We pay lots of attention when police kill unarmed black people — and we should — but do we care as much when black people kill each other?
We do, and it is ok to care about both at the same time.
In a damning report on the Cleveland Police Department, the U.S. Department of Justice takes that city’s police force to task for its excessive, unnecessary and unreasonable use of deadly force. The cops in Cleveland, according to the DOJ, shoot at people who pose no threat, brutalize unarmed people and misuse stun guns. Meanwhile, the CPD has agreed to accept federal oversight and limits on how and when their officers are able to use force.
That is serious business and certainly a matter which demands our attention, whether in Cleveland, or Baltimore or Ferguson, or any other of a countless number of cities across America.
And yet, at the same time, there is a violence of a different type taking place in the community, and we need to address it. For example, in Chicago, 12 people were killed and 43 wounded, including a 4-year-old girl, during the Memorial Day weekend. This comes as Baltimore — the scene for protests and unrest of late, due to the police killing of Freddie Gray — has experienced a deadly month with 35 homicides, 108 so far this year.
Someone, somewhere is asking why black folks don’t rally in the streets when members of the community kill each other and the police are not involved. It is a fair and reasonable question.
Before we go any further, let us first dismiss those voices from Fox News and similar places who will bring up so-called “black-on-black” violence because they want to change the subject and make you forget that police brutality is a chronic problem in communities of color. They want to pretend we are not monitored, harassed and hunted down, dismiss our pain and our fear for our children’s safety and sweep the crisis of police violence and racist policies under the rug. Or, they wish to downplay the violence occurring in the white community and act as if black people are inherently violent or some special case. So, let’s not even go down that path.
But let’s get back to the violence in the black community that is not the fault of the cops but due to our own actions. Certainly, there are many who have sounded the alarm on this epidemic, of babies killing babies, of the community turning on itself, of honor students, star athletes and pregnant mothers snuffed out by a bullet, taken from us in the prime of their life, way too soon.
Further, we should keep in mind that this is a public health crisis. Homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men — more than car accidents, diseases and suicide combined, and at a rate six times higher than whites. Let that sink in for a minute.
Those who would suggest we cannot focus simultaneously on police violence and violence from the kid across the way are presenting false choices. In a way, they are two sides of the same coin, all part of a vicious cycle.
Nothing should stop the community from speaking out and demanding action in order to rein in police abuse, whether it means the federal government investigating every last police department in the land of the free, or setting uniform guidelines for law enforcement across the country.
Yet, if #BlackLivesMatter, should it matter to you who does the killing or how those lives are lost? Should it matter if the gang wears blue and carries a badge? We must get a hold of the fact that there are no gun manufacturers in the black community, and still it seems some black children can access a weapon more readily than they can find a good education or a nutritious meal.
The NRA and its wholly-owned subsidiary known as Congress, or any given state house, are playing both sides of the fence. And they care little about who gets killed so long as they are moving their product and their checks come in, and the Second Amendment has nothing to do with it. They enact laws making it easier for whites to kill blacks in the name of self-defense (Stand Your Ground) and for people to carry guns in public places (Open Carry), including in parks, schools and churches. And they maintain their poker face when children are slaughtered, as in the case of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, when a gunman killed 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
If politicians and their masters in the gun lobby react with indifference when children in suburbia are murdered, one can imagine their reaction (or lack thereof) when gun violence tears apart the inner city. But if the black community does not care when black people are murdered from within, why should anyone else? And doesn’t homicide in the black community just make the racist abusive cop’s job that much easier?
In a nation plagued by racism, poverty and violence, black folks are dealing with a number of issues, including internalized racism, trauma, stress, deprivation, lack of self-esteem and lack of opportunity. Just to add to that, black families have been decimated due to the war on drugs and mass incarceration. Going after bad cops alone will not overcome these challenges.
So yes, it is OK for black America to condemn both police violence and teen and gang violence at the same time.
It is also very necessary.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove