12/02/2014 08:05 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2015

An Explanation for the 'Black on Blackers'

There is a major discussion amongst African Americans regarding the strength of voices protesting acts of violence against and/or the killing of African Americans. The discussion stems from the argument that Blacks protest louder when White police officers (or Whites with pseudo police authority, à la George Zimmerman) kill or otherwise commit violence against Blacks than they do when young Black males kill or otherwise commit violence against other young Black males. I affectionately call the proponents of this argument the "Black on Blackers."

I've had a few conversations with some of these folks on social media regarding the St. Louis County grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown. These are good-willed people. They are your neighbors. They take their children to the same parks where you take your children to play. They eat at some of the same restaurants that you patronize, and they attend the same houses of worship. They are good people, and their "concern" is often rooted in a genuine care about the welfare of Black people. Yet their viewpoint tends to ignore, or, worse, disregard, the ramifications of a systemic racist power structure rooted in White supremacy. That phrase may be too academic and/or complex for the "Black on Blackers." I'll offer my point in a different way to answer their often-asked question: Why do Black people get mad when a White person kills a Black person and aren't as mad when a Black person is killed by a Black person?

Two fundamental responses are at work when any crime is committed. Victims of the crime, and also the community, are looking for (1) a timely remedy from the justice system and (2) effective measures to prevent crime in society through education and promoting responsibility. When it comes to crime in predominately Black communities, particularly the poorer communities, Black people seek both responses in every case of crime, including murder and/or other acts of violence. Stakeholders in these communities have voiced their opposition to criminal activity. That combined with the high concentration of crimes has led local and state politicians to respond by sending police in mass numbers to these communities. Community stakeholders have also spearheaded programs and initiatives designed to fight poverty and promote education and self-determination. Politicians at all levels and philanthropist groups have responded by aiding stakeholder groups and nonprofits with funds to help with these initiatives. This is all to say that these two responses are relied upon by African Americans when a crime is committed by anyone, including Black people. Historically, governmental and law-enforcement authorities have had little problem cooperating when criminal activities involved Blacks.

When a White police officer or neighborhood watchman kills or otherwise commits an act of violence against a Black person, the same two responses are relied upon by Blacks. However, the first response, a timely remedy from the justice system, is hard to achieve when the act has been committed by a member of the system you are seeking remedy from. Many "Black on Blackers" will argue that, in light of that truth, Blacks should esteem the second response over the first, especially in cases when a Black person is killed or harmed by a White police officer. But what our "Black on Blacker" brothers and sisters fail to remember is that these responses are not mutually exclusive. These responses work in tandem. In theory, you can have one without the other; however, one response alone never addresses the offense completely. One without the other leaves the door open for similar acts of violence to take place again.

When young Black males are killed by young Black males, you can always guarantee that the criminal-justice system will work to perfection. For the White racist power structure, it's a win-win: one young Black male in prison plus one young Black male in the grave equals two young Black males off the streets, two young Black males not in school, two young Black males no longer needing a career, two potential fathers taken. The same guarantee can't be made about the justice system when a White cop kills a young Black male. The justice system's response isn't timely, and the only remedy doled out is for the purpose of preservation of itself. What are Black folks to do when the justice system fails to provide a remedy when it is guilty of killing or otherwise committing violence against Blacks? Telling a Black male youth to not act in a belligerent manner toward a White cop doesn't address the racial stereotyping that colors those White officers' expectations of Black male youths -- particularly those who sleep, breathe and walk in poor neighborhoods. Who is supposed to teach those officers about their responsibility as vessels of the justice system? It is the responsibility of the institution, the justice system itself. If the institution fails to act, it is the job of the people to compel it to act.

Therefore, Black people have a right and responsibility to pressure institutions to act on the side of justice in cases like the Michael Brown shooting and all other cases like it. The justice system works when Blacks kill or otherwise commit violence because the system heard the pleas of Blacks and Whites alike. Black folks are simply looking for the same "Model-T-like" efficiency when violence is committed by one of the system's own.