Opinion: The false understanding of black-on-black crime

Illustration by Darian Mathews | The Signal
Illustration by Darian Mathews | The Signal
Illustration by Darian Mathews | The Signal


There is a cultural stereotype in the U.S. that black people kill black people more often than any other race kills any other race.

I don’t think that such an opening statement needs much supporting evidence. But just in case you’re that insular or incredulous, it’s addressed by Washington Post columnist and author of Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America, John Whorter.

Following a reference to Rudy Giuliani’s poorly-worded statement about “93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks,” Whorter addresses that “. . .people in black neighborhoods are often at much more danger of being killed by other black people.”

He continues, “It’s a criticism typically associated with the political right [of which Giuliani is a more recent member], frequently thought (and frankly, frequently meant) to suggest that what black people need is to simply comport themselves differently, rather than endlessly complain about the depredations of (presumably) white police.”

Of course, anyone wanting to support such a claim without being declaimed as a racist themselves needs evidence. And what better evidence than statistics? Yes, statistics–what British Prime Minister Benjamin Disareli once allegedly placed last on a continuum: “lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

The reason being that statistics are highly variable, especially population statistics, in which figures change based on whether you analyze a trend per capita or at large or within a population, or according to a panoply of other mitigating factors.

But what recourse do we have in this society? Our safety blankets of categorization and authority: race and the FBI, respectively?

Let’s look at the latest published FBI stats I could find: A 2013 homicide data table charting the number of murders by race of perpetrator and victim (among other characteristics). To be clear, we’re just doing a parallel analysis of whites and blacks.

It looks like black people kill just about as many black people as white people kill white people. Figures.

But, back to those mitigating factors; there’s the fact that there are more white people in the US population, so there’s naturally going to be more white murder.

Also, “Drawing on the 2012 figures, whites were arrested for over 275,000 violent crimes. For blacks, the number is about 170,000. So while whites were arrested more, the arrest rate for blacks is nearly four times that for whites,” according to Pundit Fact.

The arrest rate is higher for blacks? Who would have thought? Well: “At least 70 departments scattered from Connecticut to California arrested black people at a rate 10 times higher than people who are not black,” according to USA Today.

So, if the population is higher for whites, but the arrest rate is higher for blacks, where does that put us?

The point I’m trying to make is simple: Standalone statistics are not reliable in order to support an argument about the behavior of a perceived group of people.

Though it may be factually correct that there is a considerable trend of black people who kill black people, such an observation is not sufficient to support any stereotype about black people as a group.

And, by the way, who else is tired of respected and trusted institutions such as the FBI lumping people into broad categories such as “Black or African American” and “White”?

I sure am. And I think that anyone considered black who was raised in Georgia and graduated from a public high school isn’t going to have much in common with a Farmer’s Market employee from Eritrea, though they’re apparently the same group in the eyes of the FBI.

There are simply too many factors related to the category of “black people” and too many inscribed assumptions therein to use statistics as a touchstone. Among those factors is the disparity in population size I mentioned earlier, but it’s also the disparity of income and living standard, for which there is plenty of documentation and analysis.

And beyond that, there are the manifold and ongoing controversies about guns, drugs, prostitution, and other criminological curiosities that I haven’t the word count to investigate in this article, but which any reader can rest assured are not restricted to one arbitrarily-determined racial group or another.

But let me conclude with a bit more about that arrest rate thing. Intimately connected with the quote I included earlier about black people getting arrested at a rate four times as high as whites is the idea of mass incarceration.

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