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In 2020, every major institution in the United States — including social-media platforms, sports leagues, universities, Hollywood, and major corporations — pledged their allegiance to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Protesters spanned the country, outraged at the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
It is understandable that the nation was so united in shock and horror after Floyd’s death, and his tragic case called attention to the need for some sensible police reforms.
But if we truly believe that “Black Lives Matter,” we cannot and must not focus only on a small percentage of those lives taken (less than half of a percent) during conflicts with the police. And we certainly should not be adopting policies that could lead to even more deaths in the black community.
Last year saw the largest year-to-year increase in homicides ever recorded in US history. The homicide rate in 34 cities was 30 percent higher in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to a Jan. 31 report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.
Victims of these homicides are disproportionately African American. At least 8,600 black lives were lost to homicide in 2020, an increase of more than 1,000 compared to 2019 (7,484). Violent crime is concentrated in primarily low-income, marginalized black communities where the police are underresourced and Democratic leadership has abysmally failed. In Chicago, 80 percent of gun-violence victims in 2020 were black. According to the latest data in New York City, 71 percent of shooting victims are black — even though black people constitute just 26 percent of the city’s population. The tragic reality is one black life was killed less than every hour in America last year.
Meanwhile, politicians and the mainstream media sensationalize and magnify any questionable case involving a black suspect and a white police officer to affirm dogmas about “racial oppression” (even if the suspect was at fault). They obsessively lament racial disparities in every nook and cranny of American life, but the most egregious disparity — in homicide victimization rates — is rarely ever mentioned. Why?
Since more than 90 percent of black homicide victims are killed by black offenders, the ghost of endemic white supremacy cannot be invoked to push racial grievance narratives. As a result, the media turns a blind eye. Black lives only seem to matter when racism is involved.
And yet, the probability of an African American being killed by a civilian is more than 30 times higher than that of being killed by a member of law enforcement. In Chicago’s marginalized neighborhoods last year alone, more than three times as many black children died of homicide than the total number of unarmed black Americans killed by the police in 2020.
Of course, police officers are agents of the state and we must hold them to a higher standard than the average citizen. But a life taken is a life taken. The victim’s family grieves whether the assailant is a gang member or an officer in blue.
I recently attended a virtual prayer session with Mothers In Charge, a Philadelphia-based organization for families affected by gun violence. Chantay Love Maison, whose brother died after being shot seven times, lamented, “This harm is so horrific, that there are no words that could describe it. There is not a scream that is loud enough that will describe the pain a family will go through.”
And yet, our society is systematically failing citizens like her, partly because the BLM movement has pushed to defund the police and reduce their presence across the nation. These efforts drove police forces nationwide to significantly reduce traffic stops and arrests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Paul Cassell revealed in a recent study. As a result of the drop in proactive policing, homicide rates dramatically rose across major US cities in the summer and fall of 2020.
“When police don’t maintain order and enforce quality-of-life offenses, when arrested violent offenders aren’t detained, violent criminals become more violent,” Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore PD officer who today teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told me. “They have more opportunities to become more violent. This isn’t news.”
Meanwhile, despite BLM’s anti-police narrative, poll after poll shows most black Americans don’t support the movement’s radical ideas. Last summer, a much-publicized Gallup poll found that 81 percent of black Americans favored the same or higher levels of police presence in their neighborhoods. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, a poll in Minneapolis showed that reducing the city’s police force was more unpopular among black residents than their white counterparts.
A group of aggrieved black residents have even sued the city of Minneapolis for the lack of police protection in their communities.
“We hear gunshots every night, people’s houses being riddled with bullets,” Don Samuels, one of the residents involved in the suit, told Time magazine. “There is this kind of fantasy component that the police are not necessary and that is a life and death factor.”
His story never went viral, however, probably because he saw police as part of the solution rather than the enemy.
Yes, we need police reform. There are too many police abuses in our country, and activists are right to call for better training and other measures to improve this problem.
But the greatest threat to black lives isn’t the police. If we truly cared about black lives, we need to get serious about fighting the scourge of violence that has killed so many black Americans, while being given such scarce attention from our ideologically driven media and political elite.
Rav Arora is a writer based in Vancouver, Canada, who specializes in topics of race, criminal justice and culture. His writing has also been featured in Foreign Policy Magazine, Quillette and The Globe and Mail. Twitter: @Ravarora1