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Ferguson is America

August 14, 2014 Leave a comment

This won’t be a full-on article about the murder of Mike Brown, and the disaster of a police response in Ferguson, Missouri this week. For the moment, I’m entirely absorbed following the news from those on the ground, and far too angry and flowing in too many different directions to come up with anything cogent. For that I link you to Greg Howard’s fantastic piece “America Is Not For Black People“. 

Essentially this will be an infodump for lack of a better term so that those interested can learn more about the situation, and we can all try to reach some broader collective understanding on how this continues to happen, and what we need to do to stop pretending it’s occurring in a vacuum. More than anything, it’s selfishly a therapeutic release. The one topic I will touch on is the familiar insertion into the conversation of lamenting the lack of focus on Black-on-Black crime. 

The notion that Black people aren’t concerned about intra-community particularly violence is as predictably misguided as it is a complete and utter diversionary tactic. It does nothing to address the issue at hand, and only serves to deflect attention and responsibility from solving it. This bit of  rhetorical jiu-jitsu dates back to the 1830s (if not earlier), when Andrew Jackson defended the forced removal of Native Americans during the “Trail of Tears” and noted that no one was bringing up the scourge of Cherokee-on-Cherokee violence. With nearly 200 years of practice, the refrain comes along like clockwork, whenever Black folks have the temerity to demand justice when the killer does not look like them. 

For one, the myth that Black people don’t care about crime in Black neighborhoods has no basis in reality. The fact so many people remain convinced that this doesn’t exist is explained only by either willful ignorance, or the shameful lack of coverage in mainstream media spaces. Too often the only time there is widespread coverage of Black victims is when it is being argued that the perpetrators are often also Black. As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted in 2012, when the parasitic conversation crept up during the uproar over Trayvon Martin’s killing, a simple google search yields pages and pages of local and national protests, rallies and outreach efforts to curb violence in Black neighborhoods.

It is not “black on black crime” that is background noise in America, but the pleas of black people. There is a pattern here, but it isn’t the one Eugene Robinson (for whom I have a great respect) thinks. The pattern is the transmutation of black protest into moral hectoring of black people. Don Imus profanely insults a group of black women. But the real problem is gangsta rap. Trayvon Martin is killed. This becomes a conversation about how black men are bad fathers. Jonathan Martin is bullied mercilessly. This proves that black people have an unfortunate sense of irony.

The politics of respectability are, at their root, the politics of changing the subject—the last resort for those who can not bear the agony of looking their country in the eye. The policy of America has been, for most of its history, white supremacy. The high rates of violence in black neighborhoods do not exist outside of these facts—they evidence them.

Let me be clear, this is not a defense of violence in ANY community. Crime is crime across the board, but suggesting that either Black people are ignoring violence perpetrated by people who look like them, or should somehow be unconcerned by clear and present danger because there are other ills in the world is a particularly insidious distraction. In particular, the demand to treat the actions of a police officer, a law enforcement agent of the state, accused of extrajudicial killings as equal to misdeeds of individual citizens is both disingenuous and misses the point entirely.

Of course the police are held to a higher standard, and thusly it represents a more threatening message when there are questions of legitimacy within those ranks. Great power comes with greater responsibility, and when that power is authorized by the government, it becomes all the more problematic. Even if you were determined to believe the accept the narrative of Black-on-Black crime, using that as a shield against confronting police brutality raises the nonsensical notion that one cannot address one type of violence unless another is completely eradicated. You wouldn’t defend assaulting a child with “well they’re abused at home too,” the mere suggestion is patently ridiculous, just as it is in this case. 

The other element to this is that Black-on-Black crime as a signifier means absolutely nothing. The oft cited stat is that about 90-94% of Black victims were killed by Black offenders, so surely that must be the real problem. What those propping up that fact often ignore however is that nearly 90% of white victims are killed by white offenders. Almost all crime is a matter of proximity and opportunity, so in turn most crime is committed by those who live near each other.

Given the rates of segregation in the United States, there is no surprise that most crime is intra-communal. This is true across the board, and is consistent across racial lines. To wit, when two white people get into an altercation it is not viewed through the lens of white-on-white crime, nor should it be, it’s crime. Why then would we create a notion of Black-on-Black crime? It only serves as a distraction and is often used to feed into the belief that violence is an exclusively Black pathology.

So as a general rule, the next time you hear someone bringing up the point that we need to address Black-on-Black crime before we tackle a situation unfolding, they very likely are full of shit. Read more…

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