Moderated by Rick Badie
A cry erupted from many, notably in the black community, following the not-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black boy. Some activists, pundits, moms and dads suggested that blacks in general — and our community as a whole — should address a potentially highly charged topic: black-on-black crime. Today, we present two writers with personal viewpoints on a topic that we want to become an ongoing discussion in Atlanta Forward.
The start of a tough conversation
By Rick Badie
Earvin “Magic” Johnson shocked the world on Nov. 7, 1991 with the announcement that he’d contracted the HIV virus and would retire from the NBA. In 1991, AIDS was the second-leading cause of death among men 25-to-44 years old.
Ignorance, homophobia and flat-out fear crippled a true understanding of AIDS, a mysterious malady at the time. Magic, who spoke openly and honestly about his health and how he’d acquired the virus via unprotected sex, changed the conversation about an epidemic generally thought to be a death sentence, if it was thought about at all.
With Magic, it became our disease. Yours. Mine. All were susceptible. Even the NBA superstar with a so-so hook shot and megawatt smile.
In some respects, a recent tragedy could carry similar weight — the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of the shooter, George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic. If you’re black like me — father of a son and a daughter, the ordeal inflicts bitterness. For many responsible parents, “I am Trayvon Martin” has become the mantra.
If we allow it, this horrific encounter in a gated complex could fulfill a broader purpose, just as Magic affected the face of HIV and AIDS. If we get real – true to ourselves, each other and the greater good – the troubling aspects of Trayvon’s killing – even though his shooter wasn’t black – provides impetus for a conversation long overdue, albeit racially perilous: Black-on-black crime.
In Atlanta, it’s a crucial conversation to have. Young black men dominate headlines — too often for the wrong reasons. Too many shoot and kill with abandon. We on the Opinion staff of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution plan to do more on this issue in the coming weeks.
Today’s Atlanta Forward page marks the beginning of what we hope evolves into an ongoing, common-sense discussion about crime and race — topics many people generally dance around unless they can post an anonymous, derogatory online comment. We hope you, readers of goodwill, will join us on myajc.com and on the ajc.com Atlanta Forward blog. But be forewarned: We intend to move beyond silliness. Calling the Rev. Al Sharpton a “race pimp.” Trashing “the white man.” Foolishness begone on this sensitive, important topic. Today’s guest writers are just two of the varied opinions we hope to bring you going forward. Bring them on.
The subject of black-on-black crime can cut a broad swath. Fuel infinite conversations. One can’t discuss violence of any stripe and ignore personal responsibility. It’s hard to wax poetically about such responsibility and not critique controversial laws like “stop-n-frisk” and “Stand Your Ground” where they concern blacks. Is black-on-black crime any more abhorrent than white-on-white crime? And why does society gravitate toward “black pathology” as explanation?
So let’s imagine. I do. I think Magic would admit that much work remains in regards to AIDS awareness and education. His former agent, Lon Rosen, once said the Lakers’ legend had wanted to keep the disease atop everybody’s mind.
Your newspaper strives to do likewise. We want to enlighten. And help host a conversation that has potential to save lives of every color.
Subculture disregards life
By Jerome Hudson
The rancor surrounding the George Zimmerman acquittal failed to address the problem of black-on-black crime.
The death of a minor is always tragic. The media devoted wall-to-wall coverage of Trayvon Martin’s death, even as the nation’s black-on-black killing fields — our inner cities — filled more body bags with black victims slain by black killers.
According to FBI data, 4,906 blacks killed other blacks in 2010 and 2011. To put that number in context, that is more than the total number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq over the last decade. To put it another way, more black Americans killed other blacks in two years than were lynched from 1882 to 1968, according to the Tuskegee Institute.
I am no sideline commentator. This black male was robbed at gunpoint by a black thug — a former classmate — in December 2001.
Sadly, my story is not unique. But unlike countless other black youths, my life was spared.
I am also different in that my father, an Army drill instructor, and my mother, who was a manager, supported and nurtured my moral and educational upbringing.
Today, with nearly 7 in 10 black fathers abandoning their young, is it any wonder that poverty, prison and gang lifestyles stalk so many black youths? The solution to black income inequality is painfully obvious: Bring home two full-time paychecks from a mom and a dad instead of one.
Two committed parents also means there are another pair of eyes and hands to read to that child at night, to inculcate a sense of self-worth. Two parents mean twice the chance that a black child won’t fall victim to the panoply of social pathologies that plague so many American inner cities.
It is time America broadens the parameters of our discussion about black-on-black crime. It’s past time for black America to be brutally honest with itself.
No, black people are not unique to intra-racial murder. But a subculture of wanton disregard for human life has cropped up in some communities. Not every black child who dons a hoody is a hoodlum. That does not make Trayvon Martin the new Emmett Till.
Blacks often avoid turning the spotlight on ourselves. Meanwhile, caskets are being filled with the bodies of America’s future. The culture of death thrives in America’s inner cities.
So let’s keep it real: Many of black America’s wounds are self-inflicted. Until we bolster the core pillars of personal responsibility and self-reliance that create human flourishment, all the punditry, political grandstanding and civil rights posturing will remain impotent and useless in fixing social problems that vex black Americans.
It’s past time for healing in the communities that hurt the most. This culture of murder must be confronted. Leaders must lead. And until this happens, things aren’t going to get any better.
Savannah native Jerome Hudson is a member of Project 21, a black conservative leadership network.
The myth of black-on-black crime
In Chicago, 16-year-old Darryl Green was killed, relatives reported, because he refused to join a gang. Unlike most tragedies — which remain local news — this one caught the attention of conservative activist Ben Shapiro, who tweeted and publicized Green’s murder. But this wasn’t a call for help and assistance for Green’s family. Rather, it was his response to wide outrage over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Shapiro, echoing many other conservatives, is angry over the perceived politicization of the Zimmerman trial, and believes that activists have ”injected” race into the discussion, as if there’s nothing racial already within the criminal-justice system. He complains that media attention had everything to do with Zimmerman’s race. If he were black, the argument goes, no one would care.
And so, Shapiro found the sad story of Darryl Green, and promoted it as an example of the “black-on-black” crime that, he believes, goes ignored. Or, as he tweets, “49 percent of murder victims are black men. 93 percent of those are killed by other blacks. Media don’t care. Obama doesn’t care. #JusticeForDarryl.”
The idea that “black-on-black” crime is the real story in Martin’s killing isn’t a novel one. Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara has said that his client “never would have been charged with a crime” if he were black.
But there’s a huge problem with this attempt to shift the conversation: There’s no such thing as “black-on-black” crime. Yes, from 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders, but that racial exclusivity was also true for white victims of violent crime — 86 percent were killed by white offenders. Indeed, for the large majority of crimes, you’ll find that victims and offenders share a racial identity, or have some prior relationship to each other.
What Shapiro and others miss about crime, in general, is that it’s driven by opportunism and proximity. If African-Americans are more likely to be robbed, or injured, or killed by other African-Americans, it’s because they tend to live in the same neighborhoods as each other. And of course the reverse holds – whites are more likely to live near whites.
Nor are African-Americans especially criminal. If they were, you would still see high rates of crime among blacks, even as the nation sees a historic decline in criminal offenses. Instead, crime rates among African-Americans, and black youth in particular, have taken a sharp drop. Overall, figures from a variety of institutions — including the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics — show that among black youth, rates of robbery and serious property offenses are at their lowest rates in 40 years, as are rates of violent crime and victimization.
“Black-on-black crime” has been part of the American lexicon for decades, but as a specific phenomenon, it’s no more real than “white-on-white crime.” Unlike the latter, however, the idea of “black-on-black crime” taps into specific fears around black masculinity and black criminality — the same fears that, in Florida, led George Zimmerman to focus his attention on Trayvon Martin, and in New York, continue to justify Michael Bloomberg’s campaign of police harassment against young black men in New York City.
Jamelle Bouie originally wrote this article for The Daily Beast, which gave us permission to reprint it.