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A Conversation On Inequality And Racial Disparities In Charlotte

An image of the skyline of Charlotte, N.C.
Chuck Burton
Associated Press

In the past week, residents in Charlotte have protested throughout the city in response to the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by law enforcement. The week's events created a lingering sense of civil unrest in communities.

While Charlotte carries a reputation as an economic powerhouse in the South, income inequality and racial disparity exist underneath the surface. A recentstudyfrom the N.C. Poverty Research Fund reported that roughly three times as many African-American and Hispanic residents live in poverty in Charlotte compared to the city's white residents.

Similarly, areportlast year by Harvard University economists ranked Charlotte as 99th out of the 100 largest cities for escaping poverty.

Host Frank Stasio talked with three guests about the socioeconomic status of Charlotte and police departments in areas with large economic inequality.


Gene Nichol, law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


“We traditionally think of poverty in North Carolina on a rural-urban axis….when you look at it on a Census tract basis or on a neighborhood basis instead of countywide of citywide... the deepest poverty in North Carolina is right in the middle of Charlotte, right in the middle of Raleigh, right in the middle of Winston-Salem. Charlotte is an economic powerhouse, a gem, but it has high rates of poverty. Among the fastest increasing rates of poverty among the major cities in the United States.”

“Most a growing, concentrated, racialized poverty, which marks life in Charlotte. Lots and lots of poor people living together in sort of close circumstance, which poses a real challenge for economic mobility.

Gummi Oddsson, associate professor of sociology at Northern Michigan University


“We found that cities that have two things, high degrees of poverty and racial, economic inequality at the same time, are most likely to increase their police forces, even after factoring in things such as the prevalence of crime, population density, innovating police… so this suggests that elites, or people that have economic and political power, use formal social control, through the police, to help subdue a population that is seen to be rebellious.

We find that cities with great economic inequality between racial groups will not strengthen their police force if poverty is minimal because less prosperous groups pose less of a threat to more prosperous group, if few live in poverty.”

Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, co-chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force

“This isn't really about systems. This is about an incident. It’s not going to be a quick fix ...When you really look at the United States and when you look at Charlotte, we have to look at the fact that we are an America that has institutionalized racism and it’s so insidious that even whether you’re black, white, Indian, it is hard to see it because it’s become the fiber of America because we’re really talking about 400 years of inequality.”


Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.