Black cau­cus wants black priv­i­lege

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By David A. Plymyer David A. Plymyer re­tired as Anne Arun­del County at­tor­ney in 2014 and also served for five years as an as­sis­tant state’s at­tor­ney for Anne Arun­del County. His email is dplymyer@com­; Twit­ter: @dplymyer.

The Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus of Mary­land should aban­don its plans to use “any means nec­es­sary” to halt the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion from is­su­ing fi­nal li­censes to grow and process med­i­cal mar­i­juana in the state un­til more li­censes are awarded to mi­nor­ity-owned busi­nesses. The ef­forts by the black leg­is­la­tors to change the rules of the se­lec­tion process af­ter it has been com­pleted are un­jus­ti­fied and racially di­vi­sive.

No African-Amer­i­can ap­pli­cant was cho­sen as a fi­nal­ist to re­ceive a li­cense out of 15 growers and 15 pro­ces­sors. The cau­cus calls that out­come un­ac­cept­able, threat­en­ing to file an in­junc­tion and to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing the com­mis­sion to scrap a process that took al­most a year to com­plete.

Why is the out­come un­ac­cept­able? The com­mis­sion se­lected the fi­nal­ists on merit by scor­ing the ap­pli­ca­tions on a series of cri­te­ria with­out know­ing the iden­tity or race of the ap­pli­cants. It re­lied on a dou­ble-blind rank­ing sys­tem that it out­sourced to the Re­gional Eco­nomic Stud­ies In­sti­tute, known as RESI, at Tow­son Univer­sity.

Al­though the law es­tab­lish­ing the com­mis­sion re­quired it to con­sider ge­o­graphic di­ver­sity in award­ing the li­censes, the Mary­land At­tor­ney Gen­eral ad­vised the com­mis­sion it could not con­sider the race of the ap­pli­cants. De­lib­er­ately se­lect­ing black ap­pli­cants over ap­pli­cants of other races with higher scores would vi­o­late the con­sti­tu­tional rights of the other ap­pli­cants.

There is a ba­sic com­pact be­tween white and black peo­ple upon which racial har­mony de­pends. Here is my idea of what it is, or at least should be: White peo­ple owe black peo­ple the same thing that they owe ev­ery­one else: Equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity and free­dom from dis­crim­i­na­tion — a help­ing hand, a leg up, and a level play­ing field. In re­turn, black peo­ple ac­cept that they will suc­ceed or fail on their own merit — like ev­ery­one else.

Bump­ing some­one to the head of the line on the ba­sis of race is not part of the bar­gain. There are cir­cum­stances when it may be legally jus­ti­fied, but this is not one of them. There has to be equal re­spect for the con­sti­tu­tional rights of peo­ple of all races for the deal to hold.

In terms of op­por­tu­nity, let me make clear that I do not mean su­per­fi­cial equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity. For ex­am­ple, by al­most all mea­sures Mary­land is the most af­flu­ent state and Bal­ti­more is one of the poor­est cities in the coun­try; there is no greater eco­nomic dis­par­ity be­tween a state and its largest city in the en­tire na­tion. Nearly a quar­ter of the peo­ple in Mary­land liv­ing be­low the poverty line live in Bal­ti­more, the pop­u­la­tion of which is 64 per­cent black. Of the 100 largest city or county ju­ris­dic­tions in the coun­try, Bal­ti­more ranks dead last in the abil­ity of a poor child to rise from poverty later in life. That is not equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity. There is no lack of re­sources in the state to pro­vide the health, ed­u­ca­tional and so­cial ser­vices nec­es­sary to im­prove that stand­ing; there is only a lack of will. That has to change.

There­fore I might feel dif­fer­ently about the ef­forts of the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus to de­rail the li­cens­ing process if the ef­forts were likely to cre­ate job op­por­tu­ni­ties for the un­ac­cept­ably high num­ber of poor black men and women who can­not find de­cent pay­ing jobs, es­pe­cially in Bal­ti­more. But that is not what this is about. The un­suc­cess­ful black ap­pli­cants are not poor or dis­ad­van­taged.

Set­ting aside li­censes for black ap­pli­cants would ben­e­fit per­sons to whom mem­bers of the cau­cus turn when it comes time to fi­nance their cam­paigns, not peo­ple who need help to rise from poverty. When you come right down to it, fa­vor­ing a black ap­pli­cant with a li­cense on the ba­sis of the ap­pli­cant’s race would do noth­ing more than sub­sti­tute black priv­i­lege for white priv­i­lege.

There is a strong un­der­cur­rent of white re­sent­ment in Mary­land and in the coun­try that is be­ing ex­ploited by the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Don­ald Trump. Some white re­sent­ment is based on prej­u­dice, but some is just re­sent­ment. Bump­ing some­one to the head of the line on the ba­sis of race is some­thing that ei­ther white or black peo­ple le­git­i­mately re­sent — de­pend­ing on who is be­ing bumped.

If the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus suc­ceeds in its ef­forts, it will be seen for ex­actly what is: A tri­umph of racial pol­i­tics over fair­ness. And it will be an­other piece of am­mu­ni­tion handed over to those who seek to ex­ploit white re­sent­ment for their own po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage.

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