The shooting of Michael Brown and its turbulent aftermath have renewed an old question: Why does the black community raise a ruckus when a white person kills a black person, which is rare, but not when a black person kills a black person, which is far less rare?
It's a complaint perennially lodged by conservative commentators. Jason Riley, an African-American editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, criticized the Rev. Al Sharpton's appearance in Ferguson, Missouri. "The problem is not cops shooting blacks but blacks shooting each other," he asserted. Yet "so-called black leaders are much more interested in making excuses for this behavior than they are in denouncing it unequivocally."
"What about black-on-black violence?" demanded Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, who is white. "Where is Al Sharpton on that? Where is the president on that?"
Funny you should ask. Sharpton made a publicized trip to Chicago in November to focus attention on the city's chronic violence. Last year, Michelle Obama attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old black honor student who was shot, allegedly by a black gang member.
The first lady later returned to Chicago to converse with students at a school that is nearly 100 percent African-American. "In choosing Harper High School for the visit, the White House noted that 29 current or former students there had been shot in the last year, eight of them fatally," reported the Chicago Tribune.
The president also traveled to Chicago, meeting with kids involved in a mentoring program for at-risk adolescent boys, bemoaning gun violence and telling a crowd on the South Side, "Our streets will only be as safe as our schools are strong and our families are sound."
Doesn't sound like they've been ignoring or excusing this sort of violence. Plenty of black leaders and organizations in Chicago and elsewhere spend a lot of time and energy trying to prevent crime in their communities. There are rallies, conferences, prayer vigils and gun turn-in days. Last year, thousands of volunteers manned "Safe Passage" routes to get children to school unharmed.
Have Riley and MacCallum and other critics publicized those events and programs? If not, why not? If so, why do they now act as though they don't exist?
Their charges have more than a whiff of condescension -- implying that most blacks are unable to discern the greatest ills afflicting them. But black leaders can walk and chew gum at the same time. They can work to curb violence by blacks against blacks and also work to prevent the killing of unarmed African-Americans by police and vigilantes. Both are deeply undesirable.