Bolton: High black-on-black crime rates not a reflection of most black men

Associate EditorSeptember 12, 2013 

  • Coming Friday

    Despite the perception from crime stories and television newscasts, there are many black men and boys who are productive citizens. Let me introduce you to a few.

— IF YOU ARE an African-American living in Richland County who unfortunately becomes a victim of a violent crime, it almost certainly will be at the hands of another black person.

Ten black people were killed in Richland County between Jan. 1 and June 29 — each by someone of the same race.

In 2012, all 16 African-American homicide victims were killed by other black people.

Yes, most crimes against white people are committed by other whites. But in our community it’s not nearly at the troubling, disproportionate rate evident among African-Americans. Last year in Richland County, there were seven homicides involving a white victim and perpetrator. Through June 29 of this year, there were none.

These statistics as well as other violent-crime data on sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault in unincorporated Richland County, as reported by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, paint a dismal and disheartening picture of black-on-black crime. It’s the same sobering picture I’ve found year in and year out since I started tracking the data more than a decade ago.

Just consider these numbers from 2012 and 2013:

Of the 1,903 violent crimes committed against African-Americans in 2012, the perpetrator was black 95 percent of the time. The percent is the same for the 1,157 violent crimes committed against black citizens through June 29 of this year.

Of the total 3,018 violent crimes committed in Richland County in 2012, African-Americans committed 2,141, or 71 percent. Of the 1,734 committed through June 29 of this year, African-Americans committed 1,293, 74.5 percent.

Most of these crimes are committed by young black men. The violence devastates families, ruins neighborhoods, destroys the futures of these young people and plays into an unfair stereotype about African-Americans.

Sometimes I hesitate to share these data, knowing there are people who attempt to use them to support their bigoted — and wrong — assumptions, such as “black people commit all the crime” and “black people are the source of all our problems.” They also use such information to try to justify racial profiling not only when it comes to crime but even in casual encounters on the elevator or crossing the street or shopping.

Since the Trayon Martin-George Zimmerman tragedy, I’ve gotten calls and email from white citizens who say that such statistics justify their belief that when they see a young black man — any young black man — it’s wise to steer clear of him.

“I’m sorry if it offends you, but I view a group of young blacks approaching as a potential threat to be avoided if possible. I know they probably aren’t, but err on the side of caution anyway,” one reader emailed.

The level of black crime is totally unacceptable, and all lawbreakers, no matter who they are, should be punished.

But for law enforcement or white neighbors — or other African-Americans, for that matter — to suggest that it’s OK to label every young black man as a potential criminal just because of the acts of a tiny percentage of people of the same gender and race is not just wrongheaded. It’s unacceptable.

Why? Because that’s not the story the numbers tell.

Many thanks to Karen Gutmann, who recently penned a letter to the editor that ran on this page (“Numbers don’t support fear of black men,” Aug. 30) debunking claims that crime statistics suggest the need to fear or profile every young black man:

“In 2010, 5,430 African-Americans were arrested in our country for murder. Even if we assume they were all men, and that they were all between the ages of 15 and 30, that’s only 0.11 percent of the population of young black men. About one tenth of one percent,” she wrote.

“Of course, murder is not the only violent crime. So let’s add in arrests for forcible rape (6,300), robbery (62,020) and assault with a deadly weapon (136,400). If we again assume all perpetrators were males ages 15-30, which is obviously not the case, the rate would be 4.4 percent.

“OK, you say, but single-year arrests don’t tell the whole story. Aren’t most young black men already in prison for violent crimes? In 2011, 4,377 per 100,000 black men ages 18-29 were in state or federal prison. That’s 4.4 percent. Only about half of black prisoners were there for violent crimes.”

She goes on to say that the numbers mean that “if we see a young black man and fear violence, chances are overwhelming that our feelings are unjustified. The young man we are looking at is overwhelmingly likely not to be up to some violent purpose. We are almost certainly unfairly profiling that young man.”

She also notes, as I have, that the elevated crime rates among African-Americans are unacceptable.

For years, I’ve been willing to publish these statistics in hopes of getting people to do more and help those individuals and organizations already out there working to reverse these trends. And, believe me, there are many people who are working to help reach our black youth; there just aren’t enough of them.

But here’s what Ms. Gutmann’s letter got me thinking about: If more than 90 percent of black men are law-abiding, and they are, why would they sit back and allow a few lawbreakers to paint a picture that’s not true? Why allow a few wayward people to wreak havoc in our communities? Why can’t the many confront, correct and save the few? Why allow them to continue being the face of who we are as black men?

That’s not a question just to black people. Why does society at large — and many people don’t feel this way — so easily accept that all black men are a threat when that’s nowhere near the reality? Beyond that, why is it that society allows criminals of all races and creeds, who make up a tiny percentage of our population, to hold the rest of us hostage?

The fact is that crime is a communitywide problem that will take all of us to solve, something that can’t happen if whites spend a lifetime looking over their shoulders with suspicion at black men or hoodie-wearing boys who are part of the solution, not the problem.

I’ve long said that parents must help young black men to escape gangs, the streets and crime and become productive citizens. Older black men in particular must step up and help guide their younger charges.

Likewise, black men can’t allow young people who have chosen to stray to continue having their way in our communities.

Even as we embrace and love them, we must confront them and tell them that enough is enough. No more robbing. No more killing. No more stealing.

The many must stare down the few. It won’t be easy, but it is necessary.

Along the way, those who wrongly believe that every black man is a suspect must get real and accept the real truth: Most black men are law-abiding citizens who are striving to improve the lot of their families and communities.

But black men can’t leave that up to chance. They’ve got to stand up for themselves and be more assertive and active in telling and defending their own story.

Friday: Despite the perception from crime stories and television newscasts, there are many black men and boys who are productive citizens. Let me introduce you to a few.

Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or wbolton@thestate.com.

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