The Myth of the Black-on-Black Crime Epidemic

It’s great to see people (like those here, here, and here), many of whom advocate cuts to institutions and policies proven to curb crime like community groups, education, and job training, finally noticing that crime in Black communities is a problem that should be addressed. However, they are 20 years late. While they slept, African-American community leaders, parents, churches, and activists having already noticed the problem have been tirelessly working to make the communities they love safer. Jamelle Bouie recently wrote poignantly how Black-on-Black crime is being falsely framed as a distinctly African American pathology rather than a component of poverty, opportunity, & proximity. If America is to have this much touted ‘conversation’ on race, it is important the dialogue itself adhere to the guiding principal of being rooted in facts.

For many years, countless poor African Americans across the country tried to draw attention to high crime rates, guns, gang activity, and drug abuse that pervaded their neighborhoods. The Black urban poor, through community institutions, churches, and individual efforts were most often met with neglect, divestment of private and public resources, and outright disdain. I witnessed firsthand, growing up in Camden, New Jersey in the 1980’s, how the surrounding suburbs, state, and federal governments ignored Black victims of crime and dismissed whole urban areas as havens of pathologically violent criminals. Residents suffered as the ‘War on Poverty’ became the ‘War on Drugs’ and incarceration rates skyrocketed while social services, education, and urban infrastructure funds were slashed.

It is within this context that I’ve marveled and cringed at recent dialogue about crime, discrimination, and inequality in the criminal justice system. From conservatives opining President Obama acted too ‘black’ by speaking of his experiences to progressives arguing he was not being ‘black’ enough by having insufficiently explicit rhetoric and policies targeting the problems of African Americans. The most amusingly bewildering aspect of this rhetoric is how assertions of racial inequalities in the American criminal justice system have immediately are rebutted by pointing to the ‘genocide’ of Black-on-Black urban crime. This focus, from many of the same political quarters who ignored the problem at its peak, belies the facts of both the causes and trends of Black-on-Black crimes.

Black on Black Crime Facts

Racial Inequality in the Criminal Justice System Facts

While it is essential that we address the high levels of violence and incarceration in America compared to other industrialized countries, we cannot accurately do so by perpetuating the myth of a uniquely African American pathology toward violence and crime. Instead of denying the downward trends in crime in the black community, we must applaud it and reward it with a serious examination of racial inequality in the American criminal justice system. Although, I am not sure whether our new found defenders of the Black community would agree.

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