Growing up “on the wrong side of the tracks” in Cincinnati, I experienced some of the racial crimes committed – blacks on whites; whites on blacks. But what was most concerning were the heinous acts of violence that involved black perpetrators on black victims, especially involving black men.
The murder of young black men is not an uncommon occurrence. During the first two weeks of this year, fourteen people were murdered in Baltimore, Maryland, an average of one murder a day in a city of just over 600,000 people. By the end of the month, the count had reached 27. Last year, there were 234 murders in Baltimore, and the overwhelming majority of the victims were African American.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between eight and nine thousand African Americans are murdered each year. Of course crimes where a black is murdered by a non-black—as in the slayings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis—receive the most media attention. But in fact, more than 90% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks. Unsurprisingly, most killings are related to drugs or gang activity.
There are two prevailing theories about what causes these kinds of violent crime. The first, typically favored by those on the left, posits that crime (particularly violent crime) is primarily caused by poverty. Deal with poverty, they tell us, and crime will go away on its own. At first glance, this seems have some merit. Lower income neighborhoods are typically more dangerous than wealthy ones. Chicago recorded 506 homicides in 2012 while Detroit had 411 the same year, almost all of them in low income minority neighborhoods.
NBA Star Derrick Rose, point guard for the Chicago Bulls, voiced his opinion about the violence in his city. "It all starts out from poverty," Rose told CNN. "People are just surviving. People are just really trying to get out.” Rose would know. The youngest of four boys, he was raised by a single mother on Chicago’s notorious South Side.
The second theory is commonly called the “Broken Windows Theory,” first introduced in a 1982 article by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. This theory holds that all people have the capacity to commit crime, but they are far more likely to do so when they believe they can get away with it. Neighborhoods with litter, abandoned buildings and the broken windows (from which the theory gets its name) convey the message that no one is in charge, and it is this sense of lawlessness that breeds crime.
New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani famously applied the Broken Windows Theory to New York City during the 1990’s, strictly enforcing laws against petty crimes such as subway jumping and vandalism. He also authorized the controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy, which allows police to stop pedestrians and frisk them for weapons. During the 1990’s, New York’s violent crime rate dropped 51% and homicides dropped 72%. (New York City had just 414 murders in 2012, despite having a population more than three times that of Chicago and twelve times that of Detroit.)
These statistics do not mean that people like Derrick Rose do not have a point. But the hopelessness and frustration Rose describes comes from something more complicated than just a lack of money. How did Rose himself escape? Certainly, it was his phenomenal basketball talent that eventually allowed him to become a millionaire. But how was he able to cultivate that talent instead of falling prey to the gang violence that claimed so many lives in his neighborhood?
"My mom would walk down the street and drag us home if she heard we were getting into trouble," Rose explained to Sports Illustrated. "Even the drug dealers, when they saw her coming, would stop dealing and tell her where we were." It is ultimately parents who have the most power to rescue the next generation of African American men from the fate of becoming either murderers or murder victims.
Jordan Davis’s father, Ron Davis, expressed his anguish and confusion over his son’s murder to Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts. “Just think about how a person like Michael Dunn would be so callous as to just disregard the life of Jordan Davis,” the elder Davis said. “You know, just throw it away like it was nothing.” Although the question of the value of Jordan Davis’ life seems particularly loaded because his murderer is white, Ron Davis’ words could easily be asked of any blacks who murder other blacks.
Only when we learn to value life—our own and the lives of others—will we cease to throw it away so carelessly. Take it upon yourself to mentor someone who needs to see life and all of its value and make a difference in tomorrow’s statistics.