ST. PETERSBURG — For the past few months, researchers with the University of South Florida have been working with the City of St. Petersburg to examine possible areas of structural racism in the community, and on Thursday they will present some of their preliminary findings to city council.
“We’re going to be sharing that we do see trends. I mean historically, St. Petersburg is not unique to racism, history relative to policies and practices of segregation and inadequate housing. So, these issues were going around from the early 1900s, 1940s, 1960s, so they were built into your policies and practices,” said Dr. Ruthmae Sears, Project Leader and Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of South Florida.
The team used data to examine the historical and modern-day impact of systemic racism on the lives of Black people in St. Pete.
“Although we had the Civil Rights Movement, we had affirmative action, many of the conditions were preexisting. So when you start to look at your data trends, what you’re seeing in 2020 was flagged in 1960, which was flagged in 1920, so it’s not a new phenomenon but there’s a consistent pattern and this is where we talk about how do we move forward,” said Sears.
During their research, they found several things like:
- Black people had higher incarceration rates than white people
- Black people are more likely to be treated unfairly in the criminal legal system when compared to their white counterparts
- Black neighborhoods typically had poorly developed housing and infrastructure with limited access to affordable housing
- Policies reinforced redlining and segregation
- Compared to their white counterparts, Black people are more likely to live in poverty in St. Pete
- Mistrust by Black citizens in the healthcare system, on average Black men and women die earlier than their white counterparts
Project leaders say the median earned income for Black people in the city is consistently lower than white people.
That matters because median income is used to determine whether housing is affordable.
“With structural racism, we take this understanding where it’s the totality of ways which a society fosters racial discrimination. Whether through housing, education, employment, healthcare, and criminal justice,” said Sears.
The University of Wisconsin ranked Pinellas County as one of the most segregated counties in the state, condensing half of the Black population into four zip codes in South St. Pete.
“We’re realizing that many of the stuff we found, there are many great studies out there, we’re realizing the themes are the same,” said Sears.
Researchers suggest the city take action to provide opportunities for the Black community by reviewing policies and practices that dismantle structural racism. They also suggest the allocation of funding to support education opportunities, economic development, and healthcare advancement.
Researchers plan to provide detailed recommendations on how to make changes once the report is complete in a few months around August or September.