Walter Bond
Op-Ed

The Fallacy of Black-on-Black Crime

83% of white murders are committed by whites, so why doesn't that get similar discussion?

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Apr 5th, 2015 02:46 pm
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Milwaukee demonstrators protest excessive force by police. (Photo by Andrea Waxman)

Milwaukee demonstrators protest excessive force by police. (Photo by Andrea Waxman)

During the past seven months there have been thousands of articles written about the trend of unarmed black men and boys being killed by police officers. Mike Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in Staten Island, Dontre Hamilton here in Milwaukee, and Tony Robinson in Madison on March 6. Though this troubling trend has existed across our nation for centuries, these killings are now receiving unprecedented attention and sparking a national dialogue on issues of race, police brutality, the criminal justice system, and the value of black lives. And while we’ve yet to fully realize the fruits of this conversation, the fact that we’re broaching these long-ignored topics is generally good news.

From Twitter to barbershops, mainstream media to classrooms, protests to pulpits, dinner tables to workplaces, these conversations are now more widespread and in depth than perhaps at any other point in my lifetime. The bad news, however, is that we don’t have to delve too deeply into any of these domains to find people who insist on imbuing the discussion with the fallacy of black-on-black crime.

The topic of black-on-black crime, in and of itself, is ridiculous in isolation. We often use the phrase to highlight the killing of black people by other black people, thereby undergirding the stereotype of the black criminal. Such an argument completely ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of all murders in our nation are intra-racial. Or as one of my former students so eloquently stated: “If your neighborhood is populated by a majority of any race, whom the hell else would your conflicts be with?” According to an FBI Uniform Crime Report, white killers perpetrated a whopping 83 percent of the 3,172 white murders in 2011. Yet, suggestions of a critical conversation about white-on-white crime are seemingly absent from the dialogue. Puzzling, right?

More recently, those who most proudly boast the black-on-black crime trope usually insinuate that frustration with police officers unjustly killing unarmed black people is misplaced, because “if we really cared” about black lives, we’d be “just as angry” when black people kill black people.

Stop. Just, stop.

Pivoting the dialogue to black-on-black crime is a red herring and nothing short of intellectual dishonesty. Let’s momentarily set aside the considerable amount of time and energy, the abundance of resources, and the plethora of leaders (and no, I’m not talking about Sharpton and Jackson) dedicated to healing the broken communities where black lives are taken the most. While undoubtedly terrible, black peers killing each other is not, has never been, and will never be analogous to police killing unarmed black folks. I posit that all black life lost is immensely tragic, but the impunity with which officers across this nation, sworn to serve and protect, can snuff out black life frequently and without consequence should inspire special ire. In plainer terms, the “protectors” killing our kids, and then being treated as heroes instead of criminals, should make us even angrier.

The deadly brand of policing that seems to only haunt marginalized communities is part of a larger system of institutional injustice that continues to steal black lives en masse.  The same criminal justice system that has created aggressive policing has also spurred the prison industrial complex, broken educational journeys, and shattered families. Policing is only a symptom. Injustice is the root. And the fallacy of black-on-black crime does more to blame the victim than attack the roots of inequity that can leave black children dead at the hands of a peer or police.

We can do better than this intellectual child’s play; it only distracts from true systemic change.

Am I suggesting that we summarily dismiss intra-racial crimes in black communities? Of course not. It’s deeply problematic, as is the case when it occurs in any racial community. But Milwaukeeans who can’t see local leaders who care about, are angered by, and dedicated to solving this problem must be living under a rock.

We must continue to show our anger through commitment to the myriad of efforts here in Wisconsin to attack the underlying problems leading to senseless murder, whether intra- or inter-racial.

We must also continue our commitment to being extremely critical of the troubling trends in Wisconsin’s systems of policing and criminal justice, especially deaths like those of Dontre Hamilton and Tony Robinson.

And we must continue our commitment to the clarion call of #blacklivesmatter and the fight to ensure that our “protectors” are held accountable to the highest ethical, moral and constitutional standards.

It’s high time we stop perpetuating the irresponsible fallacy of black-on-black crime and the usual irrational arguments that accompany it. There’s too much real work to be done.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

Categories: Op-Ed

27 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The Fallacy of Black-on-Black Crime”

  1. tim haering says:

    This op-ed fails to identify the problem but seems to shout, “Whatever it is, it’s not my fault.” You can’t change hearts and minds until you’ve made up your own. The only thing yours to control is yourself. I presume you are doing that. What was it Gandhi said? Be the change to want to see in the world. Show folks through your behavior how you’d like them to be. Be the best you can be, that’s the most you can do. GOod luck. May the Force be with you and God bless.

  2. Casey says:

    Interesting but I didn’t find the stat in the title backed up in the article.

    “The Fallacy of Black-on-Black Crime
    Actually, 83% of murders are whites killing whites.”

    The article then goes on to talk about white murders (my personal belief is all murder is evil no matter the amount of melanin) but fails to supply any stats about black murders.

    It might very well be a fallacy but the above doesn’t show that only that people (this time whites) tend to kill people that look like themselves.

  3. Gus says:

    “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” – Mark Twain

    If you only watched the local news here in Milwaukee it would be very hard to say that black-on-black crime was not only a real issue, but one of Milwaukee’s greatest problems.

    I’m not a statistician, but I’m pretty sure the author of this article isn’t either! A quick Googling for U.S. population’s distribution by race (link) highlights how real black-on-black crime is:

    In 2010, the African-American population was about 39 million, with 2447 black-on-black murders reported in 2011.

    In 2010, the “white” population was 223.5 million, with 2630 white-on-white murders reported in 2011.

    Roughly this shows that black-on-black murder rates per ca pita are about 5 TIMES higher than in the white population. This is a terrible reality, and I wish we had a practical solution to fix it right now. I’m definitely not going to start pointing fingers and the men and women who risk their lives by actively serving to protect our communities against the thugs, and monsters that roam our streets with guns and so little regard for human life.

  4. Damein says:

    The following subheading to the article is wrong and not supported by the article:

    “Actually, 83% of murders are whites killing whites.”

    The way this is worded, the sentence is saying that 83% of all murder victims in this country are whites killed by other whites. Given that whites are only about 63% of the US population today this also implies that whites are disproportionately more likely to be the victims of murder. Another corollary to this incorrect statement is that whites are more likely to be the perpetrator of a murder. The source quoted in the article says that of whites murdered 83% are murdered by other whites. This is a completely different fact than that written in the subheading.

    I found the following Bureau of Justice Statistics report online that summarizes murder statistics in the US from 1980 through 2008. On page 3 it states that during that period 50.3% of murder victims were white and 47.4% were black. Of the offenders 45.3% were white and 52.5% were black.

    I only responded to this article the way I did because I get thoroughly irritated when people misuse data. My personal opinion is that we shouldn’t care if one race is murdering more than another or if most murders are intra-race or inter-race. All murders are unacceptable.

  5. PMD says:

    I agree Damien. There’s way too much killing and way too many gun homicides all-around.

  6. Damien says:

    Sorry, I forgot to post the link to the BOJ report I was referring to:

    http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/htus8008.pdf

  7. AG says:

    Oh, I do love fallacy discussions! There are certainly fallacies going on in this debate… but I don’t think bringing up intra-racial violence is a red herring. Questioning why there is a disproportionate reaction to police deaths when there are far greater numbers of deaths at the hands of someone of the same race is a valid and important point. If anything, the police deaths ARE the distraction from more important issues.

    However, I see a number of other fallacies in the op-ed that I’d love to go over.

    False dilemma – That those who argue that black on black crime should be a bigger deal must think there are no innocent people killed by cops. Tragedy happens, profiling happens, and you can have a bad cop… but recognizing those things does not change the fact that far more unarmed blacks are killed by blacks than any cop.

    Appeal to motive – That black lives matter should be more focused on black on black crime is false because those saying that have a motive to change the subject from blacks being killed by cops. Maybe those people really do believe that the far higher rate of deaths by the hands of those from their own race is more important.

    Wrong direction – The statement in this op-ed that policing and the criminal justice system caused a broken educational system and broken families. Please show me how this was not the other way around. There is no proof what so ever that this is the case. In fact, I’d say the evidence shows the opposite. (This can also be argumentum e silentium)

    Ad hominem – Attacking people who point out the larger problem rather then addressing their position itself.

    Inconsistent Comparison – The odd use of white murder statistics were not effectively explained as to how that relates to cop-death statistics and black on black murders. Not to mention the sub title is completely false anyway.

    Regardless of the fallacies in this debate, calling everyone who’s shot by a cop a “victim” certainly isn’t going to help anyone. I personally don’t consider anyone who attacks a cop to be a victim if that person is injured or killed. That line of thinking certainly won’t help our community get any safer.

  8. PMD says:

    Thank you for flashbacks to high school English class AG.

    I agree that not everyone shot by a police officer is a victim and should not be labeled as such. And as others have effectively pointed out, there are a lot of problems with this piece. I don’t want to speak for the author or anyone else, but I imagine some of the feelings conveyed stem from a sense of frustration over the fact that there are never criminal consequences for a police officer who shoots and kills an unarmed black male. It causes some to make overly broad generalizations or let anger overtake reason when making arguments.

  9. Paul says:

    PMD, why should there be criminal consequences for an officer doing his job?

  10. PMD says:

    Of course in Paul’s world every single unarmed black male shot and killed by the police deserved it. No police officer has ever committed a crime when shooting and killing an unarmed black male. Police officers are infallible. The only profession in the world that’s true of. Sure thing Paul.

  11. Walter says:

    A few thoughtful comments here… thanks all for reading. Would like to point out that the subheading “Actually, 83% of murders are whites killing whites” was added by Urban Milwaukee staff. My original piece in Milwaukee NNS had no subheading.

    My inclusion of the 83% statistic was to highlight the universality of intra-racial crime, and points to a specific year (2011) in the following report: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-6

  12. Paul says:

    PMD, in my world anyone that attacks an officer, no matter their race is taking the chance of being shot. You should try living in reality instead of the rock your under.

  13. Casey says:

    Hey Paul…..the Bostonians who began to throw snow balls at the british soldiers in 1770 were they patriots or thugs expressing their percieved infringement on their personal rights?

  14. Paul says:

    Hey Casey, so you’re comparing criminals that attacked officers to patriots?

  15. Casey says:

    You tell me Paul…how do you view the people killed by the Boston police force in 1770?I want to know how you view them.
    If people did the same today what would you call them?

  16. PMD says:

    Paul, not everyone shot and killed by a police officer was attacking the officer. If you believe otherwise you are simply wrong. Maybe you don’t care about being wrong.

  17. TF says:

    To Paul’s point, what’s the difference? The folks involved in the Boston Massacre might well be described as “criminals that attacked officers.” Note that all but two British soldiers involved in the massacre were acquitted, and represented by none other than John Adams. As to the point at hand, there are clearly issues between the police and Milwaukee’s African-American community. Are most police officers involved in fatal shootings guilty of something? Of course not. But there have too many problems in recent years for us to be complacent about this issue.

  18. Fatch says:

    I agree that the concept of ‘black on black violence’ has no place in a conversation about police brutality, abuse of power, etc.

    However, about these statistics. I want to know where they came from. The title tag-line of ‘83% of murders are whites killing whites’ especially, because the article actually states that 83% of white victims are killed by whites. It also says that the vast majority of murder is intra-racial. That implies that the vast majority of black murder victims are killed by whites, which the data does not seem to back up.

    Specifically, this website(FBI website) appears to show that the majority of murders are within the same race. The funny thing is that the article actually links to this table, too.
    http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-6

    In other words, white people tend to murder other white people, and black people tend to murder other black people.

    In closing, I hate this article, because it makes a fantastic point about how focusing on ‘black on black violence’ derails the actual issue at hand, but then tries to back it up with false data.

  19. Walter says:

    Fatch, I think you’re confusing the prefixes “intra” (within) and “inter” (between).

  20. Terry Ott says:

    The op ed uses some faulty math, as has been pointed out by others. The plain fact is that if you are a black, especially a black male, you are several times more likely to end up murdered than if you’re white. And most of those intolerable murders of blacks are done by blacks, not by whites or others who are attacking blacks for whatever reasons.

    We have one problem for sure: Too many blacks are being murdered; several times too many based on population and demographic data.

    We may have another, entirely different, “potential” problem: Too many blacks MAY be getting killed by police, including some where the action was unwarranted by the circumstances. What data would help us determine the extent of this? I think we need to know the percentage of police interactions with black people that end up with the black citizen dead; and then we would need to assess how that compares with the percentage of police interactions with whites where the white person dies at the hands of police. That comparison STILL might not tell the whole story, but it would help.

  21. Amy Hipple says:

    Another Black apologist blaming everyone but themselves.. B.O.B crime is a reality and you do your race No favors by writing this tripe

  22. Michael MacKay says:

    “Walter Bond, quote: ” It’s high time we stop perpetuating the irresponsible fallacy of black-on-black crime and the usual irrational arguments that accompany it. There’s too much real work to be done.”

    This person is so out of touch with what is going on.

    In the last six months murders by all methods committed by black men in Baltimore, MD is 93 murders… that is 74.4% of ALL murders in Baltimore in the last six months committed by black men… in the same time period only 2 murders were committed by white men, a whopping .016% of all murders in that city by any means.

    It is just a fact, not an opinion, not a “red herring”, but a fact.

    Walter seems unable to deal with the reality, he’d rather make it seem like an epidemic of white cops shooting “unarmed black men”… the “unarmed” is the fallacy thrown in there to magnify a sense of guilt, as if some of the officers had any other choice but to defend themselves…recall Michael Brown and his physical stature…albeit “unarmed” I’d say he was still a lethal threat when he attacked Officer Wilson.

  23. Theresa says:

    83% of white murders are committed by whites, so why doesn’t that get similar discussion? Because whites are not claiming that they are unfairly targeted, “hunted down like dogs” or killed in large numbers by cops. You are witness to the ascension of a black man to the most powerful position in the world, The World, and yet the racial divide in America has widened to the point of near revolution and whitey ain’t claiming that revolution is in order; it’s blacks. Keep encouraging blacks to vote for Democrats who keep promising something for nothing just to remain in office rather than Conservatives who will provide you with the ability to provide for yourself. Stop excusing violence in black communities as the result of poverty.

  24. Erik Baran says:

    Fallacy? OK, 83% of whites are killed by another white, while 92% of blacks are killed by another black. Side note: that means blacks kill whites at a greater rate than whites kill blacks. So,

    2,451 blacks killed in total, 2,205 by blacks and
    3,021 whites killed in total, 2,488 by whites.

    Oh, look at that! More whites killed by whites than blacks killed in TOTAL! Ah, but here’s the kicker; there are

    211,460,626 whites (75%) and only
    34,658,190 blacks (12%)

    So 570 more whites were killed than blacks, but there are
    176,802,436 MORE whites than blacks.

    Six times more whites than blacks, 176,802,436 MORE, but only 283 more killed by the same race.

    Understand?

    Your denial is monumental.

  25. Erik Baran says:

    Mike Brown in Ferguson attacked a cop while he was still in his squad. He did NOT have his hands in the air and he was NOT shot in the back. Eric Garner in Staten Island was breaking the law, AGAIN, was being placed under arrest and resisted. And him being 6’3″, 350 lbs. it took a lot to gain control. Dontre Hamilton here in Milwaukee grabbed a cop’s baton and attacked him with it, striking him in the neck. Tony Robinson in Madison was high on a combination of drugs, attacked a cop, slamming his head through a drywall wall and pushing him down a flight of stairs, then attacking him, again. Every one of these were justified or, in Garner’s case, his fault. These cases are used to justify civil disobedience on the scale we’ve seen? Here are some tips: Don’t break the law. Don’t assault cops. Don’t try and grab a cop’s weapon. If caught, don’t resist. If caught, don’t run. If caught and you are armed, you’re on your own. Following these tips will greatly reduce your chances of dying at the hands of a cop.

  26. agkcrbs says:

    I’m also not a statistician, but I’m surprised that the author here missed such important details in his piece, and I wish to illustrate simply.

    Assume 3 hypothetical ethno-cultural groups in a town.
    Group X: 10,000 members
    Group Y: 1,000 members
    Group Z: 100 members

    All groups tend to self-segregate, and when they kill, they kill their own. Let us simplify with single kills and assume statistical accuracy. Imagine:

    X has 200 killers at one kill each; 180 victims are X.
    Y has only 100 killers and victims, 80 of whom are Y.
    Z has a mere 2 killers, and their 2 victims were both Z.

    Intra-group kill rates:
    X: 90%!
    Y: 80%
    Z: 100%, wow!

    So those numbers make Z look like the biggest threat to itself. But the ratio of all kills is:

    X: 66%
    Y: 33%
    Z: 1%!

    So now Z looks non-violent and A looks malevolent. But there’s one more statistic waiting — the percent of killers to non-killers within each group:

    X: 2% killers
    Y: 10% killers!!!
    Z: 2% killers

    Here we find that Y is a radically more violent group on average, while the others are equally (less) violent. The intra-group kill rates and kill shares are quirks related to sample size that shed no light whatsoever on the real problems going on with Y.

    Now, I do like some of the author’s ideas. Unjustified kills by police (which I accept as real, if occasional) do cause more damage than those by non-police, because while their victims are no more irrecoverably dead, justice itself may still be recoverable, but not if any man can hide behind his badge. A society felt to be without justice is intolerable to many. Those rare police who wrongly kill (not to mention those probably slightly less rare police who kill with a questionable level of justification) may have more mitigating factors than the average killer, but there must be at least a believable show of justice, never an outright excusal or deflection, or some mere administrative penalty.

    Police crimes must absolutely not be seen as lesser crimes. Why? It drives large parts of the citizenry crazy, that’s why, endangering police in turn. Many blacks obviously have a poisoned perception of civil authority leading some to dangerous behaviour, and equivocation about their perceived persecutors is no cure for it. Police must be more integrated with the public, and more humanized, along with their few, tragically innocent victims and even their guilty victims (anti-BLM people are airballing this one, caricaturing all askance of the law or nervous toward the police in any way as dangerous monsters fit to be slain, predictably and rightfully fuelling more resentful fervour from BLM-types).

    Above all, the race-baiters and racist-hunters in the public square (ahem, mostly on the left side of then public square) need to shut their darn mouths and consider how psychologically damaging decades of victim-mentality propaganda can be to their beloved pet voters — let alone how it will sabotage any attempt at racial dialogue. Even after ghettoization, American blacks of the past were not as disproportionately sociopathic as in our era. But I don’t hold out much hope for Democrats to change their spots, so, we may have to just get used to the sad fact of black America’s slow suicide. But leave BLM alone about it, as long as they aren’t inciting mayhem. They are mourning themselves.

  27. Abdullah Mikail MacKay says:

    A good insight over all I can see your point of view when we look at this in a reference frame. Once thing I suggest you consider is broaden your perspective a bit and look at the FBI – Expanded Homicide Data Table 8. From this report and others on their site, one can isolate the statistics on homicidal violence specific to ethnic groups. You will find a much higher murder rate among the black demographic. Take the data as it is, just a fact. Now, we should ask ourselves why? Why is that line of distinction so clearly spelled out in the demographic in question? Well, the data is also there to derive this based on city, population, etc. and we find higher incidences of murder among densely populated low income areas, and much of the one on one gun murders are associated with the drug trade regardless of ethnicity, but you will find the drugs and the gun violence in poverty stricken areas that are susceptible to vice because there is no stable financial or municipal presence in the area to attract and keep people in the area with financial stability and a desire to be involved in their local governance. So the answer to how we reduce black on black murder, or for that matter simply murder, is to find ways to address economic instability in areas that have poor economy, lift up the local populace starting from the youth, but provide for them the ways and the means to lift the demographic out of poverty. That alone is a metric that produces demographics with less violence and drugs involved, seeing that there is no ethnic boundary or ownership of the drug problem in this country, it is merely the specter of the early 90’s crack cocaine arising in the new harbinger of doom, the opioid crisis.

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