Sunday, August 19, 2012

Street Fighting Years: The Grim Reality of Race & Murder in America

The Wall Street Journal had a depressing article a couple days ago about one of the most intractable, yet least discussed, problems in modern America: the deadly epidemic of murder within the black community.
Homicide victims usually are killed by people of their own race and ethnicity. The pattern goes back at least a generation.

Bureau of Justice Statistics data show that from 1976 to 2005, white victims were killed by white defendants 86% of the time and black victims were killed by blacks 94% of the time. 
Then there is the matter of who is dying. Although the U.S. murder rate has been dropping for years, an analysis of homicide data by The Wall Street Journal found that the number of black male victims increased more than 10%, to 5,942 in 2010 from 5,307 in 2000.

Overall, more than half the nation's homicide victims are African-American, though blacks make up only 13% of the population. Of those black murder victims, 85% were men, mostly young men.

Despite the declining U.S. murder rate, killings remain stubbornly high in poor pockets of cities large and small. In some cases, the rate is rising sharply. That increase is draining resources from police, prosecutors, social workers and hospitals
As the Journal makes clear, young black men aren't just dying in the inner cities, they are bleeding out in exurbs, southern backwaters, rust belt ghost towns and anywhere else you can imagine.
As of Friday, Philadelphia police had been called to 223 homicides, compared with 198 last year. Chicago has recorded 337 murders, compared with 263 in the year-earlier period, a 28% jump.

Public outcry there escalated after June 27, when stray bullets fired by an alleged gang member killed 7-year-old Heaven Sutton in a poor area on the city's West Side. Uproar over the little girl's death led Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to announce a gang crackdown in neighborhoods with high murder rates. 
The increase isn't uniform. In New York, 246 people this year have been murdered as of August 5, a 17% decline from a year earlier, police say. 
Overwhelmingly, the victims are black men like Mr. Gibbs, who was shot in the back of the head in his car in Louisiana. Or Rahiem Bailey, 29, who was killed during an apparent robbery in Norfolk, Va. He died the evening of Feb. 26, an hour before Mr. Martin, the Florida teenager, was killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman. Lecarlos Todd, a 19-year-old college student, was shot to death earlier that same day in Jackson, Tenn., one of numerous people hurt during a melee at a local night spot. Jackson police said he was an innocent bystander.

In each of these cases, the victims were African Americans younger than 30, and the people charged also were young black men.
The Journal makes the obvious point: the Trayvon Martin case might have caught the attention of the president and the civil rights industry, but that crime was exceptional precisely because of the ethnicity of the shooter.

More important is the blink-or-you'll-miss statistic that more than half of US murder victims are black. That is simply staggering, and you just can't blame anyone except the black community for such a breakdown. President Obama has deigned to comment on just two police matters during his presidency: the Henry "the police acted stupidly" Gates controversy and Trayvon "He could have been my son" Martin. But, where is he - and his community organizing skills - when it comes to the sort of murders that are reality, and not the bizarre exception as in the case of Gates and Martin? 

American society has grappled with this problem for decades. It used to be proverty was the "root cause" of crime, so the War on Poverty and its myriad of programs was rationalized in part on attacking this supposed incubator of crime. Then, it was a Big Problem that the (racist) justice system was too white to deal with black, but now there are black cops, black prosecutors, black judges, black Supreme Court justices, and a black attorney general. And, of course, it would be a boon for race relations and the black community if a black man was elected president. Hasn't worked out that way, has it?

We can all pull a long face, and talk about how we want to solve this long-standing problem, but at this point, I think American society has run out of solutions. It can't be that hard to avoid street life and an early death. Plenty of young black men grow up and grow old without much fuss. But, the phenomenon of black men killing other black men is one that black leaders simply won't confront. When Bill Cosby made an elliptical suggestion that poor blacks were not holding up their end of the civil rights struggle - meaning they were squandering the opportunities the civil rights generation purchased for them at the cost of much blood, sweat and tears - Cosby was pilloried, even though everyone knew he spoke the truth.

 I can't offer any grand sweeping solutions to the above, mostly because we've already spent decades employing  grand sweeping solutions to no good effect. Don't want to end up as a FBI statistic, and bleeding from a headwound at the end of a Baton Rouge backstreet? Then don't hang out with thugs and criminals. There are plenty of black men who manage to do that. We should spend more time ensuring their lives are happy and productive, rather than trying to "save" low-lifes who couldn't even manage to save themselves.

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