Many Iowans think of our state as a great place to settle down, thanks to relatively low unemployment, crime rates, living costs, and other quality of life factors (such as short commute times). After considering 44 criteria, the StateMaster website ranked Iowa the sixth best state to live. The latest Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Iowa third in terms of children's well-being.
So Danielle C. Belton's article for The Root last week should be a wake-up call. For the roughly 102,000 Iowans who are African-American, this state doesn't stack up nearly as well against the competition. In fact, Belton considers Iowa the fourth-worst state for black people.
If you're black and into marijuana, avoid Iowa. The state arrests blacks at a rate eight times higher than whites for marijuana possession, despite the rate of drug usage between blacks and whites being about the same. For years, Iowa also held the title for locking up black people at a higher rate than any other state (it recently lost that crown to Wisconsin). While other states have large prison populations, what makes Iowa stand out is that it's a relatively small state with a small population. In fact, its black population is only about 3 percent. Adding insult to injury, the poverty rate among African Americans in Iowa is 31 percent, compared with 11 percent for white Iowans.
The massive racial disparity in Iowa's arrest and imprisonment rates has been one of the country's worst for a long time. Way back in 2005, Bruce Dixon of the Black Commentator highlighted Iowa as one of the "ten worst places to be black" for this very reason. If Governor Terry Branstad wants to spend the next four years cementing his legacy as a leader who cares about all Iowans, he should try to do something about this persistent problem. I don't know how to change the culture in local law enforcement or county attorney offices, but there's no excuse for such a large disparity in whether people will be arrested or charged for the same unlawful behavior. Surely the governor's staff could research, and Branstad could propose, policies Iowa can adapt from other states that have addressed this problem.