Obama Alone Can't Halt the Surge in Black Murders

Northeastern University criminologist Alan Fox virtually pleaded with President-elect Barack Obama to do something about big city black homicides. Fox had good reason to implore Obama to take action. He just released a study this week that showed that young black males who are murdered or who murder other blacks has jumped forty percent since 2000. The magnitude of the jump and the crisis that it poses is even more astounding since during the same period crime and murder rates overall nationally have plunged.

The disturbing finding about black homicides is not new. Last year the Violence Policy Center reported that black murders are off-the chart in many of America's big cities. The Bureau of Justice in its report on homicides went one better and found that the black murder rate is many times higher than that of whites, or even Latinos. It's the leading cause of death among black males age 16 to 34. Black on black murders have fueled the nation's murder stats for a number of years. And only in the rarest of instances has it attracted more than passing mention in the national press. Fox's study almost certainly will get the same treatment. It stirred a momentary rustle of hand wringing and soul searching and then will quickly disappear from the news. That's another tragedy piled on top of the tragedy of the loss of so many young lives.

When reports like this come out the question that always dangles is why do so many young blacks kill each other and what is, or can be, done about it. Imploring Obama to pump more dollars into job programs and crime prevention action is a must call but it's not a total answer. Nor is vice-president elect Joe Biden's pledge to put 50,000 more cops on the streets. That was Bill Clinton's panacea in the mid-1990s. He pledged to double the number of police on the streets that Biden wants. Some credited Clinton's cop boost with reducing crime; it did little to stem black on black violence.

The brutal truth is that more police, dozens of new prisons and passing tougher laws haven't curbed black violence. Blacks don't slaughter each other at such a terrifying rate because they are naturally violent or crime prone. They are not killing each other simply because they are poor and victimized by discrimination. Or because they are acting out the obscene and lewd violence they see and hear on TV, films, and in the gangster rap lyrics that blare on the streets.

The violence stems from a combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage many blacks carry. In the past, crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. The implicit message is that black lives are expendable. Many studies confirm that the punishment blacks receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black.

The perceived devaluation of black lives by discrimination encourages disrespect for the law and drives many blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others that, of course, look like them. They have become especially adept at acting out their frustrations at white society's denial of their "manhood" by adopting an exaggerated "tough guy" role. They swagger, boast, curse, fight and commit violent self-destructive acts.

The accessibility of drugs, and guns, and the influence of misogynist, violent-laced rap songs also reinforce the deep feeling among many youth that life is cheap and easy to take, and there will be minimal consequences for their action as long as their victims are other young blacks. And as long as the attackers regard their victims as weak, vulnerable, and easy pickings they will continue to kill and maim with impunity.

The other powerful ingredient in the deadly mix of black on black violence is the gang and drug plague. The spread of the drug trade during the 1980's made black youth gangs even bigger and more dangerous. Drug trafficking not only provided illicit profits but also made gun play even more widespread. Gang members use their arsenals to fend off attacks, protect their profits from hostile predators, and to settle scores with rivals.

The Violence Policy Center in its report a year ago said that the answer is to get the guns off the streets. And while there are way too many guns on America's streets, the truth is that there are already tough gun laws on the books in most big cities and that hasn't really reduced the killings.

It's going to take a full throttle effort by elected officials and black parents, churches and organizations to push hard for more funding and initiatives for job and skills training, and recreation programs, drug counseling, family support and rites of passage programs. It means providing positive and wholesome mentoring and role models of success and self-esteem for at risk young blacks.

Obama has a role to play in the fight to reduce black homicides. But so do many others.


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