How the Trayvon Martin Verdict Relates to Housing Segregation

An opinion piece published in the San Francisco Chronicle this July connected the Trayvon Martin verdict to housing segregation. Jeannine Bell, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and author of “Hate Thy Neighbor: Racial Violence and the Persistence of Segregation in American Housing” (New York University Press, 2013), argues that racial segregation in American housing is to blame for the country’s continued racial polarization and resulting debilitating discrimination.

The BRHC has recently published other articles about the detrimental effects of segregation on Marylandand Baltimoreresidents. Most recent was an article about the negative effects of school segregation. The piece was based on a study released in April that ranked Maryland the state with the 6th highest level of school segregation. The article highlighted disparities related to school segregation like “higher dropout rates, fewer experienced teachers, and far less resources [for schools with a majority of students in poverty]… [as opposed to] schools with majority middle- and upper-class students.”[1] The second article was written in reaction to a study that found life expectancy inBaltimore can vary as much as 30 years depending on census tract. The areas with the lowest life expectancy were typically areas with a high population of minority and/or low-income residents.

Bell, with her article, has added a new perspective to this discussion by asserting that segregation is also a catalyst for higher levels of violent crime. She argues that separating people by race or ethnicity creates an “othering” effect where persons of different races are unable to see the commonalities between them due to long-term racial separation. As this effect deepens people develop irrational fears because they have little personal interaction with people outside their race and, tragically, these fears often play out as violent crimes. She uses George Zimmerman as an example of someone experiencing irrational fear about someone of another race (importantly – an African American boy) and reacting with violence. In the end a more diverse neighborhood is actually a safer neighborhood.

A study conducted by Ali Vandervald, a postdoctoral fellow at theUniversity ofChicago, supportsBell’s argument. Vandervald found a strong correlation between high levels of violent crimes and high level of racial segregation.Baltimore is one of the examples that Vandevald uses to demonstrate this correlation.

Bellconcludes that the more interaction between people of diverse backgrounds the more harmony and understanding that can be fostered. The above are all strong arguments for the desegregation ofBaltimorecity and the surrounding region. Though the nation has been saddened by the Trayvon Martin story, his loss has offered Americans an opportunity to open up the much-avoided conversation about inequality in our country.


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