Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Debunking "Black-on-Black crime"

Posted By on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 at 3:30 PM

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By Elle Roberts

This piece is a response to an opinion submitted to the Indy Star by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz on April 9th titled Hope, anger rise in violence-plagued Indy. These words are my own and not a reflection of my employer or any organization I am a part of.

I am angry, not only with the violent crime that has taken place in Indianapolis, but our response to it.

I'll begin with some 101.

"Black-on-Black crime" is a myth, a socially accepted lie constructed to instill confusion, fear and anti-Black sentiment. The term, along with the word "homeycides", invokes this belief that Black people are inherently dangerous and crime that occurs within the Black community is an epidemic.

The media, politicians and law enforcement do not sensationalize "white-on-white crime". I hope I do not have to explain why.

Most crime happens when:

1. a perceived need arises,

2. an opportunity presents itself to fulfill this perceived need,

3. proximity or access to a person, place or thing provides an opportunity to fulfill this perceived need.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the majority of homicides are intraracial, which means the perpetrator(s) and victim(s) are most likely of the same race.

Crime does not occur in a vacuum. Our identities are informed by our privileges and the oppressions we face. Crime works in much the same way. The intersections of social ills (generational poverty, the school to prison pipeline etc.) and systems of oppression (white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism) are undeniable factors.

Shabazz insists that poverty is not an excuse for crime. I agree. However, to analyze Indianapolis crime fairly and accurately, we must use an intersectional lens. Economic status, race and crime are inextricably linked in ways we have to understand before we can effectively reduce and eradicate violence in this city.

When you have what you need, opportunity and the means to sustain yourself and loved ones, you don't have to fight for it.

Shedrick, the 7th grade KIPP Academy student that Shabazz encountered, sounds like a great kid. He is young and Black. He has dreams and the resolve to pursue them. I have never met Shedrick, but what I read of him makes me smile.

As an educator and speaker, I have met hundreds of young people of color. All of them have dreams and determination much like Shedrick. It is my hope that their circumstances will no longer dictate their potential. It is easy for us to uplift and value those whose lives align with a positive narrative. And in the same breath, we condemn and demonize teenagers like Simeon Adams - a Black kid who committed a heinous crime, but we fail to ask ourselves the hard questions.

How does a child become so hopeless that he takes a life of another person? What can we do to prevent such circumstances from producing even more violence?

These contrasts we draw between one person and the next is engaging in respectability politics. As a society, we often measure those we deem beneath us (in this case, Black youth) by an imaginary scale of goodness to determine whether they are acceptable enough to be considered and treated as human. We decide a person's worth based on our own experiences and values. But what we do not realize is that when we dehumanize others, we become inhumane ourselves. Violence does not end by discarding "bad" people in favor of "good", law-abiding citizens. The cycle continues - dehumanization is violence.

I reject Shabazz's dangerous metric. We should assign humanity to one another without cause or condition. We exist, and therefore we are worthy.

Law enforcement and the justice system exist to provide consequences for those who commit crimes. But I submit that punitive justice is not enough, we must shift to restorative justice to see positive and lasting change.

The anger with crime in Indianapolis is justified. We must channel our collective emotions and resources - not into discarding individuals and entire sections of this city - but into combating social constructs that fuel a cycle of hopelessness so powerful that crime seems like the only option for young people, especially those of color.

Only then can we build safe communities, restore hope and thrive, together.

Elle Roberts is a singer/songwriter and social justice activist committed to creating safe spaces where people can deconstruct systems of oppression in their everyday lives. She is the founder of she|hive, a beta project set to launch this summer.

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