The “Myth” of Black on Black Crime Revisited

(NOTE:   Over two weeks have gone by since my previous post.  A medical issue which is now largely resolved has distracted me, but I plan on posting more often again.)

I spent much of my previous post arguing that Jamelle Bouie was playing an intellectual shell game when arguing that black on black crime is a myth in his July 15 piece in The Daily Beast.   I did not realize at the time that Bouie restated his position two days later in The American Prospect in response to the “huge response  from both sides” to the “myth” editorial.

In the second piece he drops the argument of black on black crime being a myth and instead calls it a “dangerous idea”.  It is dangerous because:  “The only thing we accomplish by focusing on “black-on-black crime” as an independent phenomena—distinct from “white-on-white crime”—is justify universal suspicion of black men, and young black men, in particular.

Of course, the suspicion of black men in general stemming from this concentration on black on black crime in large cities is unfair to the vast majority of black men.  But labeling this as unfair is not going to stop the tendency to do it.  What will stop it is for the statistics in New York (and other major cities) to change. 

Bouie continues:  “What we’re trying to say is this: The manufactured image of rampant black male criminality creates fear, and that fear leads people to profile (stop and frisk), barricade themselves (gated communities), and confront individual black men because they must be up to something (George Zimmerman: “Those fucking punks always get away.”).”

I agree with the connections Bouie draws above, but not with his assertion that an “image of rampant black male criminality” is “manufactured”.   After all Bouie agrees: “It’s absolutely true that “NYPD stats show that 96 percent of all shooting victims are black or Hispanic, and 97 percent of all shooters were black or Hispanic.”

Those are striking statistics pointing to  those who commit by far the most crime.  Not the overwhelming majority of black men (or Latinos), of course, but still an overwhelming racial connection.   If one is looking at any situation in trying to understand it, certain characteristics appear prominent and those NYPD stats are glaring.   That the stats promotes profiling of one form or another is true, but to intentionally ignore them is to ignore reality.

I believe Bouie misconstrues the overall white reaction to “blackness” these days.   He implies whites see “blackness” as a cause of crime.   I’m just one white guy, but when I hear”black” used negatively it is usually an abbreviated form of reference to neighborhoods  that are not only black but characterized by a constellation of poverty – poor areas with a lack of job opportunities, a predominance of struggling single mom families, and schools which would need to be the best we have to really alter the situation for more than a few, but seldom are for various reasons.

If you took the NYPD statistics and separated black and Latino middle class neighborhoods out of black neighborhoods in total my guess would be the murder rate would be similar to that of white on whites.   I suggest another way to look at the situation is that successful black opinion makers like Bouie face a dilemma.   He does not want to defend the high crime stats associated with his race.  He knows the NYPD stats point out a problem but while admitting that, rather than tackling the largely intractable nature of the problem, he blames whites for manufacturing unfavorable images.

For the unfavorable images to fade, the problem has to fade, not the other way around.  While white prejudice towards blacks remains an important factor (and, by the way, prejudice isn’t a one way street), the basic problem is not racism but the presence of a seemingly implacable black underclass occupying parts of our major cities that commits a disproportionate amount of crime, most often against blacks themselves and fosters ongoing white prejudice and fear (*1).

The huge challenge is to find ways to improve the living  situation in these big city poverty areas, but as you have probably noticed there is a long list of huge challenges that face America at the moment, which leaves little government money or collective will to do much to improve these communities.  There are private efforts in schools and/or job related programs which are often valiant and successful, but are also usually costly and impact only a small fraction of the people there.

That is just the way it is and I do not see things changing much any time soon, no matter how we color the issue.  But again, painting the discussion of the subject with the broad brush of “racism” more often than not obscures the intricate nature of race relations in America rather than illuminates it.


(*1)   This is in no way a defense of George Zimmerman, who brought upon himself the circumstances that endangered him, assuming he came to feel endangered as his defense argued successfully enough to prompt reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury as to his guilt.   Guilty or not, Zimmerman was primarily at fault for what happened, but bad judgement is not necessarily a crime.


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