Do Blacks Cheapen Black Life?

We devalue our own lives when we fail to speak out against black-on-black violence.

Screenshot from a video promoting an end to black-on-black crime. (YouTube)
Screenshot from a video promoting an end to black-on-black crime. (YouTube)

(The Root) — The verdict in the George Zimmerman trial didn’t sadden me. What did was the reaction — largely among but not limited to African Americans — of outrage displayed on social media and in countless protests demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.

Please don’t misunderstand. As the African-American father of two black boys — one of them 17 years old — I feel greatly for the parents of Trayvon. No person, no matter race or gender, deserves to be stalked and confronted for walking home from a convenience store. And he surely should not end up dead.

The reasons that led Zimmerman to profile Trayvon are complex, as is what led Mark O’Mara, one of Zimmerman’s attorneys, to say after the trial that his client would not have been arrested in the case if he were black “because those people who decided that they were going to make him the scapegoat would not have.” In other words, the national outcry — even from President Obama — happened only because Zimmerman is a white Hispanic. Conversely, there would not have been a national outcry from the black community, O’Mara suggests, if Zimmerman had been black.

Indeed, a key component of this awful tragedy is the message that our community already delivers to the world: African-American life is cheap. We deliver that message through our everyday collective silence in communities nationwide. Silence in not engaging in a sustained fight to stop the slaughter in our neighborhoods of our young black men. Silence in stonewalling law-enforcement officials when they seek assistance in finding murder suspects. Silence in not letting those outside our community — including  Zimmerman juror B-37 — appreciate that every black life is precious.

From 1980 to 2008, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics, 93 percent of black homicide victims were killed by other blacks. During the same time, 84 percent of white homicide victims were killed by other whites. But blacks are disproportionately represented in homicides as both victim and offender. Blacks were six times more likely to be killed than whites and eight times more likely to face homicide-related charges.

Where is the outrage in our community about all of those slain blacks, most of whom were male and a plurality of whom were under 25 years old? Where are the protest demonstrations? Where is our community’s message that the ongoing carnage is unacceptable?

Sabiyah Prince, a Washington, D.C.-based anthropologist whose specialty is African-American life and culture and who has worked with community organizations in Harlem and D.C., says that it’s easier to garner support when the foe represents power. “In a situation where a child walks to the store and a quasi-law-enforcement person can shoot and kill him and get away with it … that mobilizes people,” Prince says.

It would be nice, Prince says, for community groups to have the numbers of supporters who are speaking out and protesting about the Zimmerman verdict. “It would make it easier to get things accomplished,” she says.

It would also help to communicate to the world that every black life matters. It would help others perceive us as something other than the ridiculous stereotypes too often portrayed in mass media.