When Corruption and Race Collide

A while ago, I argued that racism and corruption are inseparable–when you find one, the other will follow:

In my experience, bigoted and racist local governments are usually the most corrupt: you can’t decide that laws will be applied unequally and not have that spill over into other areas of governance. An honest government would not use traffic infractions to acquire one-quarter of its fundingwhich hits the poor the hardest. At the same time, corrupt people will use racism and bigotry to their advantage. I’m certain that even a precursory examination of the good burg of Ferguson will find tons of sleaze, if not outright illegality.

Well, we’ve seen two more examples of this. First, Parma, Missouri, where most white officials resigned after a black mayor was elected (boldface mine):

When Byrd showed up for work at City Hall, she was unable to locate financial statements, the book of ordinances, budget, meeting minutes or any other city documents.

“There’s nothing,” Byrd said.

As it turns out, Kim Hampton, who has been city treasurer for 24 years and runs the Mahan Gin, keeps many Parma financial documents in a 14-by-14-foot fireproof safe at the cotton gin.

“I do all of my job here,” said Hampton, who did not resign.

Asked how the city could fulfill public records requests when the documents weren’t at City Hall, Hampton said, “They (the residents) all know where I’m at.”

Byrd said she eventually obtained some account statements. A few of those statements showed that city employees routinely used city credit to purchase personal items, and then paid the city back by having money withheld from their paychecks over a period of months.

Ramsey said he allowed the practice because the city did not offer employees benefits, and the wages were low.

“In my mind, I considered it a benefit of the job, like having a credit union,” Ramsey said.

Parma isn’t a well-to-do place, so perhaps other good citizens would have loved to avail themselves of interest-free payday loans as well. Kinloch, MO, where a recently-elected black mayor is going to court to be allowed to assume her office (no, really), is even worse (boldface mine):

“We citizens of Kinloch have to live in horrible conditions. There is one apartment complex that hasn’t had trash pickup in a year and a half,” she told HuffPost.

She said the people of the town came out in “full force” on voting day because they were tired of “living in a dump.” There has not been an operating public works department for two years, according to McCray.

McCray has hired a lawyer and plans to file an injunction against the city.

Wherever the truth lies in the current battle, local government in Kinloch have repeatedly stumbled in recent years. In 2011, a former mayor was sentenced to 21 months in prison for spending tens of thousands of dollars in city money on his own expenses.

This year, the municipal judge was disciplined for a “pattern of misconduct” in his private legal practice — he was using client funds to pay his own bills. And a former interim mayor was recently cited for resisting arrest — but she contends she was assaulted by Kinloch police officers.

Kinloch government has not always run smoothly in other ways as well. Prior to the April election, HuffPost tried to attend the town’s traffic court, only to be denied access — even though last summer a presiding county judge had ordered local municipal courts to stop limiting the public’s access.

Some of this is directly about race (and probably gender as well). Consider this statement from Parma, MO:

“I don’t want Al Sharpton showing up here. I’ll tell you that,” said Martha Miller, the owner of Miller’s Store who campaigned for Byrd.

Miller said Byrd’s victory and the subsequent resignations had nothing to do with her race, but others disagreed.

Race wasn’t involved at all, which is why Miller mentioned Al Sharpton.

But the main issue is corruption, whether it simply is a desire to remain in power as in Parma (mostly), or financial corruption as in Kinloch. Where race enters the picture is that, unless you’re a complete moron, you don’t screw over your power base–which, until the last election, in these towns, was white*. So you devise a system that hurts lower-income people. The lower you are down the economic ladder, the more you need an effective government. Comfortable people can tolerate a certain amount of corruption within government. That lower income people disproportionately happen to not be white makes the system work.

Throw in some prejudice that allows white people to rationalize away the cognitive dissonance, and you wind up with Ferguson, Parma, or Kinloch.

Show me a town where you have longstanding patterns of racial bias, and I’ll show you a corrupt town.

You can’t contain the contagion.

*Unless you’re the national Democratic Party. Then it’s a point of pride to shit all over your base.

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1 Response to When Corruption and Race Collide

  1. Felicis says:

    I am not so sure the power base in Kinloch was white – there are only 300 people and maybe 10 of them are white – the last couple of Mayors were black – not sure about the Aldermen or the judge though… This seems to be a case where corruption is not hand-in-hand with racism because there’s not really but one race in town (95% black in the 2010 census).

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