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The Invisible Ward 8

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Posted on Apr 6, 2010
White House / Pete Souza

A bronze of Martin Luther King observes Barack Obama in the Oval Office.

By Eugene Robinson

After President Barack Obama and his family attended Easter services in the poorest, blackest, most crime-ridden quadrant of Washington, his 22-car motorcade sped back across the Anacostia River to the picture-postcard, cherry-blossomy part of town. Left behind was a heartbreaking crime scene—along with tens of thousands of people who have become as invisible as ghosts.

It is rare these days when two high-profile events, within a single week, train the spotlight even briefly on the too-large segment of the African-American population that remains mired in desperate poverty and self-sustaining dysfunction. The second event was the first family’s visit to Allen Chapel AME Church for a joyous, high-spirited Easter celebration. The pastor, the Rev. Michael Bell, described it as “a monumental moment for us as a community.”

The first event took place at twilight on March 30. Gunmen in a minivan driven by a 14-year-old boy pulled up in front of a decrepit little apartment building, a popular hangout for neighborhood teenagers, and fired indiscriminately into the crowd with handguns and an AK-47-style assault rifle. Four young people were killed and five others wounded. It was the most stunning outburst of senseless violence Washington had seen in years.

Police say the apparent motive involves a complicated back story. I’ll note just two details: Many in the targeted crowd had just returned from the funeral of a 20-year-old man who had been gunned down a week earlier. And both incidents—five deaths in all—seem to have been triggered by the apparent theft of a single cheap, gold-tone man’s bracelet.

The carnage has been front-page, top-of-the-newscast fare. It is as if a veil has been lifted and the city can now see the devastation that should have been evident all along. Ward 8, the jurisdiction that includes both the church Obama attended and the site of the mass shooting, has an unemployment rate of 28.5 percent and a poverty rate of 40 percent. It has the highest percentage of single-parent households in the city, its public schools are perennially troubled and its streets are host to frequent turf battles among violent gangs.


Square, Site wide
But soon, all that will be forgotten—just as the same kind of despair goes unremembered in similar neighborhoods in Atlanta, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia and every other major American city. Entrenched black poverty, with all its causes and implications, barely makes a ripple in the public debate these days.

One major reason, perhaps the major reason, is that crime rates have fallen sharply over the past two decades throughout the country. In 1990 there were 472 homicides in Washington; last year there were just 143, and this year’s murder rate is even lower. The sight of a group of black teenagers downtown doesn’t automatically provoke fear in others the way it once did, which is a good thing. But it’s not good that people who live in more affluent neighborhoods, or in the suburbs, now seem to believe they don’t have to notice those teenagers at all. People look right through them.

The violent crime that remains has largely been corralled into the impoverished neighborhoods where both perpetrators and victims live. Governments, nonprofits, churches and other institutions do what they can, but their efforts do not begin to approach the scale of the problem. What’s needed is massive intervention on every front. It would be a great accomplishment, for example, to really fix the schools. But what good are state-of-the-art facilities and qualified, motivated teachers when the students arrive damaged by dysfunctional families and a toxic peer-group culture—and when there are no jobs waiting for them when they leave?

One of the shooting victims, 16-year-old Brishell Jones, wanted to become a chef. She just happened to go out Tuesday night, and never made it home.

Before he entered politics, Obama worked in equally desperate communities in Chicago. He has the understanding, and the power, to begin the process of healing places like Ward 8. But he is going to need the political will—and the clout—to implement policies that specifically target the African-American underclass. I hate that word, underclass, and almost never use it. But the ultimate defeat that it implies seems alarmingly near.

On Monday, at the corner where nine people were shot, there were teddy bears, flowers, condolence notes, a collection of liquor bottles beneath a “no loitering” sign. Soon, the impromptu memorial will fade away. The neighborhood and its people will be invisible once more.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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By ofersince72, April 8, 2010 at 3:42 pm Link to this comment

Who by ,,,???????????


great to tangle with you again rfidler but
gotta go, just got a call from Balt, my sister just
passed away today, she was a month away from 63
I was born on her birthday, two years later.
My younger sis works at JHU, my last sis left, she 53

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By rico, suave, April 8, 2010 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment

All of that has been debunked.

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By ofersince72, April 8, 2010 at 2:39 pm Link to this comment

In July, 1979 , four scientists submitted a report to the
President’s Counsil on Environmental Quality entitled:
“The Carbon Dioxide Problem: Implications for Policy
in the Management of Energy and Other Resouces.”

“The C02 problem is one of the most important contemporary
environmental problems, is a direct product of
industrialization, threatens the stability of climates
worldwide and therefore the stabiliaty of all nations, and
can be controlled. Steps are necessary now.
The potential disruptions are sufficiently great to warrant the incorporation of the C02 problem into all
considerations of policy in the development of energy.”

Hazel Henderson, author of
“The Politics of the Solar Age” (1981), submitted a cover
letter to the Environmental Protection Agency…
“......If he is correct, this means we can expect a continuous RATE of increase of C02 build-up, and that
climatologists were in error in advising the Administration that we had 50 years to complete the
solar/renewable resource transition, before weather and
climate changes would interfere with crops, ect…...”

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By ofersince72, April 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm Link to this comment

and then there were all the lawsuits thrown out by
the district and appeals courts, because , as it has
been proven so many times, our courts 9 out of 10 times
will always rule for the corpostacracy.

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By ofersince72, April 8, 2010 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment

a spike in infant mortality in communities
downwind two years after the accident

a plague of disease and death to cows, livestock
and other wildlife

(of course, there are many that don’t count animals as
collateral damage)

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By rico, suave, April 8, 2010 at 12:58 pm Link to this comment


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By gerard, April 8, 2010 at 8:44 am Link to this comment

xntrk:  The “segue”—if I am to explain it—doesn’t seg so far for me because there were plenty of Ward 8’s in and around Pittsburgh—and a lot of that misery due to some first-generation crooks who ran the mills and the mines.

ridler:  Nuclear?  No, not really.

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By John, April 7, 2010 at 10:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Detroit has been brought up here as has the behavior of blacks on buses. If I understand the comment from XntrK correctly (and I’m not sure I do) the misbehavior I described on the Seattle bus is, in his opinion, whitey’s fault—uhhh gentrification. So in this video we have two black women assaulting a bus driver who appears to be black in a non-gentrified neighborhood in Detroit. Is this the fault of the white man and gentrification or perhaps these individuals are actually responsible for their own behavior? Malcolm X said something to the effect that holding black people to lower standards of behavior than white people is racism. I think Mr. Robinson gets it right when he mentions a “self-sustaining dysfunction.” This dysfunction is not imposed on the black community, it is sustained by the black community. And when Mr Robinson writes that affluent people (whites) look right through black teenagers he is right, but perhaps for the wrong reason. People fear black teenagers-not just white people but black people too. Just today I was ordering food in a fast food restaurant when two young black men started loudly mimicking me. I’m white and in my sixties. I didn’t take the bait and avoided eye contact. Racism exists folks. But it’s not only white racism against blacks there is black racism against whites too. And please don’t give me that stupid argument that blacks, as an underclass, can’t be considered racist.

Here’s the video. I have seen behavior very similar to this on Seattle buses.

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By Xntrk, April 7, 2010 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment

the segue from the subject of the article [poverty and racism], to the usual liberal/progressive clap-trap was unusually rapid. did Robinson hit a nerve?

of course averting your eyes, and changing the subject is much easier than facing the reality of 21st century America. MAYBE IF WE InVADED THE 8TH WARD, DROPPED A TON OF EXPLOSIVES, AND HIRED ‘XI TO CLEAN UP THE MEss, we could veiw it as bringing ‘democracy’ to the heathens in our nations capital.

forgive the e.e. cummings’ style and occasional yelling. my arm is still broken…

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By anonymous, April 7, 2010 at 7:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Can’t wait for nuclear plant owners to pay fines because it’s cheaper than
fixing problems like mine owners do.

Should miners be blown up and buried or counties vaporized?

The answer will be, “whichever pays higher returns.”

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By rico, suave, April 7, 2010 at 4:35 am Link to this comment

You’re absolutely right. And none of this would have to happen if we close down the coal-fired power plants and replaced them with nukes.

As I asked in a previous post- how many people in this country have been killed in a nuclear power plant accident?

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By gerard, April 6, 2010 at 9:32 pm Link to this comment

The story of Pittsburgh area is still being written by its miners—witness the horrible “accident” going on just now in the Massey mines in West Virginia.  Quotation marks around “accident” indicate the fact that, as usual, the owners had some 400 previous safety warnings before the accident. They have also received warnings about their mountaintop operations. But why bother? There are always more people who need jobs after the present victims are dead and buried.
  Corporate owners and operators will never clean up their act until they are forced by law to follow some minimum safety requirements. We ought not have to stand outside a mine (as I did at the age of 11) and watch the elevator come up empty after eleven hours of steady digging to try to open a closed vent. Nobody ought to have to hear the women weep into their aprons as they listen to the message.
  Why don’t we care?  Why don’t we demand that such brutal capitalistic cruelties be eliminated?  Just to save a few pennies! Shame on them!

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By rico, suave, April 6, 2010 at 7:28 pm Link to this comment

Let me second gerard: “Hey, lay of da ‘burgh.” All the black/white disparities you cite are extant in every city in the US.

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By Xntrk, April 6, 2010 at 7:25 pm Link to this comment

John in Seattle,
60 years ago, jimmy hendrix grew up in that same rainier valley ‘hood. He maybe even rode that same number 7 bus on occasion. Read his biography [or maybe a couple]

Then ask yourself what has changed for the better in the emerald city - for blacks. they’ve gentrified the hills and lakeside. and, the valley got a surface rail line to further divide a neighborhood already cut in 2 by the freeway.

as far as i can tell the only difference is Blacks are no longer invisible, so the middle-class rubs against them. Thats the gentrifiction, btw. You wouldn’t have ridden that bus except during mid-day in the 50 and 60s.

As for the u district, the difference is money!

Forgive the typos, i broke my arm.

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By ofersince72, April 6, 2010 at 4:35 pm Link to this comment

All our cities have many of the same problems
all economic.
A war based economy.

Until the discrepancies that Michelle Alexander
are addressed,  all of our cities are going to have

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By ofersince72, April 6, 2010 at 4:30 pm Link to this comment

I love Pittsburg Gerard,  just responding to the fidler
using that for an example.
It is beautiful area and a beautiful state.
I grew up in Maryland so a little familiar with Penn

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By gerard, April 6, 2010 at 4:08 pm Link to this comment

Hey, lay off Pittsburgh!  I happen to have been born there.  Racial and ethnic prejudice and discrimination have ruled in Pittsburgh since the French and Indian Wars.  Not to excuse it at all, but it’s like every other place in the U.S.—city, country, shore to shore.  No better, and probably no worse. Brave people have worked for equality with some small successes, here and there, but let’s face it, the Constitution has never been equally enforced—only given lip-service, and democracy almost died several times over, only to be pulled back to life by the scruff of its neck.

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By ofersince72, April 6, 2010 at 3:57 pm Link to this comment


How much money is spent per white student in Pittsburg?
How does it compare with blacks ?????

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By ofersince72, April 6, 2010 at 3:54 pm Link to this comment


what is the black unemployment rate in Pittsburg?
How does it compare with white unemployment?
What is the incarceration rate for young blacks in Pitt?
How does it rate with whites?????
What is the average salery for blacks in Pittsburg?
How does it compare with whites?//?  / /  / / / /  / >>

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By ofersince72, April 6, 2010 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment

rfidler,, very short,  I agree whole heart with Gerard !!

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By gerard, April 6, 2010 at 3:23 pm Link to this comment

rfidler:  If you watched Amy Goodman last week (or go to her archives and see if you can find her program), she interviewed a couple inspiring Detroit women who are helping organize plans to defeat the mayor’s plans (read real estste developers) to tear down empty houses, many of which are still liveable, and bring in Big Ag to fill the space with a corporate crop.  The revitalization is a grassroots movement to revitalize Detroit to the extent within the power of ordinary jobless people, and construct a community on a more human scale to serve the immediate needs of unemployed, homeless people themselves. It’s an all too rare case of ordinary people taking initiative to help themselves.

As to Pittsburgh, I don’t know details, but I think plastics and medical research saved Pittsburgh from complete ruin.  It also installed alternate corporate powers which, come time to listen to people in the streets, brought in heavy equipment and troops to shut them up at a recent conference of “more important people.{  Of course Pittsburgh area still has its problems with coal, “clean” and otherwise. Perhaps the wars have helped steel out some also.  I’m not sure. Then there’s gambling casinos—another great way to steal people’s money.

My point in mentioning Detroit was to encourage readers that ordinary people can do a lot to help themselves and be active politically instead of just sulk, or rant, or pick up a gun and shoot somebody.

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By rico, suave, April 6, 2010 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

ofer and gerard:

Quiz question: Compare Pittsburgh and Detroit.

Big Steel left Pittsburgh, and managed to very successfully reorient itself toward tech and health care services.

Big Auto left Detroit, and they responded by electing a hip-hop mayor. The results are there to behold.

In 200 words or less, elaborate.

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By rico, suave, April 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment

Did I read that right? Robinson said the community was, “mired in… self-sustaining dysfunction.” did he actually imply that part of their problem was actually their fault? Wow! Now THAT’S fair and balanced!

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By gerard, April 6, 2010 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment

ofersince72:  Not so quick, please.  I am not talking about the mayor’s plans to knock down houses and bring in Big Ag to fill up the empty spaces. You have to look beneath the surface of the money-minded majority these days to find good things stirring.

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By ofersince72, April 6, 2010 at 1:42 pm Link to this comment

The verdict is not out yet on Detroit Gerard.

Just knocking down buildings so far
Privatizing public schools to charter schools
that means , no schools in neighborhoods,
who knows what curriculum.

The problems that caused the demise of Detroit
aren’t being addressed.
Looks to me like it is going to be a tinsle and glitter

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By gerard, April 6, 2010 at 1:18 pm Link to this comment

The culture of the black (or white) underclass is a grotesque reflection of the popular culture of USA!USA!USA!

It consiste largely of violence, speed, things to buy, noise, winning or losing, bravado, me-first, callousness, lack of caring, disillusion, loss of hope for a better future, loneliness, desperation.

Our future depends entirely upon when we recognize these indicators of trouble, what we do about them,
and how we do it. Opportunity is knocking louder every day.  Detroit is currently an example of people getting started.

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By ofersince72, April 6, 2010 at 12:05 pm Link to this comment


Have you read Michelle Alexander’s


just wondering Eugene…....

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By John, April 6, 2010 at 9:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“dysfunctional families and a toxic peer-group culture”

Well said. I ride the bus everyday with these folks. Sometimes I get off the bus and wait for another one to get away from them. Yesterday a young African American man rushed on the bus just as it was about to pull away and was going up and down the aisle talking loud and profane into his cell phone “I’m on the 7 bus-that bitch ain’t here. Man when I find that bitch I’m gonna beat her ass…Bus driver let me off this f——ng bus.”

Now this is a bus in downtown Seattle packed full of people and he doesn’t give the slightest damn that people are watching him and listening to him. He’s proud of who he is-dressed in thug clothing, walking like a thug, talking like a thug.

And he’s reinforcing every negative stereotype out there about young black men. And the black adults on the bus? They look embarrassed and fearful.

After a series of assaults on bus drivers the local bus system is testing new plexiglass enclosures for the drivers. And they aren’t testing them in the white neighborhoods. They are testing them in the black neighborhoods.

“toxic peer-group culture” is the thing. I also frequently ride the bus to the University District and although 98% of the students are white and asian the few black students are the equally well mannered.

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By balkas, April 6, 2010 at 7:11 am Link to this comment

It seems that ?all MSM collumnists apply in their pieces the unspoken, but well known dictum: talk only ab one or more symptoms, but never even one of its actual or postulated causes.

One can then selectively speak of a wart but not ab what caused it or even how to remove it.
And i postulate that every MSM collumnist knows that if s/he crosses the border set for her/him, s/he’s out of the nice job.

One of the causes or perhaps the only cause for not only poverty but for all ills that happen to us on interpersonal and int’l levels appears the division of people into lessvalued and morevalued.

Thus, wars, exploitation, anger, stress, shame, torture, lack of medical treatmnet-schooling, etcetc., appear as symptoms and eventual causes causing the same warts over and over again.

Possibly till the end of life on earth! Unless we some day excise this cancer! tnx

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By Inherit The Wind, April 6, 2010 at 4:48 am Link to this comment

It’s their own fault. 

Just ask the Re-thug-licans and Sarah Palin.

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By LaydeeMorrow, April 6, 2010 at 4:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The African American community here in Michigan had fun going to events celebrating the historic “first” black presidency as though Obama’s color actually meant something. (By the way, I voted for McKinney, an African American woman.) Some fools among them are waiting for him to turn into superman, but its not happening. Obama cares not a speck for blacks, or anyone of color. But you can be sure he will give another flowery speech when election time rolls around again.

President Obama is nothing more than a corporate owned Uncle Tom.  His loyalties are not to people of color but to white people and his wealthy owners who really elected him. He is a typical Chicago-style posturing politician among a long line of them. Can we hate and despise him for his lies and duplicity?

Yes We Can!

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By Druthers, April 6, 2010 at 2:20 am Link to this comment

Invisible yes, the American population that is not part of the “beautiful people” world is invisible but we are not invisible abroad where we go thundering through foreign countries like the hoards of Gengis Khan.
This is where our money goes and our life blood.

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