Published on Tuesday, November 8, 2005 by the New York Daily News
Racial Divide Evident in Military
by Juan Gonzalez
Last year, as U.S. casualties mounted in Iraq, only three residents in two neighborhoods of Manhattan's upper East Side - the city's richest area - joined the Army, Air Force or Navy.
Just a few blocks farther north, in a swath of East Harlem, 45 people enlisted.
At the same time, an astounding 113 joined in the Morrisania and Highbridge sections of the South Bronx.
Meanwhile, in two zip codes of Brooklyn's poverty-stricken East New York, 116 men and women joined the military.
And in the immigrant neighborhoods of Elmhurst and Corona in Queens, 73 signed up.
That's all according to the Pentagon's own personnel records, which were obtained under a Freedom of Information request and released for the first time last week by the nonprofit National Priorities Project.
The records track military recruitment by state, county, zip code and racial and ethnic group - even by high school. The Marines weren't included because they did not provide sufficient data to track recruits' place of residence.
The national figures show what you might expect: Youth from low-income areas are far more likely to end up in the military.
This is the most convincing proof yet that as the war drags on - and without a compulsory draft - our battle-weary military has become a ghastly dividing line between rich and poor and black, Latino and white.
"The heaviest burden of war is being carried by less fortunate Americans," Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem), a Korean War veteran, said yesterday.
At a news conference, Rangel and other local Democratic leaders blasted a "racially insulting" campaign by the Pentagon to deliberately target poor and minority youth to counter falling enlistment numbers.
Take the posh and largely white upper West Side, for example. In that neighborhood's two main zip codes - 10023 and 10024 - a grand total of 12 people enlisted in the Army, Navy or Air Force in 2004.
At first glance, that appears to be a slight improvement over the upper East Side's abysmal numbers, though still far below other neighborhoods of the city.
But only three of those West Side recruits were white, according to a Daily News analysis of data; the other nine were Hispanic, African-American or Asian.
So even on the upper West Side, where the number of military-age young people is considerable, one-quarter of the Pentagon's recruits last year were white!
This racial imbalance doesn't only exist in wealthy areas. In working-class Canarsie, Brooklyn (zip code 11236), 56 men and women enlisted in the three branches in 2004. Of those, 96% were black or Hispanic, while the rest were Asian. Not a single white resident of Canarsie joined the three services last year, according to the Pentagon's records.
In the largely white neighborhoods of Howard Beach and Little Neck in Queens, a total of seven enlisted last year, while in the mostly black areas of St. Albans and South Ozone Park, a total of 51 joined up.
Economics is not enough to explain those huge disparities, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-South Bronx) and state Sen. David Paterson (D-Harlem) both said yesterday.
They joined Rangel in charging that military recruiters have turned uncommonly aggressive at targeting black and Hispanic high school youth.
"They're coming into the high schools of the South Bronx nearly every week," Serrano said, and "they're demanding contact information for students."
One evening last week, Paterson said, a military recruiter called his home and told his wife he wanted to talk to their daughter, a high school senior, about enlisting. Paterson's wife told him the family wasn't interested, but the recruiter persisted and even asked to speak to the girl directly.
The next day, Paterson said, the recruiter called again and left a phone message for his daughter.
If only our government worked as hard getting blacks and Hispanics into college as it does sending them to Iraq, Serrano said.
Back on the upper East and West Sides, where our city's rich and powerful live, Iraq is still something they watch on television.
Juan Gonzalez is a Daily News columnist. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2005 New York Daily News