Does the term perpetuate anti-Black sentiments?
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on March 24, 2022)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Veronica Mobley
Black-on-Black violence continues to plague some Black communities today. At times, I have asked myself, how could people who look like me, have very similar cultural characteristics as me, and live in the same community as me, commit such violent acts to their own people? The phrase Black-on-Black crime has persisted in the minds of Black folks for decades and is now a very mainstream way for everyone to have a conversation about the crime that persists in cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Baltimore. In December of 1970, Warner Saunders, a columnist for the Chicago Defender interviewed a neighborhood hustler named Fast Willie to get his reasoning as to why he robbed and beat up black people in his own neighborhood. Willie stated,
“Can you see me going up to Deerfield (96% White), black as I am, trying to stick up? The man would be on me so fast I couldn’t get a chewing gum wrapper. Out here the man is too busy whooping them Black Panthers and giving tickets to mess with me. Any way, he don’t care if niggers get ripped off. But you can bet he’s watching his ‘thang’ back in his own hood.” Willie made it clear that he commits crimes against folks who look like him because those are the people who live near him and more often than not, the police will allow him to get away with it.
In 1995, Patrick Fagan, a former fellow with the Heritage Foundation (a think tank whose mission is to promote conservative public policies) wrote about his belief about the root causes of violent crime. Patrick emphasized that the root cause of crime in our society is due to the breakdown of marriage, family, and community. Over the years, many others from this organization have written on this topic and they agree that “neither poverty nor race were significantly correlated to crime when family structure is taken into account.”
If Black-on-Black crime persists and if the writers of the conservative think tank are correct in assuming that family structure is what matters, then the larger question to explore might be, are there any differences in the experiences that Black families have faced that may have impacted them and their communities? Let’s explore.
Black enslaved peoples were brought to the Americas via the Trans-Atlantic slave trade as early as the 16th century. In 1854, S.W. Koelle published a major study titled Polyglotta Africana. In this study, he worked directly with freed slaves, and he found that 64% of those enslaved were either kidnapped or war captives. After more than 200 years of enslavement and free labor which helped build this country, Black folks were technically freed via the 13th Amendment in 1865. That very same year, the first Black code law was passed. Black Codes outlined where free Blacks could work, where they could travel or live, used to subvert their voting rights, amongst many other atrocities. These Black codes were used to criminalize the Black population for the next 150 years.
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Ford Foundation Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School stated that another origin of Black-on-Black crime came in the late 1800s when white scientists, such as Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, began to manipulate arrest and imprisonment data to equate blackness with criminality. Even after all of this, Black school districts were given significantly less money per student throughout many states. For example, from 1930 to the 1960s, Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and other states spent 3x to 10x more on the education per White student vs. per Black student. This small snapshot shows that for centuries black families have faced a plethora of roadblocks on their journey for basic human rights and dignity, let alone equal rights.
My point is not to disregard the impact of these crimes. Nor is it to say that perpetrators of crime should not be held accountable. Rather, I am making the case that to continue to use the phrase Black-on-Black crime emphasizes the deeply rooted anti-blackness in our society. With no other group do we categorize crime based on race in order to invalidate an injustice they are calling out. For example, based on Idaho’s Statewide 2020 Crime Report 40,180 (85%) of all crimes were committed by White people. Similarly, Maine’s 2020 Violent and Property crime data from 71 law enforcement agencies showed that 5,726 (90%) of all crimes were committed by White people. Have we heard the specific slogan for the end of White-on-White crime in these states or many others with similar crime rates? We all know that the answer is no.
If the root cause of crime is due to the breakdown of marriage, family, and community, how can any person overlook the centuries-long and at times intentional attack on the black family via laws, policies, and practices? When you see a successful Black person, it is most likely despite the racial disparities and systemic barriers they had to overcome and those they are still navigating. Given these facts, society should be willing and able to acknowledge that continuing to use the phrase Black-on-Black crime perpetuates anti-blackness and invalidates the social inequalities and injustices that Blacks continue to endure.
Black on Black Crime Myths Debunked
Video from MTV Impact