The best writing advice I ever got was to read a lot more than I type. Because of that, I subscribe to more content than it’s possible to get through every month. I consider the cost of the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, USA Today, The Athletic, Essence and so forth as the premium on an insurance policy that protects me against writing from a place of ignorance. I draw from that factual archive to inform my pieces, and in the case of what I’m writing here, to dispatch people who want smoke after reading my work without too much effort.
Today’s offender is Greg, who emailed this gem in response to my piece last week about the mass shooting of four Black students outside a Pittsburgh high school–my high school:
The ongoing big story here is that the major news networks will not cover black-on-black crime. They seem to pretend that it doesn’t exist. If a police officer anywhere in our country (especially if he’s white) injures or kills a black person, it’s instantly national news. Yet every day we lose about 2 black people an hour to black on black murders. At least twice that number are wounded in black-on-black drive-by shootings.
It gets worse:
The reason is that the too-liberal news industry is obsessed with promoting an attitude of ‘blacks can do no wrong.’ They’re all victims of racism. It’s incredibly hypocritical, and it ignores the significant cultural problem that exists within a percentage of the black community – particularly the inner city community. Our news networks are irresponsible and don’t do a good job. They are more to blame for the number of whites who have “moved to the right” and watch Fox than anything else. They are more divisive than Trump!
Whoa…slow down, there Gregory. Imagine reading a story about four kids getting shot walking home from school and having your first takeaway be, “The media never writes about Black people shooting Black people!” Imagine consuming any media at all, literally reading or watching any news content and concluding that American media ignores Black criminality and only portrays Black folks in a positive light. Sir, what planet are you from?
If I was like Greg and did less reading than writing, I might not be able to make easy work of his nonsense. But since I regularly put my literacy to good use, I already knew that most of the work was done for me.
You see, Greg, it just took a quick keyword search of the New York Times’ archive to return the phrase “black-on-black crime” in 113 articles dating as far back as November 13, 1974. The L.A. Times found it 106 times dating back to 1986. It took less than a minute to come up with those results, and they’re only half a drop in the enormous bucket that is mainstream media coverage of Black pathology, as evidenced by the race and proximity of victims of gun violence in the late 20th century and the early aughts. Thousands of such stories appeared in American media in that era, when urban violence spiked and alleged Black pathologies, like single-parent homes and addiction, were blamed rather than the awful economic policies that left voids in communities that got filled by crime. It continues today, though less egregiously, due to the work of many activists, Black journalists and groups like the National Association of Black Journalists, where I was a board member for six years (we even gave an annual “Thumbs Down” award for just such coverage).
American media has never ignored Black peer violence, nor Greg’s racist notion that that violence is the result of “a significant cultural problem”, i.e., Black culture is inherently more violent than that of other ethnic groups. The existence of Fox News is an extreme, but daily reminder that that kind of content remains readily available.
But it is remarkably easy to find evidence that instead of ignoring violence in Black communities, or bringing depth and light to its root causes, American media’s incessant, basic coverage of Black communities helped make a problematic situation worse. Many crime stories centered in poor, Black and Hispanic communities are still reported from a place of bias and lack critical context, most notably that almost all violent crime in the U.S. is committed by members of the victim’s racial peer group. According to the most recent FBI data, the percentages of Black and white homicide victims and their assailants match up almost exactly; 54.7% of murder victims and 55.9% of offenders were Black; for whites the numbers were 42.3% and 41.1% of victims and perpetrators, respectively. Only 9.9% of all victims died at the hand of strangers.
Translation: white folks out here killing each other just as much as everybody else. But I’ll bet you whatever that Greg never emailed a writer about ignoring white-on-white crime and how a degenerate culture leads to it.
Media’s unceasing reporting on the canard of black-on-black crime undoubtedly stoked fear among Americans, Black and white, and helped lead to or further regressive public policies like mass incarceration, prison privatization, the militarization of police forces and aggressive policing tactics in communities that desperately needed a professional, respectful focus on public safety. One of those communities is Homewood, the same Pittsburgh neighborhood where Westinghouse Academy, scene of last week’s mass shooting,
The Washington Post, in a July 2020 piece by Shirley Carwsell, a longtime Post journalist and, like me, a Pittsburgh native, breaks down how white men are the same folk who oppose solutions that most Black people believe would best address peer violence in our neighborhoods.
For example, 72 percent of Black Americans, she wrote, citing a Pew Research Center survey, support stricter gun control laws while only 40 percent of whites do. White men support gun control less than any other racial-gender group, despite the fact that suicides–not gangbangers shooting each other in the street–are the leading cause of gun deaths in the U.S. every year, and that white men account for nearly three-quarters of gun deaths by suicide.
It would have taken Greg less time to Google that info than to email me, but that presupposes he actually cares about truth, facts and their relationship to the media and Black communities. As much as they protest on Twitter and in the inboxes of Black writers who call out our country’s hypocrisy around race and gun violence, people like Greg don’t actually care about any of that, and here’s the tell: they only pipe up when it suits their version of reality.
When I wrote about J. Alexander Keung, the Black cop who participated in the murder of George Floyd, I heard from exactly zero Gregs. Likewise, I’ve yet to see any of the “what about Chicago” clique get in their feelings about the five Black cops who beat Tyre Nichols to death, even though both killings are examples of Black death at the hands of other Black people.
When I wrote about last year that I wished the culture would reserve the epithet “fuckboy” for people like Ronald Steave, a Black man accused of killing two women and a child on New Year’s Day 2021, and of being connected to at least one other murder in Homewood, I got lots of feedback from other Black folks about the idea of changing up the definition of the slang term. I heard from no white folks concerned about the lives of Black women and children. I wonder why?
In fairness, Greg never told me his race, so he (and I’m making an assumption about gender ID there), might not be white at all. He might come from the ranks of Black folks who are more worried about how often racism gets pointed out than about actual racism. What’s sad for him is that fact-based smackdowns are always equal opportunity here.