When the FBI released its latest annual crime report showing violent crime on the upswing in many big cities, a bevy of law enforcement, state and federal officials and criminologists hoped and prayed that the report was just an aberrant blip on the crime chart.
And there was good reason for that hope. Murder rates have plunged in big cities during the past decade, and there was every expectation that things would stay that way.
The recent slaughter of five teens in New Orleans and a desperate plea from Mayor Ray Nagin to send in the National Guard to help patrol the streets shattered that hope. While the murder rate in big cities is still lower than it was a decade ago, the terrifying reality is that in New Orleans and other big cities, the victims and their killers are almost always young Black males.
In the quarter-century of homicide records from 1976 to 2002 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Blacks are six times more likely to be murdered than Whites and seven times more likely to kill than Whites. They are far more likely to be gunned down over gang or drug disputes. New Orleans police speculate that that was the reason the five teens were killed.
President George W. Bush recognized that big-city violence was a crisis problem. In his 2005 State of the Union address, he pledged to shell out $150 million to youth education and violence prevention programs. It was well-intentioned, but it was still a far cry from what was needed to stem the gunplay on urban streets. And as has been the case with other Bush initiatives, the struggle against urban violence has fizzled due to lack of money and lack of political will. But even if the money and will were there, that would not get at the cause of why so many young Blacks kill each other.
More police, prosecutors, three-strikes and mandatory sentencing laws, the death penalty and the nearly 1 million Blacks behind bars have done little to curb this carnage. Despite the pet theories of liberals and conservatives, Blacks aren't killing each other because they are violent or crime-prone by nature or solely because they are poor and oppressed — or even because they are acting out the violence they see and hear on TV, films and in gangster rap lyrics.
No, the violence results 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 was that Black lives were expendable.
Many studies have confirmed that the punishment Blacks receive when the victim is White is far more severe than if the victim is Black. This perceived devaluation of Black lives by racism has encouraged disrespect for the law and has forced many Blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto other Blacks.
Far too many young Black males 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, fight and commit violent self-destructive acts. When many Black males indulge their murderous impulses on other Black males, they are often taking out their pent-up frustrations on those whom they perceive as helpless and hapless. This is a warped response to racism and deprivation, blocked opportunities, powerlessness and alienation.
Other than comedian Bill Cosby and some outraged and terrified local Black leaders, mainstream civil rights leaders haven't said or done much about the Black murder carnage. The sight of the National Guard on the streets of New Orleans may be a temporary comfort to residents and city officials, but it's only that — temporary comfort.
An impassioned Mayor Nagin put it best — local residents and community groups must put their foot down and say enough is enough, and take back their streets. That's still the best way to stop the violence.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for www.blacknews.com.