Answers for people asking the questions Fox News poses but never answers.
By MELVINA JOHNSON YOUNG
Special to The Star
Why doesnt black-on-black crime get the same attention as white-on-black crime?
I guess that depends on whose attention matters, because black-on-black crime gets plenty of attention in black communities.
In fact, black communities would love it if black-on-black murder garnered the same attention instead of all the local rallies no major media (certainly not Fox) come to, all the conferences and symposiums the cameras ignore (like the 28th National Preventing Crime in the Black Community Conference) the multitude of calls for better policing and government support from community activists that get belittled by Fox as government dependence (Google any major city and community activists to see what comes up), the almost daily prayer vigils in communities across the country, the grieving mothers groups (like Philadelphias Every Murder is Real,) the police anti-gang and anti-crime intervention groups (like Milwaukees League of Martin) the mayoral symposiums and on and on.
Black-on-black crime gets plenty of attention. From blacks.
Think about it: If black-on-black crime is a constant in black peoples lives, its a constant on most black peoples minds.
So why doesnt the media cover black-on-black crime more?
Lets face it. Most crime, including murder, is intraracial between members of the same racial group. Blacks murder blacks, and whites murder whites. From a media perspective intraracial murder just aint that sexy. People who know each other (as friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, etc.) are more likely to murder each other, but it doesnt bleed like stranger murder or murder driven by something politics-and-fight-worthy like racism.
Know what we call white-on-white murder? Murder. These events seem like unfortunate but individual cases with no racial aspect and no larger implications for the rest of us.
And, there are plenty of interracial murder cases that dont get much press play because not all black-on-white or white-on-black murder is racially motivated. Its that I want to kill my family, friends and co-worker thing again.
Our country as a whole is uninterested in hearing about black-on-black murder because (a) its an everyday occurrence (b) its not happening in non-black or brown communities and poses no imminent threat to the rest of us and (c) we get tired of talking about why theres so much black-on-black crime (chronic and depression-level unemployment; failed, underfunded schools and pernicious educational inequality; failing city infrastructure; over-stressed families ) See? Your eyes are already glazing over.
OK. Fine. Whatever. But why does white-on-black murder get everybodys panties in such a twist?
Because as recently as 40 years ago, white people could and did kill blacks regularly. All the time. With no punishment whatsoever.
And ending that practice was supposed to be a mark of our nations racial progress.
When I was a kid in the segregated South there was a running joke the older people in my community told about a southern sheriff who pulls a black body from the river. The mans been shot in the head, stabbed in the heart and his hands are handcuffed behind his back. The sheriff declares, Worse case of suicide Ive ever seen and closes the case.
In fact, there is a much longer legacy of whites killing blacks with impunity in this country than there is a legacy of constitutional democracy or representational government.
See, it was decided back when our nation still belonged to Britain that the only value of black life was monetary because blacks were property. All through slavery (1619-1865) it was assumed no man would murder his own property kill his own money on purpose. If someone killed another mans slave that was a property crime against the slaveholder, not murder of a black man, woman or child. (Google Casuall Killing of Slaves as one example. Google it!)
After slavery and the dollar value for black life went away, no social value for black life emerged. For whites, I mean. Black life had a non-value. (True, blacks as low-paid and often still unpaid workers were vital to the economy. But they werent valuable as people. Plus that, the potential to create wealth for themselves and by extension social power for themselves threatened the racial, social and economic order.)
After slavery (between 1865 to 1970 or so) whites routinely killed black men, women and children for breaking the rules of white racial superiority. As whites as that time understood it, blacks were causing their own deaths by being uppity, getting out line, forgetting their place. You get the idea. If you were black and wanted to live, you had better follow the damn rules.
Untold thousands were lynched in backwoods and on back roads for forgetting their place, talking out of turn, insults real or imagined, daring to challenge a boss for underpay or defending a wife or daughter from sexual insult or assault.
On the rumors of having attacked white women, hit a white man or any other accusation, untold dozens were lynched at spectacle hangings and burnings. These events were attended by crowds of several hundred whites, including children, as picnic basket-bringing affairs. (Google Without Sanctuary: Lynching. Google it!)
Untold hundreds were shot or burned to death in their own homes as white mobs rioted, looted, raped and ransacked all-black towns after accusations that one black person in the town touched a white woman. (Google Rosewood or Greenwood, Tulsa Oklahoma as just two examples. Google it!)
Untold hundreds were murdered in Sundown Towns in the North and South when whites who had lived in uneasy segregation beside blacks decided they didnt want to do that anymore. Formerly bi-racial towns became all-white (and remain so to this very day). Taking lives and stealing property, whites rioted and literally ran thousands of blacks out of town, threatening that any black face caught in those towns after sundown wouldnt live to see the next sun. (Google Sundown Towns. I mean it!)
Its within the living memory of many of us that a white person could kill a black person and everything would keep on going just like somebody hadnt died. And, we remember that these black people were accused of causing their own deaths because they broke the rules.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s challenged all that.
What was different about the Civil Rights Movement was not the number of black people killed. It was the amount of attention the world chose to pay to black people being killed. (Largely because white people like Viola Liuzzo, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were killed beside them.) What was different was that the world had started watching.
The Emmett Till murder was exceptional only in the amount of attention it garnered. It was unusual in that whites were ever brought to trial for the murder of the 14-year-old child they tortured by severing fingers, bashing in his head, tying him to an old gin fan and throwing him in the river. But it was perfectly routine in that the white murderers walked off, scot-free.
But the murder of Till and of black James Cheney (along with white Goodman and Schwerner) catalyzed the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act building the political power of blacks to finally change expectations and social and legal practice about the murders of blacks by whites.
That whites are now at long last forced to face the justice system when they kill someone black because they are black is a signpost to progress and equality. When that doesnt happen its a threat to equality in this nation.
So, the suggestion that Trayvon Martin (armed only with Skittles and shot dead by a white Hispanic) was responsible for his own death that he committed suicide in a sense takes us backward to the not-so-good-old days.
Its not only deranged and reminds us of the comparative non-value of black life to some in this country, but it marks for us on the ruler of justice and equality just how far there is yet to go.
Until the killing of black men, black mothers sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mothers son. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens. Civil Rights Movement Organizer Ella Baker in 1964 upon the murders of Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner.
What if the races were reversed?
How interested are you in statistics and studies vs. how you think and feel things are? Because theres plenty of evidence to let us know exactly what could have happened had the races been reversed.
Primarily, blacks pay a much higher penalty for killing whites than they do for killing other blacks. (By the way, whites pay lower penalties for killing blacks. But thats another discussion.)
Melvina Johnson Young, of the Kansas City area, is a former university lecturer specializing in United States history, womens history and African-American history and cultural studies. She was a 2008 Midwest Voices panel writer.