U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Alma Adams want to create a commission to study the challenges facing black males, including a high rate of homicides and incarceration and other hardships.
North Carolina Democrats Butterfield and Adams and 37 other caucus members have endorsed legislation, known as the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act. The commission would investigate potential civil rights violations affecting black males and study the disparities they experience in education, criminal justice, health, employment, fatherhood, mentorship and violence. They would put their findings in an annual report that would include recommendations for how to improve conditions.
Commission members would include the caucus chairman as well as 18 unpaid representatives from the caucus, from federal agencies and others from outside government. Butterfield, of Wilson, N.C., and Adams, of Charlotte, say they’d like some prominent North Carolina leaders on the commission.
Urban League of Central Carolinas President Patrick Graham, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney, Charlotte City Councilman James “Smuggie” Mitchell and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church Bishop George Battle are among the state leaders that Adams said she would recommend.
“These are all men – young men by the way – who have actually been role models in the community,” she said.
It is important for North Carolina to have representation on this commission because we’re impacted, I think, a great deal as it relates to what happens to young black men.
Rep. Alma Adams, North Carolina Democrat
The study and report would exclude women. Although the difficulties black women face are important, they aren’t as pressing than those that impact black men. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, who crafted the legislation, said in an Aug. 17 email to the Charlotte Observer.
“There are many programs to address development for women and girls but far fewer programs for boys,” Wilson said. “Minority males are disproportionally incarcerated and their representation in the nation’s prison population is at record numbers. Conversely, U.S. Department of Education statistics show that African-American women account for a greater percentage of college degree conferees than any other group by race and gender. In addition, black women earn two college degrees for every black male that earns a degree.”
The Educational Testing Service Policy Informational Center has found that nationally, more than 50 percent of black male students attending urban schools will drop out, she said. She also cited a study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences that shows that more than 66 percent of black male dropouts are expected to serve time in state or federal prison.
“When you look at statistics, they’re very glaring in reference to the status of black men and boys,” Butterfield said, describing a “crisis” faced by North Carolina and states across the country.
I will only be chair of the (Congressional Black Caucus) until the end of the year and, you know, if this commission goes into effect, it would probably be in 2017. I will not be the chair then, but I certainly continue to offer my support.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, North Carolina Democrat
But not everyone thinks that statistics should be the driving factor behind the commission study.
“The issues that impact the black male community also impact black women and girls, too, especially given the high rate of families that are black families that are headed by black women,” said Erika Wilson, assistant professor of law at the University of North Carolina. “This is an oversight to singularly focus the study on black men.”
Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte, focused on the importance of the role that women play in the lives of black men and women.
“Unfortunately, we see too many single mothers raising children in homes without fathers,” he said. “Should the commission come to fruition, it should focus on policies that would encourage strong families.”
Still, the commission study is “long past due” and necessary, Wilson said. Commission members would examine homicide rates, arrest and incarceration rates, poverty, violence, fatherhood, mentorship, drug abuse, death rates, disparate income and wealth levels, school performance in various grade levels and health issues. Wilson said that employment issues, racial profiling and education disparities should be at the top of the members’ priority list – especially since suspensions and expulsions are usually a precursor to entering the criminal justice system.
“As we see all too often, the deck is stacked against African-American men and boys,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, who hopes to add her name as a co-sponsor. “These systemic barriers to opportunity are painfully clear in the disproportionate unemployment rates, entrenched poverty and epidemic of mass incarceration in the community.”
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s legislation to establish a Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys is an important and long-overdue step to eliminate these institutional barriers to success for African-American men. This commission would provide vital guidance for Congress on effective strategies to reduce the racial disparities in education, criminal justice, health and employment.
Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat