Published in How to Legalize Drugs – Jefferson M. Fish (Editor), 1998 | reprinted in Waiting for Lightning to Strike:The Fundamentals of Black Politics, 2008
| “Black-on-Black” Crime ~
… The targets of the war are [also] seduced into believing the negative things said or written about them. This makes easier their surrender to the war against them. Slogans, such as “black-on-black crime,” when used by black leaders, insinuate that black inter-racial crime is more insidious than black intra-racial crime. It implies that black criminals should spare their brothers (that is, a criminal should choose their victims on the basis of race). In contrast, crimes committed by whites against other whites are seldom referred to as “white on white crimes.” It is commonly known that whites commit crimes against other whites, and blacks commit crimes against other blacks, at roughly the same rate of occurrence. Most crimes are neighborhood crimes. Moreover, victims and perpetrators are generally known to one another. To categorize neighborhood crime as differing racially is an attempt to portray black crime as more insidious and violent. Furthermore, the notion of the black perpetrator preying on whites is not only unfounded, but, it is deliberately used to stir the fears and passions of whites. Political scientists James Lynch and William Sabol assert that the black underclass poses less of a threat to whites than the white underclass because it (the black underclass) is segregated residentially and therefore is less proximate to the working and middle classes than is the white underclass. Many black politicians and community leaders have been manipulated or seduced into adopting racist arguments and stereotypes that support the lie that blacks are more violent than whites. The back sliding by black elite leadership has taken place partly because many white liberals have changed their positions and beliefs about social justice. Liberalism was in vogue during the sixties and seventies. At that time, there was a greater willingness on the part of white officials to look at the causes of crime. Liberalism involved believing that doing something about the human condition was part of the solution. Today, it seems that liberals have apparently abandoned this mode of thinking to one of inherent racial pathologies. Taking their cues from the white liberals, along with a lack of consistent focus on cause, often puts black leadership at odds with itself. Case in point — calling drug laws’ racist but telling kids “to turn those suspected of dealing into the authorities.” Such a request is fraught with obvious contradictions. It says that although the system is unjust, there are some who are unworthy of justice. Black leadership has been unable to find a cogent vision, language and message to strike at dispossession created by white supremacy. So they have followed the liberal lead and capitulated to the dominant [conservative] ideology of the time. Consequently, some often promote the vision, language and message of the forces that historically have been arrayed against them. The promotion of a majoritarian ideology can be conscious or inadvertent. Still, the consequence of such promotion generally impacts on the poor and dispossessed in a negative way. In 1994, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, made what seems to be an inadvertent “off the record” comment that was widely reported during the crime debates. The comment was indicative of the dehumanization, promotion of the dominant ideology and lapse in focus on the central problem of dispossession. Jackson stated, “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery and then see somebody white and feel relieved.”
Jackson, who has traditionally criticized stereotypical characterizations, provided succor to those harboring racist attitudes and beliefs. Perhaps it was “painful” to Jackson because he realized that he too had been seduced by the stereotypes of war. Regardless of the reason, the message in effect tells whites that he can understand and does not blame whites for being racist because he is relieved that the person walking behind him is not black! This suggests that any white person is justified for fearing black people. There are those who insist that we cannot fault Jackson for his fear of the stranger behind because it is not unreasonable for people to make a risk assessment for the likelihood of being victimized by crime. However, Jackson’s comments were made in the context of the crime debate. Several things come to mind when one considers Jackson’s public pronouncement of fear. Jackson often mentions the 319 death threats he received during his bids for the presidency. It would be revealing to know the number of blacks issuing threats. The answer would no doubt prove his fear misplaced. Jackson is a public figure. His comments were made in the middle of a policy debate and it can be assumed that he was addressing public policy. His comments were supportive of policies that result in discriminatory treatment for those other than “somebody white.” Curfews, random searches and other such policies, are often justified by the use of such statements. Thus, there appeared to be no risk assessment of personal danger, only a political assessment. The comment helped Jackson remain politically visible by not appearing soft on crime and provided him with “credibility” in the prevailing conservative political order. This example is offered because while Jackson is not the only black leader with a conservative tone on crime, he is just the most well known. Consequently, Jackson’s comments give conservatives and would-be moralists such as William Bennett and Patrick Buchanan, a place to hide on the issues of racism, crime, poverty and dispossession.
In fairness to Jackson, as the consequences and pressures on the black community due to the drug war increased, he sought to mobilize the black church community around the increased incarceration rate. Jackson encouraged ministers to set up bail funds for non-violent drug offenders as well as church-based mentoring programs. He also criticized the government’s focus on the building of prison at a rate twice that of public housing or school construction. Jackson also condemned the sentencing disparity and, was openly critical black ministers’ support of the 1994 Crime Bill with its 62 death penalty provisions…
.James P. Lynch and William J. Sabol, “The Use of Coercive Social Control and Changes in the Race and Class Composition of U.S. Prison Population,” paper presented at the meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Miami, Florida, November 9,1994: p.23.
.Howard Fineman, “An Older, Grimmer Jesse,” Newsweek, Vol. 123, Issue 2, January 10, 1994: p.24.
.Roger D. Hatch, Beyond Opportunity: Jesse Jackson’s Vision for America (Philadelphia: Fortress Press) 1988: p. 109.