A guide to debunking 'black-on-black crime' and all of its rhetorical cousins

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Hello, and welcome to the guide to debunking “black-on-black crime” and all of its rhetorical cousins. Black-on-black crime may no longer be the right-wing media’s slogan du jour, but its replacements express the same sentiment.


Inevitably, when there’s an uptick of homicides in cities with sizable black populations, or to deflect from movements calling attention to the killings of black people by law enforcement, headlines like these crop up: “Black Lives Matter only When They Are Killed by White Cops”, “#SomeBlackLivesDontMatter,” and  “Murder Capital Homicide Explosion in wake of Freddie Gray case dwarfs rate of similar cities.”

So we here at Fusion have put together a comprehensive list on what to do when someone you love, hate, or feel so-so about goes on about “but what about that black crime in the black community” as an alternative to talking about the deaths of black people by police. We got you. Start with: “Nah, chill. Here’s what’s actually going on.”

1. First thing to debunk? The term “black-on-black crime”:

Gary Younge over at the Nation writes:

“America is very segregated, and its criminality conforms to that fact. So the victims of most crimes are the same race as those who commit them. Eighty-four percent of white people who are killed every year are killed by white people. White people who buy illegal drugs are most likely to buy them from white people. Far from being extraordinary, the fact that black criminals are most likely to commit crimes against black people makes them just like everybody else. A more honest term than “black-on-black crime” would be, simply, ‘crime.’”

Read the full piece here

2. Gun violence in black communities is a matter of public health, and it depends on a variety of structural inequalities.


Jonah Birch and Paul Heideman break it down in Jacobin:

“Research suggests that violent crime rates are driven by a variety of social factors which tend to make American cities particularly prone to gun violence against black residents. Among the most of these factors are very high levels of neighborhood segregation, concentrated un- and underemployment, poverty and a dearth of adequate social services or institutional resources. Fundamentally, gun violence has to be treated like other kinds of public health problems — not as the basis for continuous, empty calls for an introspective discussion about ‘black on black violence.’ And like other kinds of public health disparities, tackling high rates of inter-personal violence requires confronting the social context in which it occurs.”


Read the full article in Jacobin here.

3. White people commit crimes against white people, too. Jamelle Bouie from Slate points out that the third leading cause of death among white men ages 19-24 is homicide, for white women it’s the fourth leading cause of death.


Take a look at this satirical video featuring writer Cord Jefferson on All In with Chris Hayes:


And read Cord’s original piece in Gawker about white-on-white crime here.

4. Contrary to some narratives being put forth, black people do care about crime in their communities.


Slate's Jamelle Bouie lays it out:

“Beyond the data, there’s the anecdotal evidence. And in short, it’s easy to find examples of marches and demonstrations against crime. In the last four years, blacks have held community protests against violence in Chicago; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Saginaw, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana. Indeed, there’s a whole catalog of movies, albums, and sermons from a generation of directors, musicians, and religious leaders, each urging peace and order. You may not have noticed black protests against crime and violence, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened. Black Americans—like everyone else—are concerned with what happens in their communities, and at a certain point, pundits who insist otherwise are either lying or willfully ignorant.”


Read “Actually, Blacks Do Care About Black Crime” here.

5. Crime in black communities and crime committed against black people by the state are not created equal.


Michael Eric Dyson gives a compelling reason: “Black people who kill black people go to jail. White people who are policemen who kill black people do not go to jail.”


Vox also provides a great explanation:

"Focusing on black-on-black crime distracts from the current news (the murder case against Slanger, in this instance) that is worthy of discussion and analysis. Worse, it randomly zooms in on one phenomenon — that sometimes black people kill people who are also black — while ignoring the issues that go hand in hand with it. And that's a lot to ignore. As Ta-Nehesi Coates wrote at the Atlantic in 2014, "The policy of America has been, for most of its history, white supremacy. The high rates of violence in black neighborhoods do not exist outside of these facts — they evidence them."


Read the whole article here.

6. Perception is everything. And frankly, the perception of crime in black communities is wrong.


The Sentencing Project, an organization whose mission is to reform sentencing policy came out with a report on racial perceptions of crime:

“White Americans overestimate the proportion of crime committed by people of color, and associate people of color with criminality. For example, white respondents in a 2010 survey overestimated the actual share of burglaries, illegal drug sales, and juvenile crime committed by African Americans by 20-30%. In addition, implicit bias research has uncovered widespread and deep-seated tendencies among whites – including criminal justice practitioners – to associate blacks and Latinos with criminality.”


Read the whole report here.

Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.