“How can you say Black Lives Matter, when they’re killing each other in the streets?”
“We need to Police ourselves”
“It’s a culture problem, Black People just need to take responsibility for their communities”
In light of the series of recent incidents where the indications point to unarmed Black people being unjustly killed at the hands of police, the collective “We” as a society have started to fall into predictable patterns of behavior. As a response to one or more of these deaths, non-violent protests and demonstrations are usually held in the corresponding city of the incident, accompanied sometimes by outward expressions of anger in the form of riots and property destruction.
As sure as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, there will be comments from the side opposite of the protesters suggesting the blame, in these cases of police killings, should not be cast at engrained racism or improper standard protocol, but instead should be cast at Black people and our communities ourselves.
Let’s make one thing clear, these comments are undeniably used as methods for distraction and misdirection. Studies have proven unarmed Black people are many times more likely to be killed by lethal force than their white counterparts, even when adjusted for socioeconomic status and zip code. So when your response to a subgroup of the population bringing to light a glaring issue in our society is to reflexively point to a separate issue, you are being extremely disingenuous. The message becomes “You” don’t deserve to be treated the same as the rest of society because, well… “You” aren’t that great, anyway.
On the shallow surface, some of these comments might make some level of sense. There is some logic to a correlation in increased crime met with an increased level of lethal force towards minority populations. Except you then realize some of the extreme flaws to these arguments. For one, we have actual video footage of several of these incidents that clearly depict lethal responses to non-lethal threats. Excessive force is one thing, but we are legitimately talking about the differences between life and death. There’s also the fact that while 90% of African-American homicides were committed by African Americans, a similar 82% of white American homicides were committed by white Americans, according to 2014 FBI data, but we don’t bother naming these events White-on-White crime.
On the other side, you realize most of these comments have nefarious motives. This is not social commentary with any level of productive intention. This is deflection. Exclaiming that Black people need to act better isn’t proposing an actual solution to any problem. It’s the equivalent of closing your eyes, covering your ears, and screaming out loud.
“Yeah, well hundreds of Blacks are shooting each other in Chicago every year. I don’t see you protesting that!”
Chicago… Chicago…Chicago… Let’s talk a bit about Chicago
First and foremost: Black people and all concerned citizens do protest the gun violence in Chicago, but you might not be aware of that because you don’t actually care about black people, and you just want to delegitimize people’s concerns.
But, looking deeper into the issues, it’s always fascinating how it is that people point to the excessive violence and murders in Chicago, but never ask any further questions. There are minorities in every major urban area in our country, just as there are high economic disparities, but what makes Chicago different?
Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote:
“Throughout the 20th century — and perhaps even in the 21st — there was no more practiced advocate of housing segregation than the city of Chicago. Its mayors and aldermen razed neighborhoods and segregated public housing. Its businessmen lobbied for racial zoning. Its realtors block-busted whole neighborhoods, flipping them from black to white and then pocketing the profit. Its white citizens embraced racial covenants — in the ’50s, no city had more covenants in place than Chicago.”
The timing of these discriminatory policies are important, because they existed as a response to the booming increase African-Americans migrating to Northern states from the Jim Crow South.
And what was it exactly African-Americans were fleeing from that was so prevalent in the Jim Crow South? That’s right, radical oppression. This not only presented in the form of outward hate and intimidation, but the oppression of Jim Crow also manifested itself as a severe lack of career, educational, and social advancement opportunities. It’s vitally important to also remember that these folks are the first and second direct-line offspring from a 250-year ban on literacy that was punishable by… death. So when framed in it’s proper context, it may be easier to see why further inhibiting a population already set behind it’s white counterparts may have set them up for adverse outcomes, even across the Mason-Dixon Line.
“If you sought to advantage one group of Americans and disadvantage another, you could scarcely choose a more graceful method than housing discrimination. Housing determines access to transportation, green spaces, decent schools, decent food, decent jobs, and decent services. Housing affects your chances of being robbed and shot as well as your chances of being stopped and frisked. And housing discrimination is as quiet as it is deadly. It can be pursued through violence and terrorism, but it doesn’t need it. Housing discrimination is hard to detect, hard to prove, and hard to prosecute. Even today most people believe that Chicago is the work of organic sorting, as opposed segregationist social engineering. Housing segregation is the weapon that mortally injures, but does not bruise.”
It should go without saying, but obviously personal efficacy is the biggest factor in the lifestyle, criminal or non-criminal, each of us decides to live. Plenty of stories exist where folks are able to rise out of adverse situations, as do stories of folks who “have it all” falling into depths previously thought to be unimaginable. What cannot be ignored, however, is the logical sequence that is: People want to earn the most money they can, but if they are ill equipped to do so though legitimate means, other avenues become more feasible. It’s much deeper than just an attractive option. As these criminal lifestyles associated with increased violence and murder become normalized in these marginalized populations, societal pressures can make the deliberate act of avoiding a life of crime a more difficult task than those of us who live with privilege may even realize.
All historical context for the present conditions aside, we still find ourselves in the here and now, where we have to make decisions based on situations we each encounter.
So let’s pretend for a moment that Black-on-Black urban crime is something for which we as Black people are 100% to blame. Fine. Then if I want to avoid becoming a victim to these crimes, I can just move out of urban environments. Right? Well, where is it I can move to in order to avoid becoming a victim to the police?
Despite the imagery you often see in your favorite music video, movie, or television series. A whole lot of us Black folks live pretty ordinary, non-violent lifestyles. I think the perception across mainstream America is these adverse events with the Police only happen to “deserving” people who either participate in or live in close proximity to nefarious crime. When in reality, if you just took the time to talk to the Black and Brown people in your life you would see that a whole lot of them have their own negative stories involving law enforcement, despite not necessarily living criminal lifestyles.
We as minorities are able to grasp the nuanced concept that all cops aren’t evil, but that we still need to be in heightened alert in our interactions with them. What we would appreciate is the other side grasping similar nuance and see that yes, there are times when lethal force is required in attempts of arrest. That heightened alert exists for both officer and civilian, it’s not likely going to dissipate anytime soon, but what we can do is try and limit the amount of times those heightened alert situations result in death. Also, we could not feel the necessity to justify the killing of an unarmed civilian with the notion that the victim is a criminal, gangster, or thug.
The Black-on-Black crime response to Black Lives Matter hints at a notion that the Black race is inferior to other races, that we’re inherently more prone to violence, and ultimately that any other race operating under the same long history of circumstances wouldn’t have the same problems in the immediate aftermath. The reality of the situation is that because these issues affect a disproportionate amount of minorities, a lot of the initiatives to both improve our communities-lessening the police presence, and address legislation against the use of lethal force will likely come from us as minorities. Let us not pretend “What about Black-on-Black crime?” brings about any sort of complexity or sophistication to the discussion about the issues at hand.