Don’t Get Detroit-ed: Majority-Black Harrisburg Goes the way of the Motor City

Majority Black Harrisburg has been Detroit-ed; Bankruptcy looms

If Detroit represents the end of the road for America, then Harrisburg, Pennsylvania represents the last stop for the descendants of the Underground Railroad. The capital city of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg is 52 percent Black (and only 30 percent white) as of the latest US Census.

Though not as big as the failure of Jefferson County, Alabama and the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history (primarily courtesy of the financial mismanagement of 71 percent Birmingham), Harrisburg is an insolvent capital city. With virtually no tax-base (cities that are primarily comprised of Black people tend to have that problem), Harrisburg relies on parking garages and parking meters to as primary cash-generating assets, bankruptcy appears inevitable.


A financial emergency was declared by the state government in 2011 after it became apparent the city government of Harrisburg couldn’t pay its public servants:

While Harrisburg in 2009 started skipping payments on debt related to an incinerator project, it hasn’t defaulted on general-obligation bonds. Harrisburg’s fiscal crisis is driven by more than $300 million in debt from an overhaul and expansion of its waste-to-energy facility, which doesn’t generate enough revenue to cover the payments.
In December, David Unkovic was appointed as the city’s receiver, a first for the state, after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, declared a fiscal emergency to ensure vital services, which included making payroll and paying debt obligations.
“My first priority as receiver is to ensure that vital and necessary services such as police and fire are maintained within Harrisburg during the state of fiscal emergency,” Unkovic said in a statement today. “The city will not be making these payments to ensure sufficient cash flow so the citizens of Harrisburg continue to receive essential services.”
So Harrisburg is defaulting on bond payments, anticipating that wealth-producing sectors of society will bail the fine citizens (Harrisburg has just under 50,000 citizens) out and save the day in the end. With a balance sheet boasting far more liabilities than assets, is it safe to say that Harrisburg has already been Detroit-ed?
White residents of the city started fleeing in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2009 that Harrisburg had the honor of electing its first Black mayor, Linda Thompson:

In 2009, Thompson challenged and defeated Reed in the Democratic primary and went on to win the mayoral election. President Barack Obama had just been elected, and Harrisburg’s majority black population turned out to support Thompson, who is African-American.

“They were hyped about an African-American becoming president and she ran on his same platform of change,” said councilwoman Williams, who also is black.

Mayor Thompson has been interesting to watch in office, having no problem stating exactly what is on her mind. When a coalition of citizens gathered outside her window at city hall, she mocked them with a “thumbs-down” pose.

It should be noted that in 2009, with high rates of Black criminality out of control (just as in Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Philadelphia), calls were made by local leaders for “martial law” to be declared:

The Harrisburg Chapter of the NAACP is calling on Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell to suspend some civil liberties and impose martial law in the city to halt the wave of recent lawlessness.

Chapter President Stanley Lawson also called on Rendell to bring in the state National Guard for at least 30 days and to impose a curfew. In June, there have been at least 12 shootings, many of them in the daytime, including a man killed Wednesday at a busy city intersection during the lunch hour.

“The Guard is for floods and natural disasters. I don’t know any more of a natural disaster than of our young people being killed,” he said at a general membership meeting of about 25 people at Capitol Presbyterian Church, 14th and Cumberland streets.

“It’s time for some real action,” he said. “Right now the important thing is to stop this madness.”

“We’re beyond what the Harrisburg police department can do. We need help,” Lawson said.

Martial law is a system of rules that takes effect when the military takes control of the normal administration of justice, normally in times of emergency.

At about the same time Lawson was speaking, Rendell was at another community meeting in Harrisburg where he promised to have state police patrol city streets to increase the presence of law enforcement.

Lawson noted that there was historical precedent for the Guard to step in, recalling the race riots in 1968 following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tenn.

Lawson said that many reasons have been given for the wave of shootings, such as drugs, robberies and neighborhood turf wars. Fear is the bigger reason, he suggested.
“The young men, it’s fear, it’s just fear. They think: ‘I’m going to get them before they get me,'” he said. 

 Those calls went unanswered, though crime hasn’t gone silent. Levels of Black criminality are rising, at the same time critics of Mayor Thompson haven’t remained silent. Despite its relative small population size, the majority-Black residents of Harrisburg have pushed the city into the top 20 in America when it comes to violent crime:

Harrisburg is the 20th most dangerous city in the United States, according to a website that compiles crime, schools and real estate data.  

With about 15 violent crimes per 1,000 residents, Harrisburg is about five times more dangerous than Philadelphia, according to neighborhoodscout.com.

By comparison, Philadelphia was ranked 52 on the site’s list of 100 most dangerous cities. Chester was ranked second.

People have a 1:62 chance of being a victim of violent crime in Harrisburg, compared with a 1:273 chance elsewhere in the state.

 In 2010, Mayor Thompson would go on the offensive at – where else for a Black leader? – a Black church, with the Patriot News reporting:

Harrisburg Mayor Linda D. Thompson used a church pulpit Sunday evening as the keynote speaker of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Carlisle to commemorate Black History Month.


It was about halfway through her comments that she shifted gears and began attacking former Mayor Stephen R. Reed, the Harrisburg City Council and The Patriot-News.

Thompson spoke about “seizing office after 28 years under one man’s rule” with a “divine movement,” and criticized Reed for failing to have any members of the black community in his cabinet for the last 15 years of his administration. Reed did appoint almost exclusively African Americans to the school district’s Board of Control.

She also chided Reed for taking care of the “haves’ while ignoring the “have nots.”

Thompson criticized the current City Council for cutting her budget while increasing its own spending and leaving her spending plan with a $3.2 million deficit.

She said that The Patriot-News is “trying to put a shadow over my character so you don’t follow me.”

“Stop reading the mess in the paper. That paper will never define who I am,” Thompson said.

“The Patriot-News doesn’t have the capacity to define who I am. Only God does,” Thompson said, vowing to “push back.”

“I came to tell you the truth. Stop listening to the mess in the paper because it is not authentic. It’s another way of shaping your minds,” she said.

Thompson’s remarks drew a loud and enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd of around 150 people.

Thompson’s remarks were billed as an address on Black Economic Empowerment, the National Urban League’s theme for 2010. Thompson talked about the economic disparities that result in African Americans’ high unemployment and poverty rates and lower wages.

“Millions [of black Americans] are still denied the pursuit of happiness that our constitution guarantees,” she said. She pointed to Harrisburg, where blacks make up more than 55 percent of the population but own less than 10 percent of the city’s businesses and less than 5 percent of its land.

The solution lies in a three-pronged strategy that incorporates better education for African American children, better opportunities for economic self-sufficiency for their parents, and protecting civil rights, she said.

 “We share Mayor Thompson’s belief in the power of both education and economic opportunity, as well as the importance of an inclusive society,” said Patriot-News executive editor David Newhouse. “Despite her unhappiness with our reporting, we are strongly committed to being a partner with the black community, in Harrisburg and throughout the midstate, in these crucial goals.”

No one can force an individual to save money to purchase land; no one can force an individual to save money (or have a good credit rating), come up with an idea to provide a good or a service to the community and become an entrepreneur. That the Black residents of Harrisburg have so few of these individuals among their population is reminiscent of the problem plaguing every city in America where Black people are found.

That Newhouse, the executive editor of the Patriot-News would admit to being nothing more than a pawn in Black-Run America (BRA) is hilarious, because the editor of The Buffalo News was attacked by the Black community there after daring to publish a story that acknowledged high levels of Black criminality:

About 700 members of Buffalo’s African-American community tonight shared their grievances with Buffalo News Editor Margaret Sullivan over an Aug. 22 article on the criminal backgrounds of victims of the shooting at the City Grill three weeks ago.

The forum, held in True Bethel Baptist Church, 907 E. Ferry St., was one that Sullivan had requested following negative reaction to the report.

Many in the crowd expressed outrage that the police records of the shooting victims were reported at all. They called the report a gross departure from how The News traditionally treats crime victims and that it was disrespectful to the victims, their families and the African-American community.

Others who were specifically invited to speak included former Buffalo Common Council President George K. Arthur, who offered a historical perspective on the African-American community’s grievances with The News’ coverage of its community. The Rev. Matthew Brown and Murray Holman of STOP the Violence Coalition also offered their perspectives, charging the newspaper did not often respect black people’s feelings and that it showed a historic pattern of insensitivity in its coverage of the community.

Sullivan said she was pleased she was able able to listen to the views and explain the editorial decision behind the publication of the Aug. 22 story.

“I really am not here to try to do a point-counterpoint to everything that I’ve heard because I don’t think that would be possible and my main purpose in being here is to listen,” she said.

“I do want to say that the way The Buffalo News is being portrayed, at least, in terms of our intention and what we try to do every day is, essentially, unrecognizable to me. I know that the people I work with feel very deeply, that they care about this community. They care about you,” Sullivan said.

Buffalo and Harrisburg are two communities that will continue to collapse, while the Black population in each city will demand that absolute no media attention be focused on the reason for the decline.

In 2009, massive cheating was detected on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) math and reading exam, with the majority Black students of Harrisburg posting scores that didn’t correlate to their already quantified reputation on the exams. After the ouster of the superintendent who was in charge during the detected PSSA cheating scandal, test scores dropped.

Mayor Thompson beat Stephen Reed – who was dubbed Mayor for Life after working to turn the city around in the 80s – for the Democrat nomination in 2009. As the city dies under the watchful eye of a woman elected precisely because she campaigned on a platform that highlighted her melanin (a nod to the democratic process, since 52 percent of the city is Black), one wonders what Mr. Reed thinks. Racial loyalties from Black people trounced his progressive ideology of inclusion, tolerance, and hope.

Black people have made the city of Harrisburg unsafe, thus the need to abandon living there for the safety of the suburbs. Mayor Thompson can say that education is the way of salvation for the Black residents of Harrisburg, but a look at the facts supplied by an educational entity that gave the city a huge grant in 2002 provides a grim dose of reality for a city on the verge of bankruptcy:

Nearly 80 percent of the children in the Harrisburg, PA, school district experience some form of economic disadvantage. In 2002, poor academic achievement, low school attendance, and a high dropout rate presented significant barriers to youth development in this community of 50,000. Since funding began in 2002, the Harrisburg School District SS/HS initiative has improved the quality of services, reduced the duplication of services, and increased community participation in the support and delivery of services. Improvement has occurred every year in academic achievement, school attendance, graduation rate, and number of dropouts. Together with community partners, the Harrisburg SS/HS collaboration implemented programs and identified resources to reduce the barriers to healthy student development. These resources include evidence-based curricula in preK–8, teacher training, a mentoring program, a developmental preschool, school-based mental health services, after-school programs, school resource officers, and probation officers.

Harrisburg has been Detroit-ed. The economic disadvantage people have in the capital of Pennsylvania is that the 55 percent of the city is Black, meaning that Visible Black Hand of Economics is at work. In 2009, 30 percent of Black people in Dauphin County (home to Harrisburg) were on EBT/Food stamps. Only five percent of whites were.

As long as Black-rule is present, it’s over for Harrisburg. Just as it’s over for Detroit.

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