What Does ‘Black On Black’ Crime Have To Do With It?

• Question

Why do conservatives insist on mentioning “black on black crime” in the context of discussions about police brutality and systemic racism?

• My Best Guess

They heard/saw someone else say it, and neglected to examine whether it was a great argument. It fit their preexisting notion that black people are inherently more violent and more likely to be dangerous criminals. Therefore it seemed to justify police officers’ irrational fear and over-the-top responses when dealing with random black citizens.

• Why It’s Wrong To Bring It Up (in this context)

* It’s a red herring, a distraction. It’s unrelated to the argument that policing needs reform in the U.S., or to the argument that systemic racism is real.

* It’s a strawman, a misrepresentation of our argument. No Black Lives Matter advocate has said “black on black crime” isn’t a problem. BLM is very aware of black on black crime. Many social justice advocates are working on that too.

* It’s a false equivalency. It attempts to put government-sponsored violence on the same level as violence committed by criminals. No American wants to be a victim of any criminal, regardless of the ethnicity of the criminal, but we expect it might happen because, well, they’re criminals. But none of us should expect to be the victim of criminal acts by police officers. Police officers aren’t supposed to be included in the “criminal” part of the equation. The entire idea of police forces is to put weight on the non-criminal side of the scale. But when they do commit crimes, they do it with the authority of a badge and a legal gun. And when they get caught and charged, they’re held to a lower standard of justice, when we believe they should be held to a higher standard of justice.

• When It’s Okay To Bring It Up

Never.

They’d never bring it up if they really understood statistics, or tried to be minimally informed.

Statistics show that crime in general is down in the U.S., especially violent crime.

Statistics also show that there really isn’t “black on black crime”. There’s just crime. Yes, most black victims of crimes are victims of black perpetrators. But the same is true for white people — most white people who are murdered are murdered by white people. Most white people who are robbed are robbed by white people. Most white people who are raped are raped by white people.

There’s a reason for this.

It’s because much of the U.S. is still segregated. Take a look around at your family. It’s a good bet that everyone in the room is of the same ethnicity as you. Yet a huge amount of crime victims are victims of their own family’s behavior. Look out the window, at your neighborhood. Statistically, it’s a safe bet that almost all of them are the same ethnicity as you, because that’s how neighborhoods play out in the U.S. And a huge chunk of crimes committed in U.S. communities are committed by people who live in the same community. Look at your city’s demographics (try the U.S. Census website, or Wikipedia). Chances are, most of the people in your city are the same ethnicity as you. And yes, most crimes committed in U.S. cities are committed by people who live in those cities.

(None of the above is true for me, of course. I’m the only white person in my household, my neighborhood is very diverse, and whites aren’t even a majority in my city. But in most cases, the above paragraph will be true.)

So it absolutely makes sense that most black victims of crime in the U.S. are victims of black perps. Because their houses are full of black people, as are their neighborhoods, and in many cases their cities. And the same is true for white people, Latinx people, Asian people, etc.

Interestingly, I’ve had two cars stolen. When I lived in a mostly white city in a mostly white county in a mostly white state — surprise! — my car was stolen by a white person. When I lived in a mostly black neighborhood in a city where people of color are the majority — surprise again! — my car was stolen by a person of color.

Now, if the conversation is about further reducing crime, tackling recidivism rates, or something where crime statistics are relevant, then yes, by all means, bring up crime statistics. But it’s still an exercise in futility (and possibly bigotry) to rail on about “black on black crime”.

• But Does It Make Them Sound Racist?

Yes, it does actually make people sound racist when you’re talking about something completely unrelated (police brutality against people of color), and someone throws in “But what about black on black crime? Y’all need to solve that first!”

But here I will diverge from many other BLM advocates and claim that no, someone shouldn’t be accused of racism simply for bringing it up. They should be corrected. Because I think most of them are simply parroting what they’ve heard others say, and haven’t dug into it very far on their own. Their friends, family, congresspersons, and president keep talking about “black on black crime” and “Chicago!” any time people of color ask for justice. After a while, even if they’re not actually bigots, the phrase starts to make sense to them.

However, if you have corrected them, and they still persist, then… Then it becomes obvious that it wasn’t about being misinformed; it was actually about believing people of color are lesser humans. And that shit is racist.

12 Comments
  1. This was on my mind all weekend. Thanks for reading my thoughts and blogging them.

  2. Sherry says:

    Very well said.

  3. Dana says:

    (None of the above is true for me, of course. I’m the only white person in my household, my neighborhood is very diverse, and whites aren’t even a majority in my city. But in most cases, the above paragraph will be true.)

    It may be true in conservative states or rural areas but it’s not likely to be true when you’re talking to the coasts, people who live in progressive cities, or a liberal audience. I’m in a biracial marriage and close to 80% of my circle (friends and family) are similarly situated.

    I otherwise agree with your well thought out piece on this issue.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      * “…it’s not likely to be true when you’re talking to the coasts, people who live in progressive cities, or a liberal audience…”

      Perhaps. However, I am addressing the U.S. in general, and my known readers specifically. It is very unlikely that a random U.S. citizen reading this entry is in a mixed race marriage. Currently, only 17% of new marriages are “mixed race”, and only 10% of all marriages are between two people of differing ethnicities. In other words, about 90% of marriages in the U.S. are between two people of the same ethnicity. (And thus their biological children will be also — and adoptions are almost always same-race as well.)

      Most U.S. cities are still segregated by ethnicity — even when the overall population of a city is diverse. Even progressive coastal cities, according to data — including Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, Philadelphia, Portland (Ore.), and even New York City. While the city’s total population might include very diverse ethnicities, the neighborhoods where people live often do not.

      I will agree with you on the “liberal audience” part, though I couldn’t find data to support it. It is my experience that mixed families are more likely to occur in among liberals than among conservatives. And it stands to reason that they are more likely to occur in cities/neighborhoods where the population is more evenly mixed.

      (I don’t mean this reply to be argumentative. I had looked up these statistics recently and was confident in my numbers before writing this blog entry.) :-)

  4. Dana says:

    Of course, you can also always point out that crime isn’t lower (black on black or white on black or black on white or white on white – whatever the permutation) in areas where there is a high level of police brutality.

    Police brutality and excesses do NOT lead to safer communities or lower crime rates.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      It does look like that’s the case, in general, as far as I can tell. Regardless of who’s committing the crimes and regardless of who their victims are, it does look like most instances of police violence (justified or not) occur in higher-crime areas. Conservatives will of course see that correlation and assume police are simply reacting appropriately to their circumstances. I think even some liberals are given pause by the same thought. “Well”, they admit, “it’s true that it was in a high-crime neighborhood; those cops had every right to be on a hair-trigger.”

      You and I know it’s more nuanced than that. As you said: “Police brutality and excesses do NOT lead to safer communities or lower crime rates.” I think this is born out by the data. Crime trends do not correlate with trends in excessive-force policing anywhere that I can see. But conservatives keep falling for the law-and-order rhetoric, year after year. :-(

      • Dana says:

        Oh, there are definitely studies that show that aggressive policing does NOT lead to lower crime rates. It’s why broken windows policing and the now defunct policy of aggressive stop and frisk in NYC were so ineffective.

        • Wil C. Fry says:

          True! (As I said, I agree with you.) :-)

          Here’s one: Study suggests proactive policing may do more harm than good (Phys.org): “…evidence that proactive policing not only does not prevent crime, it actually causes more crime. It is possible, they suggest, that citizens living in areas that are heavily policed grow angry at being targeted and thus feel justified in breaking the law.”

          I have also seen evidence that “proactive policing” actually reinforces poverty. (Which makes sense, because getting arrested is expensive.) Even if you don’t retain an attorney (expensive in its own right), there are fines, court costs, add-on fees, time missed from work — not only while in custody, but also for court appearances, etc. [I know you know all that, from your line of work, but some other readers might not have thought about it.] When you’re already poor, getting arrested does not help.

          It also can have a negative effect on the officers themselves, as detailed in this story in the Atlantic.

          • Dana says:

            (Mea culpea – I was being stubborn and read this without putting on my reading glasses so I thought you said you weren’t sure if there were studies supporting my claim…next time I won’t be so lazy and I’ll wear my glasses.)

          • Wil C. Fry says:

            *nods respectfully*

            (And, as always, thank you for any comments and conversation!)

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