Debates over racism and police brutality have been ratcheted up even further recently by the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. There are several things that I would urge for people on both sides of the debate. Firstly, I would warn against making hasty judgments for or against the police officers charged in Gray’s death until all the evidence has been weighed. I certainly lean toward thinking they are guilty, but it is important to have proof before coming to a definitive conclusion. Secondly, even if the officers do turn out to definitely have been guilty of police brutality, it should not be assumed, absent specific and compelling evidence, that their actions were motivated by racism. Thirdly, just as we should not accept the narrative that all police officers are racist and/or needlessly violent, we should also not accept the narrative that racism is no longer a major problem in America. We got another reminder of this recently when Donald Trump tweeted, “Our great African American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!” This asinine tweet was favorited by over six thousand people. So in Trump’s warped mind, because President Obama is black, he is responsible for everything any black people do. Or something. Never mind that white individuals have rioted over sporting events. Or that a white man in Idaho just shot a cop to death. Does Trump blame these events on Bill Clinton?
The main issue I wanted to discuss today is an aspect of criticism against black activists and black liberal political leaders expressed by many on the Right during the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases late last year. I believe it is relevant in light of continued debates over police brutality and almost guaranteed to come up again in light of the Gray case. While other writers like Jamelle Bouie and Steve Chapman have addressed it previously, I would like to expand upon it. I will credit Bouie and Chapman up front with much of the information I provide here. Many conservatives criticize African Americans for allegedly ignoring black-on-black crime. This criticism seems most often used in the context of criticizing activists for the attention they give to police killings of blacks and possible hate crimes. It is also sometimes used to blame blacks completely for crime in low income, predominantly black communities and dismiss the history of racial inequality in this country as a factor. It is certainly true that most black murder victims are killed by other black people. And it is also true that African Americans are much more likely to be murder victims than whites are. So conservatives are correct to maintain that black-on-black crime is a serious problem. They are incorrect, however, to suggest that black liberals or “the black community” ignores black-on-black crime. Let’s start with Al Sharpton. If you ask me to list all the points of criticism I have against Sharpton, we will be here awhile. I have no problem calling him the Rush Limbaugh of the Left. However, one complaint against him that does not hold is the idea that he ignores black-on-black crime. In November of 2013, he traveled to Chicago to address largely black-on-black violence taking place there. Earlier that year, the Congressional Black Caucus attended an event in Chicago that also focused on looking for solutions to the city’s high level of violent crime. Also in Chicago in 2013, Michelle Obama attended the funeral of a 15 year-old black honor student allegedly murdered by a black gang member. Michelle Obama also traveled to Chicago to speak at a mostly black school, where twenty-nine current or former students had been shot in the past year, eight of them murdered. Barack Obama also traveled to meet with students participating in a mentoring program for at-risk male youth. The president warned that, “Our streets will only be as safe as our schools are strong and our families are sound.” Within the last five years, African Americans have participated in community protests against violent crime in Chicago, Newark, New York, Pittsburgh, Sagniaw, and Gary.
There is another important truth to note here. Just as most black murder victims are killed by other black people, most white murder victims are not killed by blacks. According to the FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report, only fourteen percent of white murder victims were killed by African Americans. So given that African Americans are much more likely than whites to be murdered, and given that black-on-white homicide is relatively rare, why do many people seem convinced that most news outlets are engaged in a conspiracy to not cover black-on-white crime? A certain quote sums up this obsession with black-on-white crime relatively well. It comes from a man who most assuredly would not overstate a possible case of anti-black bias: “For decades whites have been far more exorcised about black-on-white crime than crime of the black-on-black variety. If you’re white you know this to be true, and if you’re black you damned well know this to be true … this may be uncomfortable for you, but its reality and it needs to be faced. Let someone kidnap, rape or murder a cute, blonde little white girl and all hell breaks loose. If the suspect is a black male, the outrage increases exponentially. Trust me … I’ve been in the media (or was) for 45 years … it is MUCH harder to get traction with the media for a story about a young black girl kidnapped, raped or murdered than it is if the victim is white … This is certainly not the way to bridge the racial gap in our country.” The quote, by the way, comes from Neal Boortz, a talk radio host who, to reiterate something stated previously, usually takes a conservative perspective on race relations to the point of being called out for it by Bill O’Reilly. When even Neal Boortz thinks there’s racial bias, you know we have a serious problem. I applaud conservatives for being concerned about black-on-black crime, but it would be nice if more of them would stop using it as a trump card to pillory African Americans and actually acknowledge that black-on-white murder is not nearly as common as they make it out to be.