Hey all! I wrote this paper for my sociology class at ODU Summer Session of 2020.
“What about black on black crime?” or “The police will not stop killing us until we stop killing ourselves.” It is quotes like these that litter the timelines on social media pages and the mouths of otherwise intelligent human beings. Although, inherently, it is a wonderful sentiment, however the meaning behind these words have been so skewed to cast African Americans in such a negative light and used as a scapegoat for police brutality. What is black on black crime? Does it even exist? Let us delve into this hotbed of a topic in one of the most socially tense times that have ever been seen in the United States in some time.
Black on black crime means exactly what it sounds like. It is a criminal act where the victim and the perpetrator are both of African American descent. If there is an argument against the term, we should discuss the legitimacy of the argument for the term being a realistic description. According to the Criminal Victimization Report of 2018, of the 563,940 violent incidents against black people, 70.3% were done by other black people (Rachel E. Morgan, 2019). That is pretty compelling. Over half of the violent crimes against African Americans are committed by other African Americans! Black males in particular are several times more likely to experience violence or commit a violent act (Palmer, 1987). There are some theories as to why this is. We shall discuss them.
In the textbook it breaks down the Social-Conflict Theory’s stance on crime. As suggested by the name it is an issue with society. The way a society views a “criminal”, the laws that are written, the police patrol routes and similar topics all add to what is a criminal (Macionis, 2018). For example, when the crack epidemic hit the United States there was a push for hard punishments for a victimless crime. Crack was often the drug of choice in inner cities where the population was mostly minorities, African Americans to be specific. The “War on Drugs” was enacted and black people bore the brunt of the legal maneuvering. When crack spread to the suburbs, consequently, it was no longer a “War on drugs”, it was an epidemic and these white citizens needed to be medically tended to, not arrested. The laws were changed to help certain citizens and to hurt others. So here we have a situation that only equal treatment will remedy. The Social-Conflict Theory states that those who commit the crimes are those at the mercy of the capitalist power (Macionis, 2018).
The Feminist Theory has a different take on crime altogether. It claims that women are more often to be an offender while the powerful male is not punished nearly as much. The example in the text is very powerful. The prostitute, who is typically a female, will have several more arrests (Macionis, 2018). There is still a “3 strikes and you are out” policy that is applied. Each time the women is arrested, she is getting harsh punishments that escalates in severity, while the man, who is profiting off the whole arrangement, is not held responsible (Macionis, 2018). In both of these examples it is the powerful who determine what the “crime” is and therefore they get to pick which group they want to subject to be the criminals. Therefore, the African American population was made to be the criminal, making the advent of Black on Black crime theory more credible. Now, that we have proof that there are elevated occurrences of crime in the black community, against the black populous, we can discuss where did this disregard of black life come from?
“Oh no! Here comes the inevitable reference to slavery”. Absolutely correct. It is widely known that the key to being successful with your slaves was to break them and control their minds. Assimilation into the new culture was imperative. There is a mass amount of pride, fight and resilience in people of African descent and all these traits had to be bred out. How were they controlled? By a process found in the “Willie Lynch Letter”. In this process, undesirable traits like; independence, sassy mouths, self-assurance, free thought and free will, were beaten out of the slave. Oftentimes, other slaves were made to watch this in order to teach many lessons at the same time (finalcallnews.com, 2009). There was even an occasion where a white person from the north commented on the brutal treatment of an alleged runaway slave. The girl in the account was hiding and an overseer found her. He was accompanied by Frederick Law Olmsted. In Frederick’s retelling, the young lady was whipped several times, for a “lie” that was not even investigated by the overseer. Olmsted asked was that necessary and in certain terms the overseer explained that it was vital to do so because the other slaves might get the idea it was acceptable to run away. Then the overseer berated him and all northerners for not knowing what it is like to control slaves (Chapter 5 Methods of Controlling Slaves, 2007). Black people were beasts that needed to be controlled, similar to horses (finalcallnews.com, 2009). Surely, that’s enough for the outcome we face today, but there are other aspects to consider.
Snitching in the African American community has always been a faux pas. It is just not done without expecting severe consequences. Where did this come from? In an article written by the Marquette Law Review the following statement was penned, “When investigating alleged slave misconduct, a slave owner might have given a slave the choice between dying or providing information about another slave’s misconduct” (Dennis, 2013). Forcing slaves to make decisions like this birthed the mindset of sacrificing others to survive. Is it any wonder that black people victimize each other and seem to rely mostly on themselves instead of their community? It has been programmed to value your life above all others, including your brothers and sisters.
Honestly, there has been so much time between then and now. The black community has most assuredly gained wealth and no longer have to be in survival mode, right? Not so fast. We have to consider the domestic terrorism that black communities and businesses have been subjected to. There are the examples of: Black Wall Street; Rosewood; The Wilmington Massacre and The Tulsa Annihilation (Malveaux, 2020). The American Civil Liberties Union shared an article that detailed the events of Thomas Moss and his grocery store. The situation occurred because Thomas Moss, an African American, secured a good job as a postal worker and eventually opened up his own grocery store. He was in direct competition with a white grocer named William Barrett. Barrett resented the fact that a black man challenged and took away a part of his profits. One day two little boys were playing marbles. One white and one black. The white little boy began to lose the game and went to Barrett’s store for back up. The boy came back with armed white men after fabricating some story. The black men at Moss’s store refused to see a little boy lynched over a game of marbles and fought back. What happened? Three black men who worked and owned the store were arrested and eventually lynched. After Barrett vandalized Moss’s store, he bought it for one eighth of its worth (Malveaux, 2020). There are so many examples that fit the same mold, however, black people just weren’t allowed to amass great wealth without the Caucasians’ in the area, permission. It became easier to just make enough to survive and keep your heads down. Anytime a leader started talking about freedom or economic advances they have been assassinated; John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X just to name a few. What is the point? How does all this equal that there is no such thing as “black on black’ crime? It is time for the wrap up.
In the research, it was found that over half of the violent crimes committed against African Americans, were committed by African Americans. That statistic seems so damning. However, if we open the scope of “racializing crime” we learn some very important things (Racial Classification in Criminology: The Reproduction of Racialized Crime, 1995). Most violent crimes are committed by a person of the same race. What?! Yes, let us look at the stats. Of all the 3,581,360 violent crimes that were committed against white people, 62.1% were committed by white people. Then the numbers drop drastically. 15.3% were perpetrated by African Americans, 10.2% were Hispanic, 2.2% were Asian and 8% by “others”. ‘Well that’s just white and black people who victimize each other. We can maybe entertain saying white on white crime, but black on black crime most certainly still exists’. Let us continue our perusal through the statistics. In the Hispanic community, of the 734,410 violent acts, 45.4% were done by other Hispanics. Well, according to the current leadership of the United States, black and brown victimize each other, while Caucasians are good, hard-working people who need a voice. Yet, the 2nd largest offenders against Hispanics are not black people. White people take that prize with 28.2%. African Americans committed 15.3%. ‘Well, those inner cities are certainly dangerous. Anything can happen to anyone out there’. After the abolition of slavery, former slaves did not feel safe living alongside their former owners. There was a Great Migration to western and northern states (The African-American Migration Story: The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, 2013). The following statement makes it abundantly clear why; “Lynching was an important mechanism of social control as whites sought to keep blacks in their subservient and impoverished position in southern society… Many blacks responded to this threat by fleeing to less violent surroundings. It’s hardly surprising that people would try to escape such a reign of terror” (Beck, 1990).
In summation, the ideology of “black on black” crime is nothing but a ruse to keep African American people in a state of subservience of the power elite, which happen to be rich, white men. Yes, there is proof that black people commit more crimes against black people, but so do white, Hispanic and other races. It has more to do with your proximity, than an innate hate of your own race. We were taught to devalue other black lives as long as our own survival was on the line. Slave owners used that fear and the fight or flight reaction to control and intimidate slaves until they thought as the master did; slaves’ lives were not as valuable as the master’s and other slaves’ lives meant even less to their peers. It is agreed that slavery is a factor but there are more recent factors as well. The Jim Crow, Black Codes, KKK, and legal lynching of black persons continued the devaluing of black lives. If a group of the clan rode up to your house, asking for someone, what would you do? Protect them with your life, literally or save yourself? Black people weren’t safe in the south, the area they made their home. They tried to branch out and move, but they were subjected to the same treatment, as in the case with Thomas Moss and his grocery store. Slavery, lynching, proximity, and statistics prove that if there is black on black crime, then all the other races need to be accounted too. That sounds ridiculous right? Almost as ridiculous as using a term like “black on black” crime to defend police brutality (Headley, 1983). That, however, is another subject.
Beck, S. E. (1990). Black Flight: Lethal Violence and the Great Migration, 1900-1930. Social Science History, Vol. 14, No. 3, 347-370.
Chapter 5 Methods of Controlling Slaves. (2007). Retrieved from Digital History: http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/teachers/lesson_plans/pdfs/unit4_5.pdf
Dennis, A. L. (2013). A Snitch in Time: An Historical Sketch of Black. Marquette Law Review, 280-334.
finalcallnews.com. (2009, May 22). Willie Lynch Letter: The Making of A Slave. Retrieved from The Final Call: http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Perspectives_1/Willie_Lynch_letter_The_Making_of_a_Slave.shtml
Headley, B. D. (1983). "Black on Black" Crime: The Myth and the Reality. Crime and Social Justice,No. 20, RACE, CRIME, AND CULTURE, 50-62.
Macionis, J. J. (2018). Social Problems 7th Edition. New York: Pearson Education, Inc.
Malveaux, J. (2020). TERRORISM AND ECONOMIC INJUSTICE AFTER ENSLAVEMENT. Retrieved from ACLU.ORG: https://www.aclu.org/issues/racial-justice/terrorism-and-economic-injustice-after-enslavement
Palmer, J. A. (1987). Race, Sex, and Criminal Homicide Offender-Victim Relationships. Journal of Black Studies,Vol. 18, No. 1, 45-47.
Parker, K. D. (1991). Criminal Victimization Among Black Americans. Journal of Black Studies, 186-195.
Rachel E. Morgan, P. a. (2019). Criminal Victimization Report. US Department of Justice; Office of Justice Programs; Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Racial Classification in Criminology: The Reproduction of Racialized Crime. (1995). Sociological Forum , Dec., 1995, Vol. 10, No. 4, Special Issue: African Americans, 547-568.
The African-American Migration Story: The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. (2013). Retrieved from pbs.org: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/on-african-american-migrations/