Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Long Arm of Jim Crow

Every once in a while the New York Times editorial page will highlight some dirty stuff that would never see the light of day otherwise. This is one of those times:

Americans tend to think that the worst forms of institutional racism simply went away after Congress passed the landmark civil rights laws of the 1960's. But black police officers in Georgia who were denied membership in a supplementary retirement fund decades ago for reasons of race know better.

Because of Jim Crow policies that barred them from the fund as shamefully late as the mid-1970's, many of these officers are facing troubled and underfunded retirements, with benefits substantially lower than those of their white colleagues.
The Georgia Legislature inexplicably failed to help these officers when a bill came before it two years ago, but it has received a new bill and a fresh opportunity to show its commitment to simple justice. Under the current bill, being shepherded by State Representative Tyrone Brooks, the state would assume half of what it would cost hundreds of working black officers to buy retirement coverage for the years they were barred from the fund.

If the measure is passed, which seems likely, it will take care of only those police officers who are still on the job. Retired officers are left out in the cold by a provision of the State Constitution that prevents the Legislature from helping them. To help this group, the voters would have to ratify an amendment to the State Constitution, which would first have to clear a State Legislature that has not been exemplary when it comes to issues of racial fairness.

But Georgia should do whatever it takes to give justice to all of the people affected by this shameful episode. Beyond that, other Southern states with Jim Crow legacies should begin to prepare themselves to encounter similar issues. If this happened in Georgia, it almost certainly happened elsewhere.


Bravo to the Times for bringing this example of ongoing racism to the fore.

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