"Black on black crime"

I keep seeing this phrase used again and again so I thought I’d write a post about it. I like Gary Younge’s take on the phrase “black on black crime”, especially when used as a retort to concerns about police brutality in the US (The Nation):

1. The term is a racial canard. Of course, it could merely be descriptive, an adjective for a certain kind of crime, like “same-sex domestic-partner violence.” But it’s not. Same-sex domestic-partner violence is distinguished from opposite-sex domestic-partner violence. But “black-on-black crime” has no racial equivalent: nobody talks about white-on-white crime (see 2) or Asian-on-Asian crime. It’s a construct assigned solely to black people, and it interprets their transgression through a purely racial lens. The phrase “black-on-black crime” makes sense only if you understand black people’s propensity to commit crimes against people of their own race as inherently different from the way other racial groups commit crimes.

2. In this regard, black criminals are not particularly different. America is very segregated, and its criminality conforms to that fact. So the victims of most crimes are the same race as those who commit them. Eighty-four percent of white people who are killed every year are killed by white people. White people who buy illegal drugs are most likely to buy them from white people. Far from being extraordinary, the fact that black criminals are most likely to commit crimes against black people makes them just like everybody else. A more honest term than “black-on-black crime” would be, simply, “crime.”

3. It is not a taboo. Anyone who seriously thinks that black people are not talking about black people killing other black people just doesn’t know any black people. Black people talk about it a lot. They have a lot to talk about. But while black-on-black crime is a nonsense term, black crime is a serious issue. Black people may not be much more likely to kill members of their own racial group than whites, but they are still more likely to kill and be killed. It’s not as though the black community hasn’t noticed that. Most cities have several black-led organizations confronting this very thing. Nor do black people grieve according to some code of silence. Go to any inner-city church, youth club, park, concert, barbershop, beauty salon or high school basketball game and listen. Every now and then, like last year after Chicago high school student Hadiya Pendleton was shot, they even get a national platform to talk about it. And when they do, they seize it.

4. The police are a special category. That’s the point. Black people are not, by dint of their melanin content, instructed to protect and serve the public; the police, by dint of their employment, are. Black people do not have a monopoly on violence; the police do. So when the people entrusted with upholding the law kill someone, that raises very different issues than if a kid from down the block shoots somebody. When the people who are supposed to protect everybody show an undeniable propensity to kill one group of people more than others (black men aged 15 to 19 are twenty-one times more likely to be shot by police than their white counterparts), that inevitably raises the question of discrimination. Our taxes don’t pay to support black criminals in their pursuit of black victims; they are currently going to support police in the shooting of black people.

5. The police are not an elevated category. The law still applies to them. When black people kill other black people, families and communities seek justice. When there are eyewitnesses, videos and forensic evidence, they want investigations, arrests, indictments, trials and convictions. They also want the punishment to be proportionate to the crime. They want no less when a policeman is the killer. In reality, they get far less. In fact, they get nothing. There is no punishment because, apparently, there was no crime.

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It’s often cited that 93% of black victims were killed by black people. The figure comes from FBI trends report from 1980-2008. The same report also states that 84% of white victims are killed by whites. People tend to live, befriend and marry with people from similar backgrounds, including perceived race. Given the racial homogeneity of many neighbourhoods intraracial violence should not be a surprise.

As stated before, 84% of white victims were killed by whites. 84% is still very high. However, for some reason that does not warrant a discussion about white-on-white-crime or any implication of their culture/race/societies. Is it the difference (93% vs 84%) that is most concerning? That difference is 9%. I wonder how they derived that 9% was statistically significant enough to determine that only black people’s race or cultures must be examined in the context of police brutality. Which statistical model did they use? How did they determine p-values, r-values, effect size etc? These statistics do not control for all other confounding variables (such as poverty, education, institutional discrimination etc) so that race is the only differentiation making the comparison meaningless. It also does not account sufficiently for non-street crime, where whites are significantly more represented. Nor does it account for crime in general where institutional racism (not just judicial) and laws that significantly discriminates against minorities are salient factors.

I wonder why they regard a black person so different that they need to bring up “black-on-black crime” and not “white-on-white crime” when talking about police brutality? Why do they see a black person less than equal to a white person? There is a clear historical precedent that when a group of people are seen as subhuman then that is a mandate for murder.

Footnote 1: Gary Younge is a feature columnist for the Guardian and has written articles for The Nation. Check out his articles on the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/profile/garyyo…

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Footnote 2: The inspiration for this post (which was pieced from previous posts of mine) came from a discussion with Melanin Monroe who was explaining “black on black crime” with someone who refused to understand - “it’s ultimately not about convincing him, but more about getting the info out. Many others are simply misinformed, but are willing to accept new information.”

Footnote 3: I haven’t even gone into the fact that black people are not a monolith in ethnicity or culture. And there is well established evidence that there is greater genetic diversity between blacks than between blacks and whites (and logically fits in with models of early out-of-Africa migration and origin). All this makes any argument about the “inherent criminality” in “blacks” ignorant in the least.

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