Earl Ofari Hutchinson
This latest report from the Dept. of Justice on murder rates in America for 1998 has caused nervous jitters among many policy makers. The report shows that blacks continue to kill each other at rates seven times greater than whites The huge rise in the number of police, the construction of dozens of new prisons and the passage of tougher laws have not curbed the violence. The first step toward understanding the chronically high black murder rates is to recognize that blacks are not slaughtering each other at an alarming rate because they are by nature violent or crime prone. They are not killing each other simply because they are poor and oppressed. Or because they are acting out the obscene and lewd violence they see and hear on TV, films, and in gangster rap lyrics on the streets. The next step is to understand that the violence results from a combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage many blacks carry.
In the past crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. The implicit message was that black lives were expendable. Many studies have confirmed that the punishment blacks receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black. This perceived devaluation of black lives by racism has encouraged disrespect for the law and has forced many blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others, and often those victims are women. When women were groped, fondled and assaulted in New York's Central Park by mostly young black and Puerto Rican males most observers chalked it up to male misbehavior toward women. But this is far too simple. Far to many young black males have become especially adept at acting out their frustrations at white society's denial of their "manhood" by adopting an exaggerated "tough guy" role. They swagger, boast, curse, fight and commit violent self-destructive acts. When black women refuse to be sexually submissive or are perceived as trying to control them, they become frequent targets of the violence. Black females were far more likely to be murdered by black males than white females by white males.
When many black males indulge their murderous impulses on women and other black males, they are often taking out their pent-up frustrations on those whom they perceive are as helpless and hapless as themselves. The twisted psychological forces is a warped response to racism and deprivation, blocked opportunities, powerlessness and alienation. The other powerful ingredient in the deadly mix of black-on-black violence is the gang and drug plague. The spread of the drug trade during the 1980's made black youth gangs even bigger and more dangerous. Drug trafficking not only provided illicit profits but also made gun play even more widespread. Gang members used their arsenals to fend off attacks, protect their profits from hostile predators, and to settle scores with rivals. Much of the recent escalation in the murder rates can be directly traced to busted drug deals, competition over markets and disputes over turf. Often innocent victims are caught in their shoot-outs thus fortifying the conviction of suburban whites that black communities are depraved war zones. An economic slowdown, deteriorating public education, police violence, and the sharp upswing in the number of young persons in the most crime-prone aged group, 14 to 20 may trigger a new wave of killings. Unfortunately, the Dept. of Justice's report contained no suggestions as to how to confront this potential rising danger. Presumptive Republican Presidential contender George W. Bush and rival Democrat Al Gore have been stone silent on the high black murder rates and have not proposed any new policy initiatives to deal with the problem.
It will take a coordinated effort by educators, health professionals, drug counselors, violence prevention specialists, gang intervention activists, victims of violence groups, and local community activists and leaders to curb the violence. Their task is to devise and coordinate short and long-term strategies and programs to provide jobs, training, better education, and boost the self-esteem of at risk young blacks. The task of public officials is to provide the political muscle and resources to implement these programs. If young whites were killing other whites in the appalling numbers revealed by the Dept. of Justice the public and policy makers would declare it a crisis and rush to find ways to stop it. But the tragedy is that blacks are killing each other in those appalling numbers and there should be the same diligent search to find ways to stop it. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Disappearance of Black Leadership. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
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