Autumn began Thursday not long after news that a State of Emergency had been declared in Charlotte following widespread damage, following protests, following the shooting of a man waiting to pick up his kid up from school.
He had a book. He had a gun. Someday, we’ll know what’s real. Right now, we don’t.
Right now, what’s real is that another black man, Keith Lamont Scott, was shot dead by a police officer in a city where an officer was just acquitted of charges after definitely shooting an unarmed black man, Jonathan Ferrell, who was seeking help after a car wreck.
What’s real is that in a city where this has happened before and will very likely happen again, there’s a lot of broken glass and the National Guard is on the streets.
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If you’re looking at what is happening in this state’s largest city in isolation, you’re probably confused or outraged. You’re also in need of professional help. This has been a long time coming.
There has been a lot of talk this year about how the presidential race has not only normalized prejudice, but stoked it. That may be the case, but laying it at the feet of one candidate or one moment is dangerous.
Dangerous, because when that candidate is done and this moment is all over it becomes easier to once again be lulled into not thinking or doing anything about what fuels both the prejudice and increasingly strong reactions to it.
In Charlotte and elsewhere the flashpoints are in the streets, but the fuel is the same as it ever was, endemic high rates of poverty and the lack of meaningful opportunities for a better life.
We are an increasingly divided state. Divided by race, class and geography. We see the rural regions aging and losing population, especially in the mountains, as young people move to find work in the cities. Our cities are booming, the I-85/I-40 corridor living up to its promise of growth, but prosperity has been spread unevenly.
Most places in this state that were struggling during the recent recession are either worse off or only slightly above where they were going into it. That includes areas within the belt of development and growth from Charlotte to the Triangle. “Revitalization” is too often just a code word for the forced exit of historic populations.
Here in Orange County, income inequality and uneven opportunity remains the starkest in the state. It remains so even though there has been far more effort and per capita dollars spent in trying to get at the root of poverty than almost anywhere else. It remains so despite first class schools and all the affordable housing the towns can wring out of developers. Success in Orange County is still redlined.
This is not to shame anyone, but to state the obvious.
That even here, where things are not all that bleak, where we recovered quickly and earlier from the recession, breaking the cycle of poverty anywhere and especially in communities of color has proven incredibly difficult. It’s taken a sustained effort just to make a dent.
Like everywhere else, that’s in large part because efforts here are blunted by a stubborn refusal to address poverty at the state level in any significant way.
Underpinning this refusal is not an ignorance that more than one-fifth of North Carolinians live in poverty, but an outright resentment toward them for it.
Over the past several years, the leadership in our state has normalized contempt for those living in poverty just as surely as this election season has normalized contempt for whichever other is the target of the week.
This contempt helped justify not expanding Medicaid to almost 1 million in need and cutting food assistance, jobless benefits and indigent defense programs – all common sense public efforts aimed at breaking the cycle.
Most of us are insulated from the results, but in the communities where the impact is felt the deepest it is an everyday thing, a life and death thing, with no end in sight.
There won’t be real peace until that changes.
Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist, musician and public-policy enthusiast. Contact him at email@example.com