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The red herring of ‘black on black’ crime.


Question & Answer

Q: By Marion
One thing I fail to see addressed anywhere is the mayhem of blacks upon blacks in cities such as Chicago. Do black lives matter only when death is caused by a law enforcement officer?
A: By Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
Dear Marion,

The red herring of ‘black on black’ crime often gets cited when the Black Lives Matter movement gains a foothold.

I call it a red herring largely because it’s raised exclusively by whites as a way to resist exploring the source and origin of racial bias in law enforcement in general, and more specifically the ongoing epidemic of white police officers murdering unarmed black and brown detainees. It wants to deflect attention away from this very serious matter by focusing on something else. Doubt can be cast on the ethical capabilities of the black community writ large by reinforcing the notion of black on black crime. Whites don’t really care about ‘black on black’ crime except as a trope they can use to perpetuate the larger narrative of the black man as savage beast. The simple utterance of ‘black on black’ crime is intended to remind white audiences that the black male is an animal who cannot control his rage. This is intended to create a context in which the violence perpetrated by white police officers against unarmed black bodies is justified.

For white police officers who are sworn to serve and protect, the order to shoot to kill is mandated when they feel that a detainee or suspect is a real and present danger to the police officer or the community. By perpetuating tropes and narratives that consistently reinforce white fear of black bodies, whites – police or otherwise – have a long conditioned and internal fear of black skin. The black skin itself is perceived as threat. When on the job and calculating whether a real and present danger persists, the color of the skin itself factors into whatever calculus is used to determine the level of fear/danger. Black bodies are easily and often perceived as dangerous by white officers. Rehearsing narratives of black on black crime reinforces this.

According to the 2018 Criminal Victimization report published by the Department of Justice, the offender in a violent crime was of the same race as they victim in 70% of violent incidents involving black victims and 62% of incidents involving whites. However, never do whites think about, talk about, ask about, show curiosity about white on white crime – even though it is almost as likely to be the case in the majority of violent crimes.

What is ignored is that in far larger numbers, black voters favor stricter gun laws. The vast majority of gun deaths in the US are not homicides, but suicides – and over half of those are committed by white men. Whites are largely silent about this. In addition, over the last two decades the trauma of white on white mass shootings in schools and malls and churches has not garnered enough white support for gun control. Whites continue to focus more attention on the trope of ‘black on black’ crime than on the largely white violence of suicide, mass shootings, and police homicide of unarmed black suspects.

Do blacks commit crimes against blacks? Yes. And those really interested in this pattern should read all they can about what sociologists, anthropologists, and criminologists have to say about the reasons for that. But if they are not AS interested in white on white crime, they should interrogate their motive for asking the question. When the question is offered as a defense for white police brutality that stems from racial profiling, the more profitable exploration should be the internal race bias behind the question itself.

~ Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer

*** This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author

Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer was granted a Doctoral Degree in White Privilege Studies in 2007 from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH. He also has degrees in Theology and Philosophy. He is the author of two published books, Beyond Resistance: the Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World and Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right Hijacked Mainstream Religion. He is a recipient of Eden Seminary’s “Shalom  Award,” given by  the student body for a lifetime of committed work for peace and justice. John was ordained as a Christian minister in 1988. He currently  serves as the 9th General Minister  of the United Church of Christ, one of the USA’s most progressive faiths, whose vision is “A Just World for All.” He is a frequent speaker on  the subject of white privilege, and is especially committed to engaging white audiences to come to deeper understandings of the privilege. He is  particularly interested  in how whites manifest privilege every day and how it impacts people of color, two things whites remain largely either ignorant of or in denial about. He has been devoted to his bride Mimi  for over 36 years, and they have parented three children – a composer/musician, an author/painter, and a poet.  John and Mimi have two grandchildren they dote on constantly.

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