By Jason Hines, Ph.D., J.D.
One of the unfortunate things about the discussion that occurs whenever a police officer shoots an unarmed Black man is its monotony. I had originally planned to avoid the debate that would occur around the death of Alton Sterling. The reason I wanted to sit the discussion out is because we always seem to hit the same beats. Black folk say #BlackLivesMatter. The ignorant and the bigots among us say #AllLivesMatter. Before long, someone asks, “What about Black on Black crime?”
It seems that this argument even works on some Black people. I heard Charles Barkley parroting these same inane talking points on The Dan LeBatard Show on Tuesday. I almost feel silly for feeling like I need to write another “Why Black on Black crime is not the point here” post, but it occurred to me that someone might cross this way who never heard this before, and so outlining this concept might be worth it to someone. The way the retort usually goes is something like this – If Black lives really matter, why aren’t Black people doing anything about Black on Black crime in places like Chicago? The counterargument is not difficult to understand –
- Black on Black crime is a fallacy – All crimes are crimes of proximity. Black people will perpetrate crime on Black people more than anyone else, simply because they’re around Black people more. However, to give Black on Black crime a particular title gives the impression that it is somehow a phenomenon unique to Black people, leading to the idea that Black people are somehow prone to criminality in ways that other groups are not. According to the FBI statistics from 2014, Black victims were killed by Black people 90% of the time. For Whites that number was 82%. Someone will have to explain to me how only an 8% difference justifies our total silence on the scourge of White on White crime. Granted this is not an on point defense against the Black on Black crime retort, but the red herring is worthy of mention.
- Google is a thing, use it – So you think that Black people don’t care about Black on Black crime? You should do some research first. If you just search “black on black crime,” you will find articles on what Black people are doing to address crime in their own communities, and of course you can also find the websites of organizations that address the problem. What you would find is marches to protest Black on Black crime happen often in Black communities and that there are many community organizations that work to address the crime itself, as well as the external issues that help violence to fester in the Black community. Anyone who wants to know what the Black community is doing about crime only has to ask.
- But why would we tell you – It is actually not surprising that White Americans (for the most part) don’t know what the Black community is doing with respect to stemming crime in our communities. As more than one commentator has mentioned this is a problem amongst Black people. That is absolutely true, and leads to the pertinent question – If this is a problem for the Black community, why would they talk to White people about it? Black people are doing exactly what their critics say they want. Black people are addressing their own communities in an attempt to solve a problem in their community. How disingenuous for someone from outside that community to criticize that community based on the idea that they have not heard about something that is not any of their business. Black people are addressing their own communities to solve this problem. Why do they have to talk to anyone else about it?
- One thing is not like the other – The jewel of the Black on Black crime counterargument is that there is something different about cops shooting Black people and Black people shooting each other. Last week I said that I did not want to spend a lot of time talking about the murder of police officers because, other than expressions of sadness and grief, there is nothing to discuss. We all agree that killing police officers is a bad thing. A similar line of argument arises when we compare Black on Black crime to police shootings. When a Black person murders another Black person we all agree on the moral turpitude of every element of the crime. There aren’t many people who think Black people killing each other is a good thing, and we all agree that we want the police to apprehend the criminals involved and that they be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If the debate over Alton Sterling and Philando Castile has shown me anything it is that we cannot agree on the elements of the crime when the police are involved in unjustifiable homicides. Moreover, the state as an actor casts a different pall over police shootings that does not exist when Black people murder each other. The state exists as the supposedly neutral arbiter between citizens. When citizens violate the right to life of other citizens it is the job of the state to step in and punish the wrongdoer. We all have this innate sense of justice within us. As such, when the state executes the extrajudicial murder of a citizen, it violates that innate sense of justice. More simply put – the Black person who murders another Black person has not been explicitly directed to protect and serve the person they murdered. When a police officer unjustifiably murders a citizen (really any citizen regardless of race), it is a violation of that officer’s very purpose.
I don’t know that anyone who mentions the Black on Black crime argument actually cares about the issue they raise. Instead the only interest seems to be the politics of distraction. But I am convinced that Black people can walk and chew gum at the same time. It is possible for us to seek solutions to the crime that plagues our communities while at the same time asking the state to stop shooting us too. It seems those things actually go hand in hand.
Jason Hines, Ph.D., J.D., is a professor in the Health Science Department at Adventist University of Health Sciences, Orlando, Florida. He is an associate editor at ReligiousLiberty.TV and also blogs at TheHineSight.