Chenelle A. Jones, Ph.D.
Ohio Dominican University
Over the past weekend, thousands of Americans rallied in over 100 cities across the nation. People from all walks of life united in a call for justice in response to the recent Zimmerman verdict.
However, as protesters converged on their respective City Halls, Capitol buildings, and designated neighborhoods, another protest was emerging in social media outlets. This protest was not directed towards injustices within the criminal justice system, nor was it directed towards issues concerning racism or discrimination. This protest was directed towards the Black community for demanding justice.
Many people (particularly right-winged conservatives) argued that for Black people to demand justice following the murder of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, was to demonstrate a hypocritical disposition towards criminality and the justice system. Especially, since Blacks are more likely than any other race, to commit crimes against other Blacks.
This phenomenon is often referred to as “Black-on-Black Crime”. The resounding message was that Blacks need to address crime within their own community before attempting to address it outside of their community. This point of view is valid. Crime within the Black community is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed, but this shouldn’t underscore the fact that Blacks are also disparately treated in the criminal justice system and have the right to advocate systemic change. The surge of peaceful activism may be the very catalyst that initiates substantive criminal justice reform which subsequently facilitates a reduction in crime and victimization trends among Blacks.
There is no question that crime within the Black community is an issue. However, there is a need to discuss and deconstruct this notion of “Black-on-Black Crime”. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) notes that most crime is intra-racial. Statistics show that 84% of White victims are killed by Whites and 93% of Black victims are killed by Blacks (BJS, 2011).
So to argue that the intra-racial phenomenon of crime victimization is unique to the Black community is to demonstrate an inaccurate assessment of historical and contemporary crime and victimization trends. Furthermore, to acknowledge the existence of “Black-on-Black” crime without equally acknowledging the existence of “White-on-White” crime is to perpetuate a myth of inherent black criminality, and Blacks are not inherently criminal.
A majority of crimes against Blacks are committed by other Blacks and that same argument can be made for Whites. Crime is often associated with proximity. Blacks are more likely to live near other Blacks therefore the opportunity to offend Blacks is greater. Whites are more likely to live near other Whites therefore the opportunity to offend Whites is greater. This is evidenced in intra-racial crime trends and from this perspective, Black-on-Black crime is just as real (or unreal) as White-on-White crime.
Another issue with the “Black-on-Black Crime” argument is that it perpetuates the notion that crime trends in the black community have not improved, nor have Blacks worked to facilitate its improvement. Although there is always room for improvement when it comes to crime trends, it must be noted that homicide rates for Blacks have declined dramatically. The offending rate for Blacks was 51 per 100,000 in 1991 and that rate has since dropped to 24 per 100,000 (BJS, 2011).
There is no doubt that the current homicide rate for Blacks is still high but it must be acknowledged that the rate has declined. So, to suggest that the Black community should focus on crime issues within their community and not consider broader, macro-level issues that may contribute to crime and victimization trends within the community, is to demonstrate a clear misunderstanding of how historically racial and socio-economic trends converge to impact crime rates. Furthermore, to suggest that Blacks should focus on issues of crime within their community before addressing crime within a broader context, is to blatantly overlook the work that has already been done, and the work that continues to be done to address crime rates.
The final issue with the “Black-on-Black Crime” argument involves the disparate treatment of Black and White offenders in the criminal justice system. Whites represent a majority of the American population and are responsible for 54% of murders involving an intimate partner, 59% of murders involving a family member, 55% of murders involving infants, 56% of murders involving elders, 54% of sex related murders, 53% of gang related murders, 70% of workplace related murders, 55% of arson related murders, 80% of poison related murders, and 53% of murders involving multiple victims (BJS, 2011). Blacks comprise 13% of the population and are responsible for 59% of felony murders, 65% of drug murders, 50% of murders involving an argument, 56% of gun homicides, and 54% of murders with multiple offenders (BJS, 2011).
Although Whites commit more types of homicides in comparison to Blacks, Blacks are more likely to be arrested and convicted. Whites are just as likely as Blacks to commit crimes against people of their own race, but Blacks often receive longer sentences and are more likely to be incarcerated or sentenced to death when they commit crimes against people of their own race. It is a double-standard that Whites who commit crimes are more likely to be acquitted, and Blacks who commit crimes and are more likely to be convicted. This historical issue of racially disparate treatment in the criminal justice system is another reason why people rally for justice. Using the “Black-on-Black Crime” argument only serves as a means to distract people from macro-level issues of injustice.
Crime within the Black community is indisputably an issue, however the “Black-on-Black Crime” argument should not be used as a means to distract the Black community from demanding justice within the criminal justice system. Blacks can simultaneously work towards improving their own crime trends and demand justice. So, let the protesters continue in their pursuits. If they want to march, let them march, if they want to sit-in, let them sit-in, if they want to boycott, let them boycott because when all is said and done, the protestors will be the vessels that will move this nation.
Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics (2011). Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.