You’ve heard it before. It is the most frequent response to any accusation of police brutality. It is the repeated sleight of hand used to distract and drown out the voices of Black Lives Matter. It is an oft-used “alt-right” refrain and a sincere query from curious white questioners. It is the weapon of choice for the black practitioners of respectability politics and the favorite follow-up for people who frame their arguments with the preamble, “Not all white people ... ”
Why don’t black people ever talk about black-on-black crime?
Instead of rejecting the entire notion as a method of deflection and privilege, we will attempt to formally dismiss the conversation forever by laying out the facts about why white America never hears us talk about black-on-black crime.
According to the FBI’s uniform crime-reporting data for 2016, 90.1 percent of black victims of homicide were killed by other blacks, while 83.5 percent of whites were killed by other whites. While no life is inconsequential, the statistical evidence shows that—just as for blacks when it comes to black-on-black crime—whites are mostly victimized by other whites, with the vast majority of white murders committed by whites. This is because most victims of crime personally know their assailants. And while this is a truth across racial boundaries, no one ever talks about “white-on-white crime.”
Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ arrest data analysis tool shows that less than 1 percent of blacks overall (about 2 percent of black men) commit a violent crime in any given year. This means, factoring in interracial violent offenses, 99 percent of black men do not commit black-on-black crime.
Imagine the head of Homeland Security walking up to the microphone to hold a press conference after a horrific terrorist attack, but when reporters start asking him about stopping terrorism and catching the culprits, he begins talking about texting and driving.
Sounds stupid, right?
But distracted driving kills more Americans each year than terrorism (and black-on-black crime), according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, so, according to the advocates of conversations about black-on-black crime, we should be discussing this first.
It is true that the vast majority of black murders are committed by black men, and we should do something to combat that statistic (we will get to that later, I promise), but that fact has nothing to do with state violence. When anyone interrupts a discussion about Black Lives Matter by bringing up black-on-black crime, it sounds as stupid as if a doctor addressed a cancerous brain tumor by asking about domestic violence, or if America’s highest-ranking government official addressed white supremacist Nazi-palooza by talking about the so-called alt-left and the “very fine” tiki-torch carriers.
No one would ever be that stupid.
It is perfectly understandable why white America assumes that black people don’t talk about black-on-black crime. However, the reason they make this assumption dates to a quote found in recently uncovered papers from an unnamed woman archaeological and historical researchers refer to as “Grandmama”:
“It ain’t none of their damn business.”
The reality is, in neighborhoods and cities across America, there are countless organizations, activists and movements dedicated to curbing violence in black communities. The number of “Stop the Violence” marches dwarfs the demonstrations against police brutality. Unity rallies and peace picnics happen every day. Scared Straight programs for at-risk youths, gang counseling, neighborhood watches, intervention specialists, youth counselors, and too many other people and groups to name all lead the charge against crime and violence.
But those efforts don’t make the evening news because they aren’t as salacious as people blocking traffic and protesting; nor do they serve the preconceived white confirmation bias. Besides, there’s no way white people would know about this unless they stopped deflecting with trite questions and instead actually went into a minority neighborhood to selflessly join the effort to address the problems plaguing ...
OK, you can stop laughing now.
Both sociologists and criminologists agree that violent crime is a complex socioeconomic phenomenon. Generally speaking, research shows that poor people commit the most crime: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, during the period from 2008 through 2012, “persons in poor households at or below the federal poverty level (FPL) (39.8 per 1,000) had more than double the rate of violent victimization as persons in high-income households (16.9 per 1,000) ... The overall pattern of poor persons having the highest rates of violent victimization was consistent for both whites and blacks.”
Knowing this, the small difference in crime rates can easily be explained by income disparity. Maybe the question should be why are such a large percentage of black people poor?
As a matter of fact, if we are going to derail a conversation about black lives to talk about black-on-black crime, there are a few other questions we should answer first:
Why is the rate of violence actually higher among poor, urban whites? Why don’t we ever discuss the economic impact of redlining and segregation on rates of violence?
If we are going to discuss the number of black people killed by blacks, should we discuss the number of white people murdered, raped and assaulted by fellow whites? Will this conversation include a debate about how blacks are arrested, incarcerated and sentenced for longer periods than whites for committing the same crimes?
Are you willing to detour into a brief explanation of why schools with large percentages of blacks are underfunded even though they have the same tax base and incomes? Do you have time to talk about the wage gap? Unemployment disparities?
All of these factors contribute to crime rates. So if you want to have a conversation about black-on-black crime, you should be careful, because, like most conversations about race, it will end up back in the same place:
*A previous version of this article said that most murders were committed by whites. The FBI statistic referred to by that claim is only true in homicides by a single victim and a single offender.