THE BLOG
01/30/2015 10:20 am ET Updated Apr 01, 2015

#BlackLivesMatter Should Contend With Community Violence, Too

Most activists and progressives immediately assume the crouching tiger stance when someone questions why black people are not organizing in mass about homicidal violence in black communities. Often--and usually rightly--we regard this question as a tactic used to shift attention away from calls for accountability and justice for anti-black police brutality. Typically, the questioner's goal is to suggest black people have a pathological tendency toward violence and that this is what black people need to address rather than state sanctioned anti-black violence. They also believe this is why police murder black people.

Of course, none of this is true, but there are issues within our communities that need to be addressed. When we shy away from examining intraracial violence, we ignore its gendered dynamics leaving black women and girls, both cis and trans gender, in a particularly perilous situation.

What is true is homicide is among the leading causes of death for African-Americans. It's fairly common knowledge that black men between the ages of 15-35 are more likely to die by homicide than their white counterparts. Less known but also true is black women and girls are twice as likely to die from homicidal violence than their white counterparts, deaths caused mostly by intimate partner violence.

And yes, the overwhelming majority of that death is intraracial (as is the majority of white homicide). Trans women of color are vulnerable to domestic violence, too, but also these sisters are vulnerable to community-based and mainstream transphobic violence. Sixty-seven percent of those targeted by anti-LGBTQ violence are trans women of color. In 2014, at least 12 transgender women of color were murdered. Yet, it is as Lourdes Ashley Hunter, executive director of the Trans Women of Color Collective points out, "When folks scream 'black lives matter,' they're not talking about black trans women. Most of the time, they're not even talking about [cis] black women."

Hunter is correct. I suspect few want to engage these issues because it means having to grapple with sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia in the black community. It's an ugly laundry list and ours is not a community that has a lot of room to safely do this airing.

To be clear: These issues are not unique to the black community, yet the related homicides are disproportionate. Much of that disproportionality is likely related to police abdication, or police negligence, in black communities. I believe police failure to protect black lives may well be one of the deadliest forms of state sanctioned anti-black violence. But we have yet to fully interrogate how the inability to access equitable, competent policing has adversely impacted black homicide rates.

The other issue, too, is when black folks have pressed for better law enforcement the results have come with detrimental, unforeseen outcomes. Efforts to improve how police respond to intimate partner violence unfortunately has led to many women of color being criminalized for defending themselves. For example, Marissa Alexander 's calamity is one of the latest miscarriages of justice. Initially sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot when her abusive ex-husband--who had violated an order of protection--approached, Alexander was recently released from prison after serving three years and 65 days. She now faces two years of house arrest.

When black Harlemites in the 1960s and 1970s organized against rising crime and violence, the result James Forman Jr. notes, "would become the notorious Rockefeller drug laws."

These laws, among the harshest in the nation, helped to dramatically amplify the criminalization of scores of young black women and men for largely non-violent drug offenses. As someone who grew up in Washington Heights, an inner-city neighborhood in New York City, during the crack-cocaine epidemic, let me state that I can understand how those activists found it hard to regard the dealers and the resulting community trauma from drug abuse as non-violent.

Still, my larger point is this: Connecting community violence to the movement for accountability for police brutality would help call attention to the disproportionate violence experienced by all kinds of black women, and girls and it would also create a space to more closely interrogate the detrimental aspects of police abdication on black communities. Expanding the conversation in this way also helps to push back against racist ideas of black pathology and it disrupts the notion that America's police forces do not have a responsibility to equitably and effectively protect and serve all those in the black community.