Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Do All Black Lives Matter?

Too many people are now suggesting that while there are huge outcries within the Black community when a Black man or woman is killed by a white person – especially a policeman – the community seems not to care about Black on Black murder victims. “Why is that?”, they ask. Shouldn’t all Black lives matter? Spoiler alert; they do.

One reason some crimes result in smaller outcries within the Black community is because all communities find some homicides more outrageous than others – it’s human nature. However, being “less outraged” by a particular person’s death does not mean that you think that person’s life is less valuable – that his or her life matters less. The extent of one’s reaction is usually more a reflection on the how and why of the death than on the “worth” of the deceased. So, for example, we are saddened when a baby drowns; we are outraged if it drowns at the hands of its own mother. Clearly neither baby’s life is less valuable than the other; it’s the same baby.

Some factors affecting the decibel level

There are many reasons why some homicides are mourned or protested more loudly, or broadly, than others– for example…. 

Innocent victims receive more sympathy than those who are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as being somehow complicit in their own death; their deaths are likely to elicit more protests.  During a gang conflict, the death of an innocent bystander will generate more sympathy than that accorded a participant.

All things being equal, the closer our ties to the deceased, and the easier it is for us to imagine ourselves “in his shoes,” the more the tragedy will resonate. People who do not live in the inner-city are more likely to be galvanized into action by police misconduct than by gang homicides.

Some of the most abhorrent homicides are those where the perpetrator seems completely unremorseful, or where the crime is particularly violent or inhumane. Or, homicides where, like the baby in the opening section of this post, the victims are murdered by someone who is entrusted with their care – by someone who is supposed to protect them!

In short, It would be unreasonable to expect the Black community to react to events like the George Floyd homicide, which checks pretty much all of the above boxes, the same way it reacts to a “routine” shooting.

Some factors affecting perception

The broader community’s perception of how the Black community reacts to Black on Black homicides is also significantly impacted by the media. Most homicides within the Black community receive little or no mainstream media coverage. The difference in the level of coverage accorded one of those “routine” homicides and one that the media deems “newsworthy” is huge. The difference in coverage likely magnifies the apparent difference in sentiment within the Black community. This misperception is further compounded by the fact that incidents that the media does publicize are more likely to attract white protestors – and thereby, in a kind of virtuous news cycle, become even more newsworthy and more publicized.

But, is that really the issue?

Honestly, in my view, this “What about Black on Black murders” line of questioning, like its sister retort “All Lives Matter,” is primarily meant to deflect and distract. Rather than emanating from a sincere concern about the Black on Black crime victims, it is meant to change the subject away from racial inequity and police misconduct. It’s an attempt to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement as being racist, and to delegitimize the complaints about Blacks being killed by the police.

Perhaps one could argue that the “What about Black on Black crime” response is not so much suggesting that Blacks seem to overvalue individual lives killed by policemen, as much as it is suggesting that Blacks are overly concerned with the relatively small number of such deaths in total compared to much larger number of Black on Black homicides. I’m not convinced. When white people are up in arms after Newtown or Parkland, people don’t ask why white people seem not to care about the many more white lives lost to suicides - or opioid overdoses. It’s not the way concerned human beings react.

And, as Troy Smith says in a recent article on Cleveland.Com  “When someone commits an act of terrorism against in the United States, which rightfully leads to anger and sadness, no one asks, ‘Well what about how many Americans kill other Americans each year?’ Because that would be crazy, now wouldn’t it?”

Related Articles

What the “Black-on-Black crime” fallacy misses about race and gun deaths, from the Washington Post.
Soledad O’Brien: A Me Too Moment for Journalists of Color, from the New York Times. More discussion on the role of the media.
ALL Black Lives Should Matter - One of the more rational of the articles, posts and talking heads that motivated me to write this post.
Stop Accusing the Black Lives Matter Movement of Ignoring So-called “Black on Black” Crime, from the Milwaukee Independent. Some of the statistics may surprise you.
Vox article on Black on Black crime – especially re simultaneous over and under-policing.

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