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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Outside in or inside out?

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Americans across the country have joined Colin Kaepernick in “taking a knee” to demand justice in the aftermath of police shootings of unarmed Blacks. However, some African-American leaders say that attention is being placed on the issue at the expense of another urgent challenge: deadly crime committed by African-Americans against each other, what some observers describe as “Black-on-Black” violence.

“Now that the world is watching, the NFL has an opportunity to speak out, in great force, on a tragedy of unspeakable proportion — the senseless loss of young Black lives to ‘Black-on-Black’ violence,” said Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill in a recent statement. “We live in a nation where Blacks make up approximately 13 percent of the population and yet account for more than half of the murders. Shockingly, 90 percent of those victims are murdered by other Blacks.”

Hill, the sixth person of color to hold a statewide office in Indiana, added that he is not denying that excessive use of force by police has been a major concern; officers should be held accountable, he said, in the “rare” instance that a police shooting is unjustified. However, he believes there should also be righteous outrage about “Black-on-Black” youth gun violence, which is costing thousands of lives a year.

“While it is true that each year a number of Blacks die as a result of being shot or otherwise killed by the police, that number is but a fraction of the number of Black people murdered by Black people,” said Hill, who was asked to appear on the national television program “Fox and Friends” last weekend to discuss the topic. 

Nuri Muhammad, the minister of Nation of Islam Mosque No. 74 in Indianapolis, has made similar statements. He has stated that intercultural violence continues to be an obstacle to stability and unity in the African-American community. 

“We know that we are being hunted from the outside in by the so-called police departments, or the Blue Klux Klan. Every three years 2,000 to 3,000 Black men are killed by police officers and correction officers,” Muhammad said during the recent annual conference of the Indiana Commission On the Social Status of Black Males.

He added, “That’s bad. But what’s worse is in that same three-year cycle, 20,000 Black males are killed by other Black males. So it’s hypocritical for us to stand outside the White House with a hashtag Black Lives Matter and not stand outside the trap house.”

Although they share the concern about violence among African-Americans, activists who have spoken out against excessive police force believe that it should be addressed as the most urgent civil rights issue of our time. 

“Police brutality is a representation of systemic racism,” said Satchuel Cole, vice president of DON’T SLEEP, a justice organization in Indianapolis that works closely with the Black Lives Matter movement to reduce excessive force by police. “Systemic racism and white supremacy are abundant in America. As long as we are systematically oppressed, nothing else will matter until we deal with those issues.” 

Cole believes that “getting police departments in order” could lead to progress in other areas, including violence between African-Americans.

“If we can tackle police brutality, it will have a trickle-down effect on many other things,” she said. “The very next thing we would need is changes to the criminal justice system. Once we get those two pieces, everything else will fall where it needs to be.”

Cole said she and other activists bristle at the term “Black-on-Black” violence, saying that it is inaccurate and unfair. 

“You don’t hear the terms white-on-white violence or Asian-on-Asian crime,” she said. “Black-on-Black violence is a term invented by the media so that they could divide the Black race further, into those who pay attention to that and turn it inward to say what we’re doing wrong, then the rest of us who say, ‘No, this all stems from systemic racism.’” 

She added that in order to obtain the clearest understanding of crime among African-Americans, it is important to consider poverty rates and other factors such as limited re-entry options for individuals who are trying to reform their lives after serving time in prison. 

“When Black people are incarcerated at a rate twice as high as their white counterparts with few re-entry programs, then of course Black people are gonna commit crimes at a higher rate, because we don’t have anything to support ourselves,” Cole said. 

Hill cited statistics collected by the Washington Post to bring home the need to address cases of Blacks committing violence against each other. According to data collected by the Post, 259 Blacks were killed by police during unjustified shootings in 2015, while approximately 6,000 Blacks were murdered by African-Americans that year.  

“Something is terribly wrong,” said Hill. 

At the same time, another publication, The Guardian, conducted a project called The Counted, which reviewed federal data gathered about police-action shootings. However, its findings seem to bolster the concerns of Cole and other activists fighting for more protections from police brutality. Although the total number of recorded police killings fell from 1,146 in 2015 to 1,091 in 2016, Black males between the ages of 15 and 34 were still nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police. Also, the project found that 55 percent of police-related deaths had been incorrectly filed, usually as assaults. 

Muhammad believes that regardless of whether one sees police shootings or Blacks committing violence against each other as the most urgent issue, all must work together to stop the overall onslaught of the death of Black males. 

“When you look at the American Dictionary of Psychology, anything going wrong in the Black community can be fixed with a formula that is simple but not necessarily easy: When you have a knowledge of self, you love yourself,” Muhammad said. “When you love yourself, you begin to do for yourself. And if you drop the first two letters of the word ‘brother,’ the next word is ‘other.’ Your brother is your ‘other.’ So whenever you love yourself, the other self will get the same treatment. It’s kind of hard to rob, do a drive-by, or sell dope to your other self.” 

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