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Originally published Sunday, January 19, 2014 at 4:05 PM

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Editorial: Honor Martin Luther King by ending county’s disparities

Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy by closing the opportunity gaps in King County for people of color.

Seattle Times Editorial

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KING County has never been more racially diverse, but equal access to opportunity for all its residents remains a work in progress.

An affluent region with so many progressive leaders, philanthropists, nonprofits, developers, health providers, planners and generous citizens can do more to close those gaps.

Recognize that place, race and opportunity are still intertwined, nearly 28 years after officials renamed the county in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of pursuing “human rights, civil liberties and economic guarantees” for all. It was a strong affirmation of community values: The motion also denounced the county's original namesake, a slave owner named William Rufus DeVane King who “earned income and maintained his lifestyle by oppressing and exploiting other human beings.”

Since 1990, the number of people of color living here has more than doubled to 35 percent, according to the 2013 King County Equity and Social Justice Annual Report. Half of the children in schools today are ethnic minorities. These populations are often concentrated in parts of King County — particularly the south end — with less access to quality education, parks, transit and healthful food.

The result is a series of persistent disparities that county officials conclude are worsening throughout the Seattle metropolitan area:

• As of 2010, only 17 percent of Latinos and 20 percent of African Americans finished college, less than half the rate of their white and Asian-American peers. Median household incomes between the 10 wealthiest and the 10 poorest ZIP codes are spread out by more than $100,000.

• Black men represented 7 percent of the county’s population in 2012, but made up 30 percent of all police bookings.

• Life expectancy rates in different ZIP codes throughout the county vary by nearly 10 years, with minorities more likely to suffer from health problems.

• By 2010, 35 percent of black families, 34 percent of Latino families and 23 percent of Asian-American families were living below 150 percent of the federal poverty line compared with 16 percent of white families.

Policies and resources must be targeted toward those areas that are furthest behind. Close the gaps by improving people’s access to transit, health care, education and affordable housing.

Remember that renaming a county after a great civil-rights leader should be more than a symbolic gesture. Living and practicing the values he espoused is what counts.

We must create “fair and just” opportunities for all.

King County is not there yet.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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