Poll: Detroit has made racial strides since 1967 riots

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

While both white and black Metro Detroiters agree the region has made progress since Detroit’s 1967 riots, black residents still feel they face disparities in jobs, housing and treatment by police, according to a poll released Thursday.

The Detroit Journalism Cooperative released its findings showing a deep divide in how blacks and whites in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties view their opportunities for success.

The poll, conducted between July 14-19 by Lansing polling firm EPIC-MRA, found nearly 57 percent of residents living in predominately black neighborhoods believe their race made it harder to succeed, compared to 20 percent of those living in predominately white areas.

Still, the disparities didn’t stop white and black residents from being optimistic.

The survey revealed that 61 percent of residents in black communities felt the region had progressed in terms of race in the past 50 years and 76 percent of those in white communities felt the same.

The findings come in advance of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit race riots when violence erupted in response to police brutality and discrimination in housing, schools and jobs.

In the survey, 76 percent of residents polled in predominately black neighborhoods were black and 76 percent of those polled in white neighborhoods were white. The margin of sampling error for all 600 respondents in the poll is between plus or minus 4 and 6.9 percentage points.

Scott McCartney, regional editor of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, said the organization is studying how Detroit has fared with race since the riots. He said it’s also timely because of Detroit’s resurgence that is bringing more whites into the city.

The cooperative is a partnership of nonprofit and community media organizations that reports on community life and the city’s future after bankruptcy.

“We wanted to see the attitudes of the people not just in Detroit but around the Detroit area in the suburbs,” McCartney said. “It’s such a big issue nationally, and, of course, anybody that has spent any time in the Detroit area knows that there is a great divide in the city.”

The study unveiled gaps in how both races felt about the treatment of blacks in jobs, housing and getting mortgages. For example, 70 percent of residents in black areas believe African-Americans are treated unfairly when it comes to applying for a mortgage or loan, while only 36 percent of those in white neighborhoods agreed.

Jay B. Marks, student engagement consultant for social justice and diversity in Oakland Schools, said most people are unconscious of issues that don’t affect them.

“We need more knowledge and more skills to equitably serve people who are different from us,” Marks said. “Then when one of our members of our community is marginalized, oppressed or mistreated, we will all stand up and say ‘that’s wrong.’ ”

Marks said there needs also to be more accountability and training for police to overcome racism.

Nearly 1 in 3 black Metro Detroit residents surveyed said they had been unfairly targeted by police because of their race in the last year.

Police treatment of black people has been under the microscope in recent years. In July alone, two black men were fatally shot by police in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, sparking protests across the country.

Agustin Arbulu, executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said the region’s progress on race and police-community relations has helped Detroit avoid repeats of the 1967 riots and police shootings.

“We’ve been more aggressive ... from a police community perspective we are making some progress,” Arbulu said.

Arbulu said he also sees progress with more black residents in the region taking on political leadership positions.

However, the opportunity gap is still an issue. Many blacks in Detroit are unemployed because they don’t have transportation to jobs outside the city, he said.

“We have to find ways to connect the companies looking for employees with people who are seeking jobs,” he said.

Detroit Councilwoman Mary Sheffield had a more tempered response on race relations in Metro Detroit, saying “while the region has undoubtedly made strides, we still have a long way to go before we are truly a post-racial society.”

“Right here in the city of Detroit, we have had our democracy trampled on through emergency management and most of our children are receiving a sub-standard education with over 60 percent living below poverty,” Sheffield said. “From a socio-economic standpoint, Metro Detroit remains one of the most segregated regions in the country.”


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Twitter: @NicquelTerry