Message to the People: Myths about black violence, part 1

For good reason, there is elevated concern about violence in the Louisville lately. Unfortunately, some of the most brutal occurrences have involved black perpetrators and victims. To be sure, this reality cements dyed-in-the-wool racists’ belief that black folk naturally lean toward barbaric tendencies. Of course they are wrong. Their wrong-headedness, however, does not eradicate the fact that black men, women and even children are dying much too often and early because of violent crime.

While discussions about the violence are oft-encountered in Louisville’s private circles as well as the public sphere, it seems to me that many of them are a bit misguided and therefore ineffectual if their purpose is understanding and resolution. Before we can have substantive conversation on the subject, I believe we must debunk a few commonly believed myths.

Myth 1: Violent crime in America (in and outside of black communities) has consistently gotten worse across the board. False. This misconception could come from the fact that even though violent crime has actually fallen most years for more than a decade and a half, the number of people incarcerated in the country has consistently risen (from 139 per 100,000 in 1980 to 486 per 100,000 in 2004). Much of this rise is not the result of violent crime, but of drug laws, disproportionate sentencing and the corporatization of prisons, which demands occupants. All of these realities have placed a heavy weight on black offenders. Unfortunately, the violent crime rate did rise by 2.5 percent nationally last year, so we may be witnessing a sea change.

Myth 2: Rap music is the cause of it all. False. If only the problem were that elementary, we could simply get rid of the rappers and have a virtual Shangri La. Undoubtedly, gutter forms of rap add to our troubles, but they do not autonomously create them. In fact, the FBI blames a good deal of the current rise in crime (especially in the Midwest) on elevated use of crystal meth — not commonly a drug of choice in black communities.

Myth 3: Black people prey on one another more than any other race. Again, false. The reality is, the lion’s share of violent crime is intra-racial. This is simply a consequence of the fact that America is still largely immersed in de facto segregation. The popular term black-on-black crime has created the misperception that black folks stand alone in this debauchery.

Admittedly, violent crime among blacks is disproportionately higher in larger urban areas because these are the areas where they dwell. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half (52 percent) of blacks live in central cities within metropolitan areas. This holds true in Metro Louisville.

Myth 4: Blacks are naturally violent and criminal-minded. Clearly false, but a nasty charge forwarded privately or publicly by those who continue to suffer from the godless affliction of racism. Some use the fact that blacks are disproportionately incarcerated as support of this theory. Upon examination, this does not hold (see Myth 1).

The problem is multivariate, and, over time, each factor reinforces others. Lack of education (disproportionate special education assignments, cultural disconnects between teachers and students, etc.) leads to decreased opportunity and economic distress (cut off from many avenues to self- and familial-satisfaction and growth). This leads to retrograde individual identity development, which fosters widespread cultural dispensation of individual identity inhibitors. This is what some have termed culture of poverty reinforcement — low expectations, reification of degenerative priorities, i.e. concentration on hip hop, hustling or romantic notions about success in sports. Everybody wants to be LeBron.

Meanwhile, there is a general societal and political approach to blacks as an undesirable and expendable population. This is why most political candidates never speak of public policy positively targeting this endangered population. Negative targeting happens frequently and is excused (racial profiling, etc.). When ongoing systemic factors are ignored, black communities lose faith in government — hence their reluctance to cooperate with police in many instances. More importantly, they lose faith in themselves, which opens the door for the augmentation of negative realities. Unchecked, this cycle intensifies.

There is no quick fix to the violence that exists in Louisville and beyond. I fear that people who are awaiting one sound-bite, one plan, one vigil, one sermon or one man to make it all go away will be left wanting. Much time passed to create the current situation. I fear we also face a long, treacherous road to changing it.
Remember, until next time — have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools.

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