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Black Homicides Fuel Nation's Murder Surge

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Feb 20, 2007

Editor's Note: A new Pew Charitable Trusts study on U.S. prisons foresees an increase of 192,000 inmates in the next five years -- a 13 percent rise in overall prison population. NAM associate editor Earl Ofari Hutchinson probes one part of that story -- the increasing rates of black-on-black violence in many cities across America. Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of "The Emerging Black GOP Majority" (Middle Passage Press, September 2006).

LOS ANGELES--The news that nine blacks were shot and two were killed in New Orleans made headline news for a hot minute only because the shootings happened as tourists rushed into the city for the start of Mardi Gras week. If it hadn't been for the world-famous party, the black-on-black violence wouldn't have gotten a line in the national press. Black-on-black murder may be a non-story, but the tragedy is that black homicides fuel the nation's murder surge.

A week before the New Orleans carnage, the Violence Policy Center reported that black murders are off the chart in many of America's big cities. The Bureau of Justice in its report on homicides went one better and found that the black murder rate is many times higher than that of whites, or even Latinos. In fact it's the leading cause of death among black males ages 16 to 34. By contrast, among white males, murder drops to number five as a cause of death, after accidents, suicide, cancer and heart disease. More police, dozens of new prisons and tougher laws haven't curbed black violence.

And they won't. Blacks don't slaughter each other at such a terrifying rate because they are naturally violent or crime prone. They are not killing each other simply because they are poor and victimized by discrimination. Or because they are acting out the obscene and lewd violence they see and hear on TV, films and in the gangster rap lyrics that blare on the streets. The violence stems from a combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage many blacks carry.

In the past, crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. The implicit message is that black lives were expendable. Many studies confirm that the punishment blacks receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black. The perceived devaluation of black lives by discrimination encourages disrespect for the law and drives many blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others that, of course, look like them.

They have become especially adept at acting out their frustrations at white society's denial of their "manhood" by adopting an exaggerated "tough guy" role. They swagger, boast, curse, fight and commit violent, self-destructive acts. The accessibility of drugs, and guns, and the influence of misogynist, violence-laced rap songs also reinforce the deep feeling among many youths that life is cheap and easy to take, and there will be minimal consequences for their actions as long as their victims are other young blacks. And as long as the attackers regard their victims as weak, vulnerable and easy pickings they will continue to kill and maim with impunity.

The other powerful ingredient in the deadly mix of black-on-black violence is the gang and drug plague. The spread of the drug trade during the 1980s made black youth gangs even bigger and more dangerous. Drug trafficking not only provided illicit profits but also made gun play even more widespread. Gang members use their arsenals to fend off attacks, protect their profits from hostile predators and settle scores with rivals.

The Bureau of Justice report traces the recent escalation in the black homicide rate to busted drug deals, competition over markets and disputes over turf. When innocent victims are caught in these shoot-outs, it fortifies the conviction of suburban whites that black neighborhoods are depraved war zones.

The Violence Policy Center says that the answer is to get the guns off the streets. In other words, pass even more draconian gun control laws. That's liberal reformers' favorite panacea to the murder plague. There are way too many guns on America's streets. But all the gun laws on the books wouldn't have stopped the Mardi Gras shooting mayhem in New Orleans, or for that matter the killings in any other big city.

What can be done? Black parents, churches and organizations such as the NAACP that are quick to storm the barricades against civil rights abuses must make stopping black violence a priority. They can do much more to provide positive and wholesome mentoring and role models for at-risk young blacks. And that doesn't mean cheerleading them when they buy $250 sneakers they don't have the money for, or turning a blind eye when they skip school. In other words, these groups have to show by word and deed that the lives of at-risk young blacks count for something.

The rash of shootings in New Orleans during Mardi Gras week is yet another tragic warning that the flower of black youth is in mortal harm's way. It's time to do something about that.

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