By Ron Calhoun
- Symptomatic of persistent lawless behavior by black people.
- Driven by black people’s tolerance for criminal and immoral behavior.
Black-on-black homicide is random. The term “random” is commonly defined as “proceeding, made, or occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern.” The perspective that black-on-black homicide is not patterned lends itself to an interpretation that any citizen could spontaneously be the victim of a horrendous crime at any place or any time. The promotion of this misunderstanding may result in heightened fear of violence among black residents and visitors to majority-black neighborhoods. Increased fear of violence may undermine the full participation of black residents in neighborhood life and lead to weakened community control over local youth and public spaces.
Black-on-black homicide problems are symptomatic of persistent lawless behavior by black people. This wrongheaded idea leads to an implicit assumption among the public that a high proportion of black residents are involved in crime and disorder. This misconception promotes uncertainty regarding whether blacks share the moral standards of mainstream society and, as a result, diminishes levels of mainstream concern and determination to find evidence-based responses to the problem.
Black-on-black homicide problems are driven by black people’s tolerance for criminal and immoral behavior. This false perspective can influence police officers to mistakenly view entire black neighborhoods as supportive of criminal behavior and exacerbate an already fragile relationship.
Urban environments experience the largest proportion of homicides, and black Americans tend to make up larger shares of urban populations relative to suburban and rural areas. Between 1980 and 2008, nearly 58 percent of homicides occurred in U.S. cities with a population of 100,000 or more (Cooper and Smith, 2011.) More than one-third of all homicides in the U.S. during that same time period occurred in cities with one million or more residents. City-level analyses provide an important opportunity to understand the nature of homicide problems better. While useful in describing objective information on homicide incidents such as age, race, sex, and weapon type, national data systems, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Supplementary Homicide Reports, are well known to be limited in providing reliable and valid information on homicide circumstances and relationships between victims and offenders.
Although modest differences are associated with variations in local dynamics across other U.S. cities, the basic picture of black homicide victimization as highly concentrated among a small number of active offenders involved in high-risk social networks is essentially the same. Research has consistently documented that violence driven by conflicts within and among gangs, drug-selling crews, and other criminally active groups generate the bulk of urban homicide and violence problems.
Black residents clearly want police in their neighborhoods. However, they want the police to know the community, treat residents with respect and dignity, prevent future outbreaks of violence rather than merely respond to incidents, and engage with them inappropriately focused rather than indiscriminate policing strategies.
We know the problem; why can’t we eliminate and resolve it?