Why is it that when black people are involved in violent crimes against other blacks it’s often called “black-on-black” crime? But similar crimes committed by people of other races or ethnicities are never described in terms of race.
One of the more recent and highly visible instances of this narrative occurred when Nipsey Hussle, or Ermias Asghedom, was killed in his hometown of Los Angeles. It was as if the media were competing with each other to see who could use the term “black-on-black” crime the most.
But for some reason, the term “white-on-white” crime or “Latino-on-Latino” crime or “Jewish-on-Jewish” crime has never found its way into the media. For decades the Italian mafia has been glamorized in pop culture, but when real-life mob killings make headlines you never hear that “Italian-on-Italian” crime is tearing apart communities and neighborhoods.
When former Saturday Night Live star Phil Hartman, who is white, was killed by his white wife it was not characterized as “white-on-white” crime. When Selena, who was Latino, was killed by fellow Latino Yolanda Saldívar, I don’t remember it being classified as “Latino-on-Latino” crime. Neither were other high-profile intra-racial killings referred to in this manner, including when a fellow Italian killed Gianni Versace or when a white man killed John Lennon. It was just crime.
African Americans are no more likely to kill each other than whites are. According to statistics published in 2017 by the U.S. Justice Department, between 2012 and 2015 half of violent crimes were “intra-racial” – committed by people of their own race The FBI’s crime reporting data states that 90 percent of black victims of homicide were killed by other blacks while about 84 percent of whites who were killed were done so by other whites.
The Justice Department also reported that from 2008 through 2012, persons in poor households at or below the federal poverty level had more than double the rate of violent victimization as persons in high-income households. What’s telling, however, was that the overall pattern of poor persons having the highest rates of violent victimization was consistent for both whites and African Americans.
Since many African Americans are housed in segregated and secluded neighborhoods and are victims of socio-economic policies and practices such as redlining, inadequate neighborhood schools and high unemployment rates, a more appropriate term may be “oppressed youth-on-oppressed youth” crime or “disenfranchised-on-disenfranchised” crime.
While the term “black-on-black” violence may be statistically correct, it also is a one-dimensional definition of urban violence that can be misconstrued, misinterpreted and misrepresented by the media and marginalized by politicians and policymakers. It may have first appeared in print in the 1970s but found its way into policies during the Clinton Administration of the 1990s – policies that produced a devastating spike in the African American incarceration rate.
The National Institute of Justice and Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety recognized these dynamics when it released in 2015 a report urging the media to stop using the term “black-on-black” crime. I hope they listen.
Back to Nipsey Hussle, who was a Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist as well as an entrepreneur in the inner-city where he grew up. He spent much of his young life working to create economic growth for inner-city kids. In February last year, he created a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program for students in South Los Angeles to impact the achievement gap among youth in the area.
His killing was tragic enough that it does not need to be marginalized by those looking to further stereotype African American violence.
At the end of the day, crimes committed by blacks – against blacks – are as unlawful and as undesirable in black communities as crimes committed by blacks upon any other race of people.