Why Black Murder Rates Remain So High


The same week that public and media attention was riveted on the shocking murder-abduction of Samantha Runnion, the mother of seven-year old Jaunnicia Milton was gunned down in Oakland. Her shooting was only the latest in a string of murders in the city and got only passing notice. At the present rate, the murder toll will soar in Oakland to more than 100 by year’s end. But the body count in Oakland is no aberration. According to the latest report from the Justice Department, murders have sharply risen in every major city.


The killer of Wilson’s mother, and indeed most of the other victims and their killers in major cities, are likely to be a young, black male. The murder rate among blacks is seven times greater than among whites. More police, prosecutors, three strikes, and mandatory sentencing laws, the death penalty, and the nearly one million blacks behind bars, have been done little to curb the black-on-black carnage. And they won’t. Despite the pet theories of liberals and conservatives, blacks aren’t killing each other because they are violent or crime prone by nature, or solely because they are poor and oppressed. Or even because they are acting out the obscene and lewd violence they see and hear on TV, films, and in gangster rap lyrics on the streets. The violence results from a combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage many blacks carry.


In the past crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. The implicit message was that black lives were expendable. Many studies have confirmed that the punishment blacks receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black. This perceived devaluation of black lives by racism has encouraged disrespect for the law and has forced many blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others, and often those victims are women.


When women were groped, fondled and assaulted in New York’s Central Park by mostly young black and Puerto Rican males a couple of years ago most observers chalked it up to male misbehavior toward women. But this is far too simple. Far to many young black males have become especially adept at acting out their frustrations at white society’s denial of their “manhood” by adopting an exaggerated “tough guy” role. They swagger, boast, curse, fight and commit violent self-destructive acts. When black women refuse to be sexually submissive or are perceived as trying to control them, they become frequent targets of the violence. Black females were far more likely to be murdered by black males than white females by white males.


When many black males indulge their murderous impulses on women and other black males, they are often taking out their pent-up frustrations on those whom they perceive as helpless and hapless. This is a twisted, and warped response to racism and deprivation, blocked opportunities, powerlessness and alienation.


The other powerful ingredient in the deadly mix of black-on-black violence is the gang and drug plague. The spread of the drug trade during the 1980′s made black gangs even bigger and more dangerous. Drug trafficking not only provided illicit profits but also made gun play even more widespread. Gang members used their arsenals to fend off attacks, protect their profits from hostile predators, and to settle scores with rivals. Much of the recent escalation in the murder rates can be directly traced to busted drug deals, competition over markets and disputes over turf. Often innocent victims are caught in their shoot-outs thus fortifying the conviction of suburban whites that black communities are depraved war zones.


An economic slowdown, deteriorating public education, and the sharp upswing in the number of young persons in the most crime-prone aged group, 14 to 20, may trigger a new wave of killings. Unfortunately, the Justice Department’s report contained no suggestions as to how to confront this potential rising danger. President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have been stone silent on the high black murder rates and have not proposed any new policy initiatives to deal with the problem.


It will take a coordinated effort by educators, health professionals, drug counselors, violence prevention specialists, gang intervention activists, victims of violence groups, and local community activists and leaders to stem the violence. They must devise and coordinate short and long-term strategies and programs to provide jobs, training, better education, and boost the self-esteem of at-risk young blacks. Public officials must provide the political muscle and resources to implement these programs.


If young whites were killing other whites in the same appalling numbers as blacks the public and policy makers would declare it a national crisis and rush to find ways to stop it. But the tragedy is that blacks are killing each other in those appalling numbers and this makes it no less a tragedy that demands action.


Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).

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