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Why some say the phrase 'Black on Black crime' distracts from police brutality, unfairly perpetuates racism

A 2018 national survey found offenders were the same race as the victim 70 percent of the time for Blacks and 62 percent for Whites.

ATLANTA — When a young Black man dies at the hands of law enforcement, outrage often follows on the street demanding police reform.

About that same time, another narrative surfaces and it usually goes something like this: “I find it very disappointing that you’re not discussing the fact that 93 percent of Blacks in America are killed by other Blacks,” said Rudy Giuliani on NBC’s Meet the Press in 2014 after the shooting death of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Why is there no the outrage when there’s Black on Black violence?” asked Fox News reporter Mike Tobin to a protester in 2015 following the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, shot by Chicago Police.

“Black on Black Crime” is a catchphrase some believe conservatives use to distract from police brutality and unfairly perpetuates racism, even when it’s used by Black people.

Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler, who is Black, said it, too, after a rise in homicides near Albany, Georgia this past May. Fowler said out of nine people killed so far this year in the county, eight were Black.

“It’s Black on Black crime and it seems like nobody is really saying anything about it,” Fowler was quoted in a WALB-TV story.

When 11Alive spoke to Fowler a few months later, he defended his use of the phrase. 

“Nobody is saying anything. Like, it’s something that’s swept under the rug. It needs to be addressed. We’re killing one another. We’re killing ourselves," he said.

However, Clifton Crawley disagrees. He said Black communities are talking about it - the media just isn’t paying attention. Crawley is the community chair for the Atlanta NAACP.

“There has always been a deep level of concern for violence and poverty and crime within our community,” Crawley said.

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The licensed social worker points to long list of local and national organizations focused on reducing violence in Black communities, which including Street Groomers, 100 Black Men of Atlanta and former president Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

In Atlanta, 81 percent of victims to violent crime were Black in 2018. Nearly 90 percent of people arrested for those crimes were Black, too.

Crawly doesn’t dispute violence is a problem, but he argues it is often a side effect of multi-generational racism, which has created a health, wealth and education gap. Using the phrase “Black on Black crime,” he said, ignores history and perpetuates racism. 

Atlanta’s interim police chief, Rodney Bryant, agrees. 

“It’s easier to excuse it when you leave it at race,” Bryant said. “I think it does do the Black community a disservice when you say it’s 'Black on Black crime,' and it’s not.”

“So again, if you have a high level of poverty and a population that is consistently being oppressed by systematic racism, then you are going to have a higher level of violence that occurs and unfortunately, that is the result,” Crawley added.

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According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the majority of violent crime happens within the same race. A 2018 national survey found offenders were the same race as the victim 70 percent of the time for Blacks and 62 percent for Whites.

“Most crime with White victims are perpetrated with White victims. Most crime against Black victims are perpetrated by Black criminals. So, regardless of race, you see crime victims of the same race of the overwhelming majority of crimes,” explained Dorothy Brown, a law professor at Emory University and author of "Critical Race Theory."

Brown said Black communities also have a right to be more concerned with police brutality because it’s state-sanctioned. She said research shows those communities are often over-policed.

“It’s not again that violent crime isn’t serious, of course it’s serious, but, I should be able to walk down this street and not be murdered by police. Period, full stop,” Brown said. “And anyone who tries to change the subject is really telling me, you don’t care about black lives.”

Brown said Black communities are typically over-policed, which increases the number of Black arrests, even when departments have a high number of Black officers.