Asked by the BBC today why there was unrest in Charlotte after the police shooting of Keith L. Scott last Tuesday, Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger said…
“The grieving in their mind is the animus, the anger. They hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.”
The shooting and the actual rioting is occurring in Democratic Rep. Alma Adams district. Just as Pittenger’s district is designed to avoid urban areas and stick to the suburbs, Adams seems designed to stretch from one urban area to another. Adams called today for the Justice Department to open a broad investigation of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department to determine if there were systemic causes contributing to the shooting.
According to the US Census Bureau, Pittenger’s constituents are more than 77% White, while Adam’s are 49% African American and 37.5% White. And household income in Pittenger’s district is almost twice what it is in Adam’s. Pittenger might argue these statistics underscore his point, but he’s not really speaking to black people and faces no political repercussions if the majority of black voters loathe him. He’s speaking about black people the next district over, who can only vote their disapproval by re-electing a safe Democrat to her seat.
Using any reasonable “hands-off” automated effort, which requires geometrical “compactness” in districts, would make it impossible to carve up communities like Charlotte. The Congressional representative in this purple district would have to deal with a complex set of different points of view about a police shooting. He or she would not arrive in Washington with a hyper-partisan point of view, but would arrive having to have led in the development of a consensus point of view back home. As it happened, Pettinger crushed his Democratic opponent last November despite his statement (by 58.2%) and Adams beat her Republican opponent with 67% of the vote.
The point here is not to claim that gerrymandering is contributing to racial strife or police shootings. But it does seem self-evident that it contributes to an us-or-them level of partisanship that makes a balanced political debate about the problem even more difficult than it already is. There is no need on this or other issues to hand the megaphone over to the extreme views in American politics. When more Congressional representatives play to the broad middle of American opinion, what they say in response to crises will be more reasoned, and American representative government will be better for it.