This Black Child Never Had A Chance, And Here’s Another Reason Why (VIDEO)

Every time police kill or injure yet another black man, liberals blame racism and police brutality while conservatives wring their hands and cry crocodile tears over black unwed mothers, deadbeat dads, violent black thugs, and so-called welfare dependency.

But the real cause of violent crime in black neighborhoods may have a lot to do with another toxic legacy of racism in America: Lead poisoning. The Chicago Tribune reports that in 1995, over 80 percent of children in Chicago’s high-crime neighborhoods were found to have terrifyingly high levels of lead in their blood.

Last month, a Tribune investigation found that lead hazards are festering in the same parts of Chicago that have given the city a national reputation for violence and academic failure. In impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods like Austin, Englewood and Lawndale, more than 80 percent of the children tested in 1995 had dangerous lead levels.

Now these kids are in their 20’s, their peak crime years, and are still living in these neighborhoods. Furthermore, lead pollution concentrates in the low-income, former industrial neighborhoods where many of our nation’s black people currently live. So why don’t they move? Decades of redlining and housing discrimination, plus lack of economic and social mobility in recent years have left people stuck.

Research shows lead poisoning and violent crime are linked.

Children exposed to toxic amounts of lead in their environment have shorter attention spans, less impulse control, and tend to act out more. Now, it’s becoming apparent that these difficulties continue through their teens and into adulthood.

When we began phasing out lead in gasoline for car engines in the late 1970’sbanned lead paint back in 1978, and launched lead abatement programs to remove or seal lead paint in people’s dwellings, childhood lead exposure dropped drastically. As these kids reached their teens and 20’s in the 1990’s, crime rates abruptly dropped in cities across the U.S. At the time, we all gave credit to New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and their harsh “broken windows theory” policing.

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Declining violent crime rates of the last two decades has been linked to a removal of lead from the environment via gas and paint regulations. (Photo : Rick Nevin, FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics via Chemical and Engineering News)

Graph:  Rick Nevin, FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics via Chemical and Engineering News.

Now, researchers and criminologists are taking a long hard look at the correlation between lead poisoning and violent crime. Nature World cites additional research from the FBI that supports the link between lead exposure and crime.

According to FBI records, violent crime has been in decline since the early 1990s. A new theory explaining the drop has been gaining traction, and its focus isn’t on politicians or the criminal justice system. An article in Chemical & Engineering News details the mounting data that suggests taking lead out of gas and paint has played a critical role.

Unfortunately, lead doesn’t just come from peeling paint chips. In these old, former industrial urban neighborhoods, lead pollution also lingers in the air and in the dust. Unfortunately, we’re cutting back on programs that would help families protect children from lead exposure.

[A] growing body of research is making it clear that the toxic legacy of lead has far more wide-ranging effects than previously known. Lingering dust from paint and deposits from old vehicle emissions continue to harm thousands of children in older industrial cities like Cincinnati and Chicago.

We’ve long known that lead is poisonous and that when children are exposed, they suffer from permanent brain damage that holds them back in school and life. But we’re now learning that lead exposure and its long-term effects are far worse than we imagined. Harvard University researcher Robert J. Sampson explains:

“People in neighborhoods like Englewood have faced multiple assaults over different periods of time — job losses, segregation, housing discrimination. Yet through all of that there is this persistent lead poisoning. It creates a social context where kids are at a clear disadvantage.”

Furthermore, the rates of lead poisoning in children under six from these low-income neighborhoods in Chicago back in 1995 correspond almost exactly to the rates of violent crime in these same neighborhoods in 2012, when these children were ages 17-22. Sampson adds:

“It’s not something I appreciated before. But when I see the astounding levels of lead poisoning in these communities, it makes complete sense that it is part of the cycle of deprivation.”

Compounding the problem is the fact that nearly all public housing projects and section eight housing from the 1960’s were coated with lead paint. At the time, lead paint was seen as cheaper and more durable. Many of these dwellings are currently owned by slumlords who never bothered to do any lead abatement.

Freddie Gray was exposed to lead paint as a child. Photo of him next to peeling wall.

Family photo with Freddie Gray, who was exposed to lead paint as a child: Gray family court filings/Washington Post.

This child suffered from lead poisoning: His name was Freddie Gray.

And of course, black children (and other kids from poor, inner city neighborhoods) aren’t just getting poisoned by lead in Chicago. Hundreds of children in St. Louis and nearby communities like Ferguson are still testing positive for lead exposure. Baltimore also suffers from a toxic legacy of lead paint, and its children are three times more likely to suffer from lead poisoning than the national average. Five Thirty Eight reports:

State tests found more than 65,000 children in the city with dangerously high blood-lead levels from 1993 to 2013. Across the United States, more than half a million kids are poisoned by lead each year, and the majority come from cities like Baltimore: rust belt towns built up during the first half of the 20th century when leaded paint was dominant.

Among these children poisoned by lead paint was the little boy shown above: His name is Freddie Gray.

The Washington Post reports Gray and his family had living off of a settlement from a lead paint case when he got arrested and murdered by police. Yet all that money couldn’t make Gray whole again.

Before Freddie Gray was injured in police custody last month, before he died and this city was plunged into rioting, his life was defined by failures in the classroom, run-ins with the law and an inability to focus on anything for very long.

Many of those problems began when he was a child and living in this house, according to a 2008 lead-poisoning lawsuit filed by Gray and his siblings against the property owner. The suit resulted in an undisclosed settlement.

Of course, Gray had many other strikes against him. However, the lead poisoning set him and his siblings — and thousands of others who’ve grown up in places like Sand Town — up to fail.

Watch the Young Turks’ Ana Kasparian and Cenk Uygur report on the relationship between childhood lead poisoning and violent crime.


Featured image: Family photo with Freddie Gray, who was exposed to lead paint as a child: Gray family court filings/Washington Post.