Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Another “Black-on-Black Violence” Study: Why It’s Not Just Causing African-Americans More Harm Than Good (Part I)

Ok, by now I’m sure you’ve seen or heard the latest headliners about young black males and homicide: Criminal Justice professors James Alan Fox and Marc Swatt “… [found]… an increase of more than 39 percent from 2000 to 2007 in the number of black males ages 14 to 17 who were killed and a 34 percent increase in the number of blacks in that age group who committed homicide.”

While the numbers are alarming, the only problem I have with studies such as these is that they tend to portray or are used to casts ethnic groups as the sole source of the malady. White youth commit crime too: According to Newsmax, the federal Centers for Disease Control reports that "a white adolescent male is four times more likely than his African-American classmate to be a regular cocaine user. Whites are 66 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds, and yet they are 70 percent of drug users in that age group… [And], approximately 9 out of 10 serial killers are white males between the ages of 20 and 35. Yet we never hear these statistics repeated over and over again in the mainstream press, making these crimes synonymous with one particular race as is the case with blacks."

I conducted a search of the literature to help me get my arm around the subject and came across an intriguing abstract by James F. Anderson [1]. Anderson does an excellent job of defining the three classical views on the causes of crime IN URBAN AREAS (remember this because I’m going to come back to it). Some believe that because blacks were excluded (i.e. from good jobs, education, housing, and political access) and victimized (institutionalized racism, discrimination, and brutality) many blacks to chose crime as an alternative means to achieve social and economic prosperity. [Anderson] In other words, a community structure just wasn’t there. Others believe social forces are responsible: peer pressure if you will. [Anderson] Finally, there’s the view that black males learn and assimilate criminal attitudes from others. [Anderson] The proverbial; “birds of a feather flock together.”

As I read the abstract I came to one conclusion: we keep saying that “these” people are broke and we need to fix “them”; even if society, as a whole, created the problem. Remember earlier when I mentioned the abstract focused on urban areas? That IS the problem! We keep trying to define the problem as a black problem as if crime only exists or is committed in the black community by black folk. And that simply is not true. Again, there is no black crime, white crime, race crimes, etc. There is only crime and it affects us all—if not, why do you have that car alarm on that expensive car that you drive from that expense (and alarmed) house in the “burbs” to that high-profile job downtown?

The bottom line is crime is a problem—for everyone, every race, everywhere. We are all victims of crime in one way or another. We have all enabled crime to happen, even if only through indifference (i.e. to “those victims”, “those communities”, “those people”, to the human spirit). Seeing it any other way probably explains why our “solutions” to it are so fragmented, mismanaged, uncoordinated, and inept. Therefore, all Americans are suffering.

I also found one interesting commonality among all three theories that I feel offers a solution. I will cover both his proposal and mine in part 2 of this post.

1. Anderson, James F. “African-Americans, Violence, Disabilities, and Public Policy: A Call For A Workable Approach to Alleviating the Pains of Inner-City Life.” Western Journal of Black Studies Summer 1998.