"Black-on-Black" Crime is No Excuse for Extrajudicial Killings of Black Folks

by Michelle Y. Talbert

Last weekend, we learned that Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was killed by Cleveland police while holding a toy gun—in a state that ironically has an “open carry” weapons law. It is impossible that this is our reality: 12-year-old Black boys die playing with toys, but grown white men who shoot up movie theaters get taken alive. What is even more disheartening is the way many people use black-on-black crime as a way of justifying this violence and the disregard for black lives.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson got into a heated debate recently on NBC News, during which Giuliani, the former New York City Mayor, stated that “93% of Blacks kill other Blacks…. White cops [wouldn’t] be there if you weren’t killing each other.” He then punctuated his point with this factoid: “70-75% of the crime in [New York City] happens in Black neighborhoods.”

Although overall violent crime rates in America have decreased steadily each year and the job of police officer is not even one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in America, America does have a crime problem when compared to other countries.

There’s an old adage that says, “When America catches a cold, African-Americans catch the flu.” Basically, if there’s a problem in mainstream society it will be magnified within or have a greater impact on the Black community. Whether by perception, coincidence, or by design, the oft-stated “statistic” that Blacks commit violent crimes against other Blacks at a rate that exceeds the rate of intraracial crime in any other race misses the point. (Simply creating the term “Black-on-Black crime” is a political and rhetorical tactic that is false and misleading, however, not the focus of this writing.)

Those arguments do nothing to address the underlying issues and attempt merely to accomplish two things. First, it serves to silence Black (and other) voices when we speak out against what is clearly unjust, disproportionate, and commonly occurring violence by police officers against us. (As of this writing, one Black person is killed or the victim of police or state violence every 28 hours.) And second, it attempts to deflect any responsibility for, or acknowledgment of, the systemic failing of our country with respect to how our communities are “policed.”

Police is both a noun and a verb. In Black communities the verb has become synonymous with assume the worst; take violent, often irreversible action; and then maybe ask questions and gather facts later. Just before Thanksgiving this year a Jacksonville, Fla. officer shot at an unarmed Black father while holding his six-year-old daughter as they attempted to enter the daughter’s home to get an inhaler as she was suffering from a severe asthma attack. Fortunately, no one was physically injured during the altercation, but the psychological effects to Mr. Dennison and his daughter will linger.

As infuriating, exasperating, and tiring the arguments put forth by Giuliani and others of his ilk are, we must not stop demanding and advocating for justice. We must continue banding together with others across racial and geographic lines to shine a light where there is currently darkness. We cannot be distracted by arguments that serve no purpose other than to keep us from focusing on creating a better society—a society where walking down the street in cold weather with our hands in our pockets is no longer an “offense” that makes “people nervous” enough to call the police to stop us.

By trying to silence us with dangerous rhetoric about our response to the types of crimes committed in our communities, they are asking us to ignore the issue of police brutality and violence—and the role racism plays in how our communities are policed. It is nothing more than attempting to blame Black people for being Black, and telling us to swallow whatever pill we are served. Zora Neale Hurston’s quote has never been more applicable: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Michelle Y. Talbert is a recovering corporate attorney turned relationship strategist and social media content producer. She’s NYC born and bred, but you can find her living and loving in Washington, DC. She produces and co-hosts the popular podcast, “They Met Online…” with her ex, who she met online (it’s not complicated at all!) Connect with Michelle on Twitter @MichelleTalbert and on LinkedIn.

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