What Does the Term 'Black-on-Black Crime' Imply?

Lately, most recently in this Demos post, there have been a few attempts to debunk the notion of "black-on-black crime."

Interestingly, though, none of these arguments actually deny that there's a lot more black-on-black crime than we would expect purely by chance. Using the same report I consulted earlier this month in analyzing justifiable-homicide rates (based on the Justice Department's crime-victimization survey), we can get a rough estimate* of the odds someone of a given race will face a violent crime by an attacker of a given race over the course of a year (race of victim first, offender second):

Black/black: 22 in 1,000
Black/white: 3 in 1,000
White/black: 3 in 1,000
White/white: 16 in 1,000

So, a randomly selected black person is about 38 percent more likely to face victimization from another black person than a random white person is to face victimization from another white person. The murder statistics are even more lopsided: In 2011 the FBI recorded 2,447 black-on-black murders and 2,630 white-on-white murders, similar numbers even though whites constitute a dramatically larger proportion of the population.

If a claim of "black-on-black crime" merely refers to this statistical phenomenon, there's nothing to debunk here. So, most of the debunkings are aimed at the supposed implications of talking about this basic mathematical reality -- implications of racial inferiority, implications that blacks are actively targeting each other, implications that black-on-black crime is increasing (when in reality crime of all kinds has been falling for years).

Certainly, we should avoid those implications, and explicitly disavow them when confusion may arise. But are they inherent to any discussion of black-on-black crime? It's not clear why we should expect the discussion to inspire these thoughts, rather than other ones -- such as thoughts about poverty, social distance between blacks and whites, the history of racism, ways to improve law enforcement, and so on. In fact, most of those who object to the term "black-on-black crime" want to discuss these things.

It's also not clear what the alternative is. The term "black-on-black crime" captures a complex reality involving at least three different concepts -- victimization, criminal offending, and racial segregation -- in a four easily understood words. It's hard to beat that.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen


*As I pointed out earlier, the report is inconsistent as to how it treats Hispanics. To the extent that Hispanic offenders were classified as white, these numbers overstate white-on-white and white-on-black victimization.

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