The Culture of Violence

Posted: May 10, 2004 12:00 AM

There is a culture of violence that is threatening to destroy black America. Young black males, who constitute less than half of the total population, are responsible for half the violent crime in this country. In 1992, the violent crime rate for blacks was nearly ten times the average for white males the same age. Violence is also eroding the black family unit. 45% of all spousal homicides in this country are attributed to blacks, despite the fact that they represent only 13% of the population. One national study reported that "severe parent-to-child violence was 114 percent greater in black families than in white families. At the same time, out of wedlock birthrate amongst black Americans has increased nearly six fold over the last 35 years. This cycle of violence and deteriorating family values is one of the greatest scourges facing black America today. As noted author and political science professor, James Clark observed,  "as the 20th century comes to a close, more black males will be incarcerated in prison than go to college."

There are many reasons for these self inflicted wounds: deteriorating family values, the failure of government housing programs, overcrowding in poor urban centers, underfunded public schools, and an inner-city subculture that glorifies violence and misogyny and derides conventional family values. One thing is clear: This must change.

So how does the liberal establishment and our civil rights leaders respond to the violence that is destroying our communities? Often they blame the guns. Sometimes they blame the gun manufacturers.  Rarely though, do they blame the ones pulling the trigger.

For example, in 1999 the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus filed a lawsuit against the gun manufacturers in this country, charging that their negligent marketing practices contributed to the high rate of gun violence in black communities. The lawsuit really struck a nerve.  Everyone began talking about how the gun manufacturers were practicing a form of prejudice, by willingly empowering black thugs in black communities. All across the country, people launched rallies in support of the suit. Newspapers studded their copy with quotes from people who had watched their friends or relatives die crumpled and bleeding on the sidewalk from stray bullets. Everyone was in agreement that gun violence was a source of real concern  in the community.

Lost in the hubbub was the notion that our young people need to take responsibility for their actions. They need to find ways to resolve conflicts that don't involve guns. The liberal establishment and representatives from the NAACP and the CBC did not spend much time talking about that. Nor did they dedicate themselves to lowering the age at which juveniles can be prosecuted for gun violence. No one talked about how these criminals need to go to jail. Nor was much attention paid to the conditions that undergrid the disintegration of the black family unit. Instead of putting the onus of responsibility on the criminals--and even their families-our so called leaders responded by blaming the gun manufacturers and invoking vaguely defined charges of racism. Just this week, a stray bullet killed 8-year-old Chelsea Cromaterie, while she was sitting in the living room of her DC home watching TV. A prominent local newspaper ran the headline: "Guns Blamed in Surge of Youth Deaths."  

Why aren't our political and social leaders blaming the criminals pulling the trigger? Why do they so often respond to inner city violence by channeling our  collective fears and anger on to vaguely defined sources of distress (i.e., the gun manufacturers)? I suppose part of the reason is that the minority populace is particularly receptive to this kind of paranoid politicking.  For centuries minorities were kept out of the mainstream and treated as second caste citizens. Part of the hangover from that mistreatment is a skepticism and hostility among older minorities toward mainstream business and politics. This makes them ripe for conspiracy theories. By focusing the black public's  fear and outrage upon vaguely defined enemies, usually referred to simply as "Republicans," or "Uncle Toms, " or "Jewish special interests," the old guard leaders are able to wield the black voting populace as a block-and thus keep themselves in power.

Even among our more moderate leaders, paranoid politics reveals itself as part of the search for authenticity, a way of legitimizing their rule by grounding themselves in the concerns of the black populace. For example, the liberal establishment, the NAACP and the CBC must have realized that no court in America would place the responsibility of gun violence on gun manufacturers, as opposed to the criminals actually pulling the triggers. Just as they knew that suing gun makers would do little to confront the real problem of gun violence. After all, there are already enough illegal guns floating around the city to supply criminals for decades. Why the lawsuit? It provided a perfect vehicle to proclaim to the black voting populace that they are in touch with the problems that plague black communities, and empower themselves by channeling the community's fears onto a vaguely defined threat.

Meanwhile, stray bullets continue to fly through the doors and windows of inner city homes. Until someone stands up and says, 'we have to be accountable,' little will change.