CHAPEL HILL, NC - Discrimination comes in many forms, but recent years have seen substantial discussion over public service provisions for, and environmental discrimination against, historically low-income, minority communities.
Residents of Orange County, NC, are familiar with continued debates over landfill, water, and sewer service in a predominantly black, low-income neighborhood. But what they may not know is that similar civil rights claims are currently being echoed across the state and country.
During the past couple of years, UNC’s Center for Civil Rights has assisted the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association in opposing the extension of the county’s only landfill (located in a predominantly African American neighborhood), while contesting alleged racial discrimination in the denial of basic public services such as sewer and water.
The pattern continues elsewhere in NC. Last month, the Center for Civil Rights filed a complaint against Brunswick County, alleging intentional discrimination against the Royal Park neighborhood, an historically African-American community which contains the county’s only landfill, sewage treatment plant, waste transfer system, and various other “locally unwanted land uses.”
The complaint further stated that members of the community lack basic water and sewer services available to other communities throughout the county, and that this, in tandem with a disproportionate exposure to hazardous material, constitutes intentional discrimination.
Blacks aren’t the only ones who feel their civil rights have been violated by such practices; several California groups this month filed a federal suit against the EPA, claiming similar discrimination in predominantly Latino, low-income areas. This suit comes 16 years after the same community filed a complaint against the EPA, and never heard back.
A panel at a November 2010 conference convened by CCR discussed community inclusion and environmental justice in length. Panel moderator Peter Gilbert, Community Development Fellow with CCR, defined municipal exclusion as follows:
“Municipal exclusion is a particular manifestation of residential segregation, where black and Latin neighborhoods primarily are systematically underdeveloped and are denied equal access to basic public services. … These communities face challenges that are familiar to most neighborhoods of color – low property values, limited economic development, a lack of jobs, environmental racism. But these challenges are aggravated and multiplied by these communities’ lack of a political voice in the adjacent municipality.”
The particular circumstances may differ from those of the 1870s, or the 1930s, or the 1960s, but the essence remains the same: minority communities (whether those based on race, ethnicity, or income) are still struggling for equal treatment, equal protection, and a voice in the decision-making process.