PRELIMINARY NOTE: I am not saying that most police are racist bigots. I am not saying that most police are the problem. I am saying though that there is institutional racism within enough of our societal organizations, including the police, to be a major issue. I am saying that enough of our police officers are affected and influenced by this racism that it is a problem. And I am saying that ignoring this problem is almost the worst thing that can be done.
In the many discussions I have either taken part in or observed regarding police violence and blacks, encapsulated now by the Black Lives Matter movement, there is one argument that consistently comes up as a way to avoid acknowledging that there is a true problem with police violence and that it has a racial component to it; an argument in the form of a question – why no one is talking about black on black violence? Or it’s variant, why aren’t more blacks concerned and working on black on black violence.
The asking of this question is meant to deny by distraction any problems that exist with police brutality based on race, or, at the very least, minimize it. Basically it is arguing that any problem that exists (and the proponents of this argument are doubtful one really exists) between blacks and police is overwhelmed by the crushing problem of black on black violence and why aren’t all you worthless good for nothing protesters who are being lead around the nose by agitators and thugs dealing with the real problem instead of this fluff problem.
This is argument is tactically akin to the statement “All lives matter” made in response to the slogan that “Black Lives Matter”. A statement which downplays and ignores the problems that the Black Lives Matter slogan are meant to highlight. There already is an excellent explanation of why “all lives matter” is such a bad response, and so, other than providing the link, I won’t go into that more here.
But what about the question of black on black violence? The problem with this question lies in the two very questionable assumptions it makes.
First, it assumes that one cannot be against both and working to solve both problems at the same time. A rather ridiculous assumption when held up for examination.
The other assumption is that this question assumes that blacks are not working to address this issue. They are. Here are a few articles detailing some of the actions that have been taken and are still being taken.
I like this article from Slate magazine because it also points out many other problems with this question – for example, the crime rate of black on black violence has been declining.
First, a little context: In the last 20 years, we’ve seen a sharp drop in homicide among blacks, from a victimization rate of 39.4 homicides per 100,000 in 1991 to a rate of roughly 20 homicides per 100,000 in 2008. Likewise, the offending rate for blacks has dropped from 51.1 offenders per 100,000 in 1991 to 24.7 offenders per 100,000 in 2008.
It also points out many of the protests and actions that have been taken by the black community to deal with this issue.
In the last four years, blacks have held community protests against violence in Chicago; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Saginaw, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana. Indeed, there’s a whole catalog of movies, albums, and sermons from a generation of directors, musicians, and religious leaders, each urging peace and order. You may not have noticed black protests against crime and violence, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened. Black Americans—like everyone else—are concerned with what happens in their communities, and at a certain point, pundits who insist otherwise are either lying or willfully ignorant.
I also like that it addresses the important difference between black on black violence and violence by police against blacks.
To that point, it’s worth noting the extent to which “what about black-on-black crime” is an evasion, an attempt to avoid the fundamental difference between being killed by a citizen and being killed by an agent of law….
Regardless of cause or concern, a community doesn’t forfeit fair treatment because it has crime. That was true then when the scourge was lynching, and it’s true now that the scourge is unjust police violence. Say what you will about “black-on-black crime,” just don’t pretend it has anything to do with unfair killings at the hands of the state.
I would add that being killed by another citizen does not as quickly or surely jeopardize and damage the bonds of trust that must exist for our societal institutions to exist and function. However, the unjustified killings and violence and arrests by police against a race does jeopardize those essential bonds. Which is why it is so important that they be addressed.
This article from Atlantic provides some nice examples of the protests and work being done in regards to black on black violence (even has Al Sharpton participating in one such event).
Here is an article from Reason magazine telling of some of the actions of high profile members of the black community in regards to black on black violence.
“What about black-on-black violence?” demanded Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, who is white. “Where is Al Sharpton on that? Where is the president on that?”
Funny you should ask. Sharpton made a publicized trip to Chicago in November to focus attention on the city’s chronic violence. Last year, Michelle Obama attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old black honor student who was shot, allegedly by a black gang member.
The first lady later returned to Chicago to converse with students at a school that is nearly 100 percent African-American. “In choosing Harper High School for the visit, the White House noted that 29 current or former students there had been shot in the last year, eight of them fatally,” reported the Chicago Tribune.
The president also traveled to Chicago, meeting with kids involved in a mentoring program for at-risk adolescent boys, bemoaning gun violence and telling a crowd on the South Side, “Our streets will only be as safe as our schools are strong and our families are sound
And this is about the 30th National Preventing Crime in the Black Community Conference being held this year in Florida.
And this is just some of what is being done. This is not a problem that is being ignored, despite what those who want to ignore the other side of the issue, police violence, wish.
And now that I am thinking about it, there is a third assumption to this question, that the violence is due to blacks being blacks.
This racist assumption ignores the fact that poverty, lack of education, as well as opportunities being limited by institutional racism and by too many blacks being arrested and sent to jail and prison (more so than whites for the same crimes) and other factors other than just being black have a large role to play. These issues, while needing to be overcome by the black community, are also partly the result of racist societal forces and actions in the past and a more quiet one in action today, and must be addressed too in order for true justice to exist.
If you read the polls and look at what is being done by the black community, they are well aware of the problems within their community, including black on black violence. And they are working on correcting them. This use of questions as a means to distract from the role that racism and institutional racism still play in creating and maintaining their problems is to be willfully blind to the realities of our country and does a further injustice to the black community.
This same article from Reason magazine, in addition to providing support to the truth that blacks are working to overcome and decrease black on black violence (and with success), also highlights what I have just wrote:
There’s another, bigger problem with the preoccupation with “black-on-black crime.” The term suggests race is the only important factor. Most crimes are committed by males, but we don’t refer to “male-on-male crime.” Whites in the South are substantially more prone to homicide than those in New England, but no one laments “Southerner-on-Southerner crime.” Why does crime involving people of African descent deserve its own special category?
The phrase stems from a desire to excuse whites from any role in changing the conditions that breed disorder and delinquency in poor black areas. It carries the message that blacks are to blame for the crime that afflicts them—and that only they can eliminate it. Whites are spared any responsibility in the cause or the cure.
Excluding them from complicity is harder to do when the killer is white and the killed is black, as in the shooting in Ferguson. Raising “black-on-black crime” right now is not a sincere attempt to improve the lot of African-Americans. It’s a way to change the subject and a way to blame them.
If we really wish to solve the problems of racism, to provide equal opportunity to all regardless of race, religion, or gender, and to provide equal justice to all citizens then both issues have to be addressed – the problems within the black community and the problems with our society’s institutions, including law enforcement. Blacks seem to be well aware of the problems within their community and are working to improve them. If only the same could now be said of the conservative whites of this country.