The Leaders of Black Lives Matter Ignore Solutions
The recent spate of gun violence in black communities has threatened to shift the singular focus of Black Lives Matter (BLM) away from police killings. Its fear is that a serious inquiry would undermine the facile belief that the violence stems from intergenerational black poverty. When the black actor, Terry Crews criticized BLM for ignoring the gun violence, he was condemned. Typical was the response of Don Lemon:
But that’s not what the Black Lives Matter movement is about Terry. Black Lives Matter is about police brutality and about criminal justice. It's not about what happens in communities when it comes to crime, Black-on-Black crime. People who live near each other, Black people, kill each other. Same as whites.
If Crews wanted to stem community violence, Lemon concluded, “Form your own movement.”
Lemon was fully aware that BLM has moved beyond police brutality, for example, supporting the removal of unacceptable statues. More troubling, he and others who compare black-on-black and white-on-white homicide rates avoid discussing how much more prevalent gun violence is in black neighborhoods. In 2018, black victims comprised 52.4 percent of the 14,123 US homicides. For murders, using population and crime statistics, black arrests per capita were 5.54 times white arrests per capita.
While BLM and their defenders may continue to resist looking at the ongoing neighborhood gun violence, black residents will not. Tio Hardiman, executive director of a Chicago neighborhood organization Violence Interrupters, said:
I understand the need to protest police brutality and excess force. I’m with that. But at the same time we are losing too many kids due to senseless acts of gun violence. So my call to action for Black Lives Matter: We need to have a meeting so we can see how we can organize and unify together.
Hardiman’s concerns reflect black concerns. In a 2018 Pew survey, three-quarters of blacks — compared with fewer than half of whites — said violent crime is a big problem today. And while 82 percent of blacks said gun violence is a very big problem, just 47 percent of whites said the same. Black adults were also more likely than whites to worry a lot about having their homes broken into (28% vs. 13%) and being the victim of a violent crime (20% vs. 8%).
The BLM perspective on black gun violence is based on quasi-religious convictions, not empirical findings. Under the weight of intergenerational deprivations, Cornel West has argued that violent behaviors reflect “the monumental eclipse of hope, the unprecedented collapse of meaning, the incredible disregard for human (especially black) life and property in much of black America.” In the 1990s, William Julius Wilson and Robert Sampson postulated a race-invariant thesis: If you could fully adjust for a host of variables, including poverty and family structure, black and white communities would have the same violent crime rates. Though both are now Harvard professors, they did their sociological research in Chicago. And yet they were not moved to adjust their beliefs when evidence showed that on a per capita basis, black victimization from gun violence there was 70 times greater than among Chicago’s white population and even 4 times greater than among its Latino population. When racial gaps persisted in statistical studies that made those adjustments here and here, the race-invariant proponents dismissed them.
Moving past the poverty explanation, we are forced to look into black parenting and black schooling. The disproportionately high birth rates among young unmarried black women suggests that family support policies, including visiting nursing and partner relationship initiatives, are important for improving childrearing practices. Once of school age, expansion of charter schools seems to be an effective strategy to minimize the share of black boys who will enter high school with significant educational deficits. Finally, for those black young men who exit high school with substantial deficiencies, stackable credential programs, not community college academic programs, can be most effective. These vocational programs reduce the share of black young men that neither work, nor attend school, nor have credentials beyond high school. It is from these disconnect youth that a cohort gravitates to high-risk, violent-prone networks. Unfortunately, BLM and its supporters viscerally reject any consideration of parental inadequacies, charter schools, or vocational programs. This rejection of effective programs is why we should be critical of the current BLM leadership.
Robert Cherry is professor emeritus at Brooklyn College and is author of Jewish and Christian Views on Bodily Pleasure (Wipf & Stock, 2018).