Let's retire the term 'black on black' crime, focus instead on gang culture

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On January 21st, 2013, King College Prep’s marching band traveled from Chicago to Washington to perform at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration festivities.

This band had a beautiful and talented 15 year-old majorette who was an honor student and planned to spend time in Paris as part of an exchange program.

On January 29th, after returning back to Chicago, she stood in Vivian Gordon Harsh park with her classmates, who were just released early from an exam, when an 18-year old gunman hopped a fence and opened fire at the group, believing he spotted a rival gang member.

The young girl was hit in the back by a stray bullet never meant for her, and she died. Her name was Hadiya Pendleton. Two years after her death, the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners approved a request to rename nearby Buckthorn Park after Hadiya.

And it was inside that very same park that 17-year old Vonzell Banks was shot to death this past weekend while playing basketball with his friends. And the most frustrating part of it all is that he was not the only person to tragically lose his life this past weekend in Chicago, where shootings injured 53 people and cost nine their lives, including Amari Brown, a seven-year-old boy who caught a bullet intended for his gang-associated father.

Unfortunately, as a West Indian citizen, this type of violence is not new to me. Much of my extended family and my closest friends are Jamaican, and I remember how just 10 years ago, Jamaica had the highest murder rate in the world. On an island with 2.6 million people, 1,674 citizens were murdered, equaling a rate of 58 per 100,000 people (in the same year, Chicago, a city of 2.8 million people had 446 murders, equaling a rate of 15 per 100,000).

When this brutality engulfed segments of Jamaica a decade ago, local natives and former residents living abroad bandied about many theories on why crime was occurring at such a high rate and what the possible solutions could be. Of all the professional and colloquial terms that were brought up in town halls, TV news panels and opinion articles, there was one term that was noticeably absent: “black-on-black crime.”

On the surface, lazy intellectualism would have you believe that’s because 92 percent of Jamaica is black, therefore eliminating the need to point out the ethnicity of who is committing the crime and who it’s being committed against since, there’s a nine out of ten chance they’re both black.

But there’s a far deeper reason why the term “black-on-black violence” is not used in Jamaica: Because analyzing the skin color of perpetrators and victims, in most cases, gives absolutely zero context to the nature of the crime and the systemic problems that lead to it.

The term “black on black crime” or “black on black violence” is a nothingness phrase. It is the height of prejudice in non-blacks who wax poetic with faux-philosophical insight and also self-hate in the black folks who throw that term around as if its mere mention is grounded in some type of mind-blowing truth.

A basic grade-school understanding of criminology would collectively inform all of us that most crimes are intraracial (committed against people of their own ethnicity), including 83 percent of white people being murdered by other white people.

But the truth is, most people who use the term “black on black violence” don’t give a damn about the victims who lose their lives to this senseless violence or the societal and political flaws that create pockets of deep criminal activity. The people who use that term not only lack the common sense to parse important social issues, but they are unable to closely examine the situations at play with the context needed to actually save lives.

During the height of the murder wave in Jamaica, deep structural analysis was conducted of each part of the island, and solutions were quickly thought up. Since 2010, the murder rate has dropped, specifically due to increased and targeted police patrols, curfews and anti-gang initiatives. These were all put into place because activists, politicians and concerned citizens came together to critically assess what was specifically happening in their communities, and equally specific answers were found.

Does that mean that crime has been completely solved there? Of course not.

But great leaps and positive steps have occurred through their ability to focus on gang and territory violence, while not allowing the conversation to devolve into a ridiculous and anti-intellectual theorizing on the inherent criminality of Blackness.

When it comes to most of the murder and crime many people ignorantly label “black-on-black violence,” we should actually be calling it inner city gang violence. When you label it like that, we collectively become a step closer to solving an issue that is plaguing segments of our communities. When you say “black on black,” folks exasperatedly throw their hands in the air and ask God to come back and save us all.

People start making generalized, faux-intellectual assertions about black folks, and it becomes a conversation on whether we can change our own “nature.”

But using inner city gang violence is effective because, between community organizers, activists and criminologists, there are actually many strategies in place to help inner city communities. There are many policies that have actually worked which will help steer kids away from gangs.

There are actually real programs in place to reform former gang members and help ex-cons with violent gang pasts turn their lives around. There are actually many proven methods on how depressed communities can be brought out of abject poverty. But the term “black on black violence” inherently makes us try to tackle the problem of blackness, as opposed to the real evils of financial destitution, under-invested communities, poor access to quality education and lack of sufficient employment.

Ultimately, anyone who claims to care about black people and the sanctity of our individual lives would stop using the term “black on black violence” because they would believe that our very existence is not inherently marked by a violent predisposition. The problem with the people who throw that phrase around is that they never use the terms “white-on-white violence” or “Asian-on-Asian violence.”

They don’t use those terms because their embedded prejudice only allows blackness to be wholly indicted for the sins of a few, as if black babies are born with violent intentions right out of the womb that babies of other colors are “blessed” enough to not have.

These people rely on the term “black on black violence” because it allows them to pretend to care about deep societal issues without actually having to recognize a specific problem, because then they might be required to specifically act and do something. If you care about black lives, then stop inserting the phrase “black-on-black violence” into every damn debate and start helping us solve the very real problems of inner city gang violence.

Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site ThisIsYourConscience.com. He’s an author of the book “You’re Not A Victim, You’re A Volunteer.” He can be reached via Twitter@lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.