YES. LET'S TALK ABOUT
BLACK ON BLACK CRIME
July 23, 2020
[This is adapted from a section of my "Crime and Race"]
Yes, in the United States the risk (probability) that a black person will get murdered by a black person is greater than the risk (probability) that a white person will get murdered by a white person. See the data in this Marshall Project article. Most homicides are ones in which the perpetrator and victim are the same race: in 2018 only 16% of white victims were killed by black offenders and only 8% of black victims were killed by white offenders, as reported in this USA Today article.
What explains why black on black crime is disproportionately (taking into account the percentage of each race in the population) more prevalent than white on white crime?
Black-on-Black Crime is Caused by Systemic Racial Discrimination Against Non-White People: Here's How it Works:
KEY FACT #1
A great deal of black on black crime is caused by black involvement in the illegal sale of drugs. First, let's be clear why blacks are involved in this illegal business. Here's why.
The minimum wage dead-end menial jobs that are the best jobs many black and Hispanic youths can hope to ever get--jobs that are viewed with great disrespect by all of society including by blacks and Hispanics--are hardly going to seem attractive to many non-whites compared to the allure of dealing drugs, which seems to offer not only much higher pay but also high prestige and a chance to rise up in the "business." Read here about the systemic racial discrimination that limits so many black and Hispanic people to these menial dead end jobs.
The Connection Between ANY Illegal Business and Violent Crime
According to the Justice Department, "Street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), and prison gangs are the primary distributors of illegal drugs on the streets of the United States." And according to this report, gang activity accounts for an average of 48% of violent crime in most jurisdictions, and up to 90% in some jurisdictions. This 90% figure refers to what is known as "black on black" crime.
The poorest, disproportionately black and Hispanic, people in the United States are told to either accept low paying dead-end jobs that are disrespected by everybody including themselves, or to try to gain wealth and prestige in the illegal gang-controlled drug business which, because it is illegal, can only "do business" (compete for market share/territory and enforce contracts) by violent means, as opposed to relying on the legal state apparatus with its official use of violence (a.k.a. civil as well as criminal "law enforcement") or its credible threat, as legal businesses do.
All illegal businesses--not just those run by blacks or Hispanics--rely on illegal violence or its credible threat; this is illustrated by the notorious violence used by the Jewish gangster Mickey Cohen, the Italian Mafia, and the Irish gangster James 'Whitey' Bulger.
KEY FACT #2
The primary cause of violent behavior against another person is feeling shame (i.e., feeling disrespected) in the eyes of that person and having no non-violent way of obtaining respect in the eyes of that person.
James Gilligan is a psychiatrist who worked with the most violent men--murderers--in Massachusetts prison for many decades, and has written about the causes of their violence. Here is one story from his book, Preventing Violence, that illustrates this cause of violence:
"For example, one African-American man was sent to the prison mental hospital I directed in order to have a psychiatric evaluation before his murder trial. A few months before that, he had had a good job. Then he was laid off at work, but he was so ashamed of this that he concealed the fact from his wife (who was a schoolteacher) and their children, going off as if to work every morning and returning at the usual time every night. Finally, afrer two or three months of this, his wife noticed that he was not bringing in any money. He had to admit the truth, and then his wife fatally said, "What kind of man are you? What kind of man would behave this way?" To prove that he was a man, and to undo the feeling of emasculation, he took out his gun and shot his wife and children. (Keeping a gun is, of course, also a way that some people reassure themselves that they are really men.) What I was struck by, in addition to the tragedy of the whole story, was the intensity of the shame he felt over being unemployed, which led him to go to such lengths to conceal what had happened to him."
In our society based on class inequality and systemic racial discrimination the people at the bottom of society--disproportionately non-white people--are the most disrespected people, they feel the most shame, and they have the least means (such as higher education, a well-paying job, a respectable career) of obtaining respect other than by using a gun.
Furthermore, in the United States more than in other nations the people at the bottom of society are told that it is only their own fault that they are at the bottom because the American Dream says they can rise to the top if they are smart and work hard, so if they don't rise to the top it means they do not deserve any respect.
Gilligan shows in his book that the homicide rate is correlated with the degree of inequality in a society, and that it even goes up and down over time in a given region or nation according to the rise and fall of the unemployment rate and measures of inequality. The explanation is that when people see that they are at the bottom of an unequal society and disrespected for that reason and have no way to gain respect other than with a gun, they are far more likely to use that gun than otherwise.
The Solution to the Problem of Crime, Including Black on Black Crime
The solution to the problem of crime--including "black on black" crime--is an egalitarian society with no rich and no poor, with an economy that is based on everybody being able to work who wants to, and providing everybody who is willing to work according to reasonable ability (no matter how little that may be) everything they need or reasonably desire for free (or equitably rationing scarce things according to need).
In an egalitarian society nobody will feel trapped and forced to choose between abject poverty in a shameful minimum wage dead end job or the lure of escaping poverty and gaining respect by criminal behavior. Far fewer people will feel shamed compared to today. The crime caused by poverty will vanish and be remembered only as a problem of the past, like legal chattel slavery and explicitly racist Jim Crow laws. And the violence caused by shame will be far less.
But in a society like our present one, based on extreme class inequality, in which an upper class treats (in fact, must treat) the rest of us like dirt--especially racial minorities--the poorest people are going to be both shamed and attracted to illegal businesses that rely on criminal violence, and there will be black on black crime.
Furthermore, unlike in an egalitarian society with no rich and no poor and in which possession of enormously more wealth than others would be a red flag marking a person as an illegal hog, in our capitalist society the possession of enormously more wealth than others is perfectly fine as long as it's not obvious it was obtained by breaking capitalist laws. In a capitalist society people know that they have social approval to be a hog. What this means is that somebody who wants to hog socially produced wealth knows that crime really can pay, as long as they can keep secret the fact that their immense wealth from crime was obtained illegally. So illegal drug profits are "laundered" to enable the few who rise to the top of the illegal drug industry to live in extreme luxury without any red flag being raised. This is why the illegal drug industry is so big today. It would collapse in an egalitarian society.
Anti-racists should not avoid the question "What about black on black crime?" We should answer it head on. The true answer is not one that racists want to hear! It is a) that systemic racial discrimination drives many of its victims to try to get rich in the illegal drug industry, which requires using illegal violence instead of relying on the legal violence of the state to enforce contracts and deals; b) that our capitalist society based on class inequality creates a motive for some people to try to get rich in the illegal drug industry, a motive that would not exist in an egalitarian society with no rich and no poor; and c) that the class inequality and systemic racial discrimination of our society cause people at the bottom to feel great shame and many of them, for lack of any way to gain respect other than with a gun, use that gun to get respect by killing somebody in whose eyes they feel unbearable shame.
For more hard data and analysis of the crime/race connection see the following:
"Incarceration & social inequality" (2010), published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which states:
"In the last few decades, the institutional contours of American social inequality have been transformed by the rapid growth in the prison and jail population.1 America’s prisons and jails have produced a new social group, a group of social outcasts who are joined by the shared experience of incarceration, crime, poverty, racial minority, and low education. As an outcast group, the men and women in our penal institutions have little access to the social mobility available to the mainstream. Social and economic disadvantage, crystallizing in penal confinement, is sustained over the life course and transmitted from one generation to the next. This is a profound institutionalized inequality that has renewed race and class disadvantage. Yet the scale and empirical details tell a story that is largely unknown.
Though the rate of incarceration is historically high, perhaps the most important social fact is the inequality in penal confinement. This inequality produces extraordinary rates of incarceration among young African American men with no more than a high school education. For these young men, born since the mid-1970s, serving time in prison has become a normal life event.
The influence of the penal system on social and economic disadvantage can be seen in the economic and family lives of the formerly incarcerated. The social inequality produced by mass incarceration is sizable and enduring for three main reasons: it is invisible, it is cumulative, and it is intergenerational. The inequality is invisible in the sense that institutionalized populations commonly lie outside our official accounts of economic well-being. Prisoners, though drawn from the lowest rungs in society, appear in no measures of poverty or unemployment. As a result, the full extent of the disadvantage of groups with high incarceration rates is underestimated. The inequality is cumulative because the social and economic penalties that flow from incarceration are accrued by those who already have the weakest economic opportunities. Mass incarceration thus deepens disadvantage and forecloses mobility for the most marginal in society. Finally, carceral inequalities are intergenerational, affecting not just those who go to prison and jail but their families and children, too."
This article is an extremely interesting discussion of ancient African history that helps to put any discussion of race in more realistic perspective.
This article puts "black on black" crime in perspective.