Black lives matter: the irony behind black-on-black crime


Graphic illustration by Brad Stout

Civil unrest in Ferguson points to deeper issues

This summer, we have been inundated with images of unarmed black bodies cut down by white authority figures. These tragedies have re-opened wounds in our community (as if the wounds left from Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis were ever healed to begin with) which have resulted in uprisings in Ferguson, Mo.

I had the privilege of hearing commentary from individuals on both sides, but one notion constantly being reiterated was “black-on-black crime.”

It was discussed to the point where I personally had to rethink my views on the subject. After serious introspection, I reached the conclusion that black on black crime definitely exists, but it is examined through a warped societal lens. Here’s how:

1.    No other group of people are pigeonholed or vilified as heavily when they commit acts of violence against their own. Maybe I’m mistaken, but white-on-white crime, hispanic-on-hispanic crime and Asian-on-Asian crime don’t seem to be as popular. Homicides take place within all of these groups, yet the magnifying glass is always on black people.

2.    By its very existence, black on black crime invalidates any idea of a post-racial society in the United States. If we are so far removed from race, why the term “black-on-black crime”? Please, I beg all of you, stop using this void and meaningless term “post-racial.” There’s no such thing as “post-racial.” There’s no “post-racial United States.” Racism DID NOT disappear after Obama was elected. There’s no “post-racial era.” It’s a term for a concept that does not exist. Even if there was such a thing as a post-racial society, I would not live in it. However, I would like to live in a post-RACIST society: a world where I am not targeted, ostracized, marginalized, or politically/economically disenfranchised by the color of my skin. Two completely different conceptions.

3.    White people kill each other too. According to reports from the United States Department of Justice, most homicides are intraracial in that 84 percent of white victims were killed by whites.

4.    Respectability politics constantly distracts us from the larger issues: In short, “respectability politics” is an understood set of rules about how black people should act in order to live positively in a Eurocentric environment. When we fail to carry ourselves in a “respectable” fashion, it is used as an excuse for increased police presence in communities of color. I am not advocating for sagging pants and gangs signs being thrown up. However, telling black people to take off our hoodies, pull up our pants, and turn down our music does not solve the problem of police brutality. It is merely a method of pacification to shame black people so they shut up about actual issues.

5.    The notion of black on black crime justifies increased police force. If you arm local police forces with military-grade equipment, soon their behavior will be reminiscent to troops stationed overseas. The emphasis on community policing takes a back seat to SWAT raids. Furthermore, when society at large perpetuates the idea of black on black crime, they are indirectly asserting that black people are inherently violent. Therefore, due to our “naturally aggressive” disposition, a separate set of rules govern our treatment from police. Under this mindset, a militarized police, riot gear for minor offenses, and a “shoot first” mentality are all necessary tactics when dealing with black suspects.

People are outraged over the murder of Mike Brown, as they should be. However, we need to be consistent with our outrage. This is not to excuse police and their occupation and terrorizing of communities of color. But the fact remains that hundreds of black women and men shot and killed in Chicago, New York, Detroit and Oakland over the past two summers received no national moment of silence, no walkout, no rally, no day of rage, no acknowledgement whatsoever.

Intraracial violence and police brutality in the black community cannot be viewed as isolated issues because they share a common denominator: the loss of black life.

As people of color and as black people, we must stand and act with the same level of indignation whenever a young sister or brother’s life is lost to gun violence.

Today, our house is on fire, and when we ask for water, they bring us gasoline in the form of armored tanks rolling through residential areas. We have an obligation to secure our neighborhoods and re-sensitize this country to the loss of black lives.

Josh Odam is a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, founder and co-chair of the Organization for Black Leftist Unity and People of African Descent Caucus Chair for the United States Student Association.