in homeownership exist between white Oregonians and people of color, leaving Oregonians of color more vulnerable to profit-driven eviction. Currently, Oregon landlords can raise rents as high as they like and evict people at any time without stating a reason — even if they have always paid their rent on time. And with affordable housing in high demand, many are unable to find an affordable place to live before they have to move. A just-cause eviction policy and lifting the statewide prohibition on rent stabilization will keep more families in their homes and create more economically stable and diverse communities.
Oregon has lead the nation in redefining what a 21st century economy should look like by passing recent laws on paid sick days, minimum wage, retirement savings and banning the box.
All eyes will again be on Oregon in 2017.
We must continue the work to tear down barriers that have left our communities struggling for generations. It's time that everyone who calls Oregon home — regardless of our racial background, our gender, the language we speak or where we're from — has a fair shot.
Amira Streeter is the policy and advocacy director of the Urban League of Portland. Lamar Wise is the legislative director at Oregon Student Association. Both organizations are part of the Fair Shot For All Coalition.