Anti-Racism 101

08 Crime


“The truth is that the higher crime rate among Black folks is also a socioeconomic problem. And the Bureau of Justice Statistics says poor urban white people and poor urban Black people have similar rates of violence. So again, you put people in certain conditions and it doesn’t matter what their ethnicity is, you’re going to have certain phenomena of interpersonal violence….

The problem is that there’s disproportionately more [poor] Black people than poor white people, at least relative to the larger population, which is linked to this history of exploitation. Exclusion from resources, government housing practices, all these things have produced that. You create the kind of condition where folks are insecure, and Black folks are disproportionately in that situation, and what results from that is then looked at as the cause as opposed to the result.”Chenjerai Kumanyika

“Why is it that every time Black folk talk about how poorly the cops treat us you say that we should focus instead on how we slaughter each other in the streets every day? Isn’t that like asking the person who tells you that they’re suffering from cancer to focus instead on their diabetes? Your racial bedside manner has always been fairly atrocious.

But we are not fooled. You do not bring this up because you’re genuinely concerned. You want to win points in debates. You want to avoid any responsibility for how traumatized our communities are. You want to hide from the horror of cops mowing us down like we’re animals.”

“I’ll be honest and admit that there are ways that black folk are doing ourselves in. But I hope you can admit that even those ways are often linked to our gutless embrace of the bigotries you spew.

Do you think we like being killed by folk who look like us? Do you think it doesn’t bother us? Our bullets are often aimed at each other because we are too near the site of pain and heartbreak, frustration and depression. We often lack food and shelter, and we live in homes overrun with bodies, leaving us little room or rest. So we lash out at them, or at an acquaintance, or a partner in crime. Yes, it is true: sometimes we send them, or, perhaps, a stranger nearby, to their eternal reward. This is the geography of despair. It is also the pain of never having control, of always being afraid, of struggling to care for and love what we cannot protect.”

“Could it be that you don’t really care about black-on-black crime unless you can use its existence to attack us even more?”

“Terror and shame go hand-in-hand. There is fear in realizing that we are helpless to persuade others that we are human. In that moment, there is also deep shame, shame that you do not take our humanity for granted. We are ashamed that there is nothing we can do to keep you from seeing us as worthless.”

–Michael Eric Dyson

“It’s clear that what we have is a society in which, if a police officer says–says—they were afraid…then that settles the issue, whether they had any justification or not for that fear. If the person is Black, at least, and you say you are afraid, then we believe you and it’s all good, and that’s what judges and juries say again and again.” –John Biewen

“Historian Mary Ann Curtin has observed that many scholars who have acknowledged the deeply entrenched racism of the post-Civil War structures of punishment in the South have failed to identify the extent to which racism colored common-sense understandings of the circumstances surrounding the wholesale criminalization of Black communities. Even anti-racist historians, she contends, do not go far enough in examining the ways in which Black people were made into criminals. They point out – and this, she says, is indeed partially true – that in the aftermath of emancipation, large numbers of Black people were forced by their new social situation to steal in order to survive. It was the transformation of petty thievery into a felony that relegated substantial numbers of Black people to the ‘involuntary servitude’ legalized by the 13th amendment. What Curtin suggests is that these charges of theft were frequently fabricated outright. They ‘also served as subterfuge for political revenge. After emancipation the courtroom became an ideal place to exact racial retribution.’ In this sense, the work of the criminal justice system was intimately related to the extralegal work of lynching.” –Angela Davis

The term that shouldn’t exist in the American lexicon, black on black crime, will be mentioned by your white supremacist friends.  This is usually used to justify police engaging in the old slavery-era practice of ‘negro breaking’. “ –Johnny Silvercloud

“If someone else feels threatened by a person of color, then [the POC] is responsible for whatever happens to them, is the message. And not just the message. It’s basically the law at this point, because it’s been reproduced, there’s so much precedent for it, that it operates as a kind of law.

…But what are we going to do? How do we allow this kind of system to remain in place? People recoil from that violence but they also recoil from the idea of a radical rethinking of the system….People are comfortable with tweaks in it, comfortable with police training, body cams, those kinds of things….I’m glad we have the footage. But how are we comfortable with this system? I mean, there’s a resistance to actually concluding that this system that’s called the criminal justice system has to be radically re-thought at a fundamental level that goes far beyond body cams and things like that.” –Chenjerai Kumanyika

“On the other side of the ledger, there’s nothing comparable to the mass killing and violence that has been done by white people against Black people. And yet for centuries now, white folks have been telling ourselves and each other that [Blacks] are the ones to be feared.

Now, here in 2017, it is the case that black folks commit a disproportionate share of violent crimes in the United States today. And I looked up a statistic or two on this topic, from the federal government. Black folk commit over half of robberies and murders and almost half of the assaults in the nation’s biggest metropolitan areas, though African-Americans are only about 15 percent of the population in those places. Now, that doesn’t mean that white people are justified in being scared when they walk past a black person somewhere, right? The vast majority of violent crimes committed both by black people and by white people are against people they know, people in their communities, people who look like them.

Ninety percent of homicides committed by Black people are against Black people. And likewise, 83 percent of white homicide victims are killed by a white person.” –John Biewen

“That drugs have been used as a tactic to marginalize and imprison peoples who are inconvenient, so to speak, for conservatives and neo-cons doesn’t really come as a surprise—and not just because Nixon was a noted racist. The War on Drugs was a Nixon invention but, as Baum explains, it’s been useful for every president thereafter, and its function as a suppressive tool didn’t exactly wane—recall the way it defined Reagan’s crack era, which was funneled into black neighborhoods by the CIA and then used to decimate an entire generation. Or the way relatively minor drug offenses are the main contributor to the current mass incarceration crisis, which disproportionately affects young black and brown men.” –Julianne Escobido Shepherd

The broken-windows theory always worked better as an idea than as a description of the real world. The problems with the theory, which include the fact that perceptions of disorder generally have more to do with the racial composition of a neighborhood than with the number of broken windows or amount of graffiti in the area, are numerous and well documented. But more interesting than the theory’s flaws is the way that it was framed and interpreted.

To this day, most policies that aim to reduce crime focus on punishing people rather than improving places. The President has called for a national stop and frisk police program; the Attorney General wants more severe sentencing; advocates of law and order are resurgent. We invest little in housing and neighborhood amenities like libraries, senior centers, and community gardens, which draw people into the public realm and put more eyes on the street. And we spend even less to address criminal hot spots—the empty lots and abandoned buildings that, according to Branas’s team, account for fifteen per cent of city space in America.

What the Philadelphia studies suggest is that place-based interventions are far more likely to succeed than people-based ones. Tens of millions of vacant and abandoned properties exist in the United States, Branas and his team wrote. Remediating those properties is simple, cheap, and easily reproducible. What’s more, the programs impose few demands on local residents, and they appear to pay for themselves.

–Eric Klinenberg