THE BLOG

Black on Black and White on White Violence: An American Story

07/30/2013 01:30 pm ET

A disproportionate amount of the murder victims and perpetrators of homicide are Black and brown men. That said, there is also a fundamental problem in America with "white on white violence."

I am a strong advocate for sensible gun control. In addition to this advocacy, I have worked every day for 18 years to try and reduce violence in Black and Latino communities -- teaching boys/young men to resolve conflict nonviolently, to redefine manhood and walk away from negative behavior: to develop opportunities for these young men, guiding them on the path to increased understanding of the value of education, it's role in breaking cycles of poverty.

In my work to review and advise on violence reduction and gun control for several NYC wide initiatives, and in my work looking at the constitutional law implications of such efforts, I have reviewed assorted policing and FBI violent crime data. These reports are clear regarding the connection between poverty, gender and gun violence. The vast majority of those who commit murder are economically poor -- regardless of race. Almost all are men. I have been reviewing this data for years and last year's numbers are representative of the last decade:

  • In 2011, of the 12,664 murder victims in America, 50% were Black and 46% were white.
  • In 2011, 52% of the offenders in these murders were Black and 45% were white.
  • One other stat: 90% of perpetrators were men.

So, as the FBI crime statistics make clear, while we must work to decrease Black on Black crime, we also must call for a focus on white on white crime. The vast majority of homicides are "intra-racial" -- that is Blacks kill other Blacks and whites kill other whites. If nearly 46% of homicide victims in America are white, there are thousands of white victims of murder each and every year killed by other whites. What of their lives?

While my work with The Brotherhood/Sister Sol has focused on teaching young men to be nonviolent, to confront their ideas of what it means to be a man, to search for and value opportunities to advance themselves; it is also quite evident that the widespread access to guns is an issue. I believe that the mentally ill should not have access to guns, that the gun-show loophole should be closed, that there should be background checks for all purchases of guns, that ammunition should be registered as well, and that certain high volume guns should be banned.

People of good faith can disagree on this issue without vitriol and viciousness that some use -- ethically we must be concerned with the death of American children, regardless of class and color. We must seek collective solutions. I have many family members from North Carolina who were raised with and still have guns. I don't think that Americans should be barred from owning guns. On the other hand, no reasonable person thinks that everyone should have access to nuclear weapons or anti-aircraft weapons, and thus all reasonable people believe in some kind of restriction of arms. The question is, where do we draw the line?

I care about all those who die from gun violence -- no matter their ethnicity. Too many people, of all colors, die from gun violence in America. The only moral response to widespread violence in America -- is a moral call to reduce it. In recent days, in response to the outrage at the verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin -- the acquittal of George Zimmerman - so many commentators have responded to this widespread anger at the verdict with a supposedly counter response: questioning why there is no outrage in response to violence in urban areas, focusing on "Black on Black crime." They speak as if this work were not being done, as if our outrage were not already widespread.

This is a fundamentally false narrative. One of the central reasons for the precipitous drop in homicide all across America's major cities, all across America, has been the work of local community and faith based groups on the ground, working day in and day out to reduce male violence. There are hundreds of groups working to decrease such crime - through education, mentorship, job training, gang prevention and negotiation efforts, violence interruption efforts, and rites of passage work focused on developing a moral and ethical code. Unfortunately this front line difficult work is rarely covered by the media.

American's plague of violence is clear -- it strikes all communities -- and people cannot make up their own facts. We don't have only a problem of Black violence in America -- we have a problem of male violence -- and thus white male violence and Latino male violence. I will write it again: 90% of the perpetrators of homicide are men. White men, as well as Black men commit murder in this country in a way not seen in nearly any other developed nation. Do we need personal responsibility? Yes. Do we need to do a better job of raising children? Yes. Do we need to teach youth to reject violence as an answer? Yes. Do we need to work to lessen poverty in our country? Yes. Do we need to intensify a critique by writers, educators, and scholars on the impact on our children of media, film, music, and video-gaming celebrating violence? Yes. Do we need to focus, with an unyielding attention and analysis, on our glorification of war and the dehumanizing of those with whom we engage in war? Yes.

But in addition to these urgent needs, we need better enforcement of gun laws already on the books as well as the passing of additional new sensible laws. I think gun control is part, and only part, of the solution, but it is an essential part.