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Homicide is a ‘devastating plague’ on black communities, and it is time we stop ignoring it | COMMENTARY

Homicides in Baltimore are largely committed by African Americans who kill other blacks.
Homicides in Baltimore are largely committed by African Americans who kill other blacks.(Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

There’s lots of talk about being too tough on crime.

As Michael Bloomberg ran for president earlier this year he faced criticism for his “stop- and-frisk” policy when he was the mayor of New York City.

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Gov. Larry Hogan was at odds with the Maryland General Assembly during this year’s legislative session over his support of mandatory sentencing for gun violations.

When Hillary Clinton ran for president nearly four years ago she was forced to apologize for once saying there were predators in the black community.

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Likewise there are well meaning progressives who are concerned about discriminatory policing, crowding jails and prisons with black people, and the stereotyping of innocent African Americans.

The reality is that homicides in major cities including Baltimore are not race neutral. Of the more than three hundred people killed in the streets of Baltimore last year, just about all of them were African Americans. The shooters (killers) were most likely black as well. This is a devastating plague acutely affecting black communities across the country.

We must realize that some black people are a much greater threat to other black people than the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizens’ Councils. The number of blacks gunned down in the streets by other blacks parallels our memories of the many blacks lynched in communities across the United States after Reconstruction. This is a devastating plague acutely affecting black communities across the country.

The killings continue even as the country faces a coronavirus pandemic that prompted the governor to place the state on a stay-at-home lockdown. No one is to go out unless it is for essentials such as groceries and prescription medications. The killings don’t stop. Again it is mostly black victims.

And while some people don’t want to admit it, the aggressive law enforcement tactics that some declare overbearing have worked in reducing crime.

The stop-and-frisk practice in New York City was associated with a decline in homicides. When Richmond, Virginia, got tough on gun violations the homicide rate went down. By allowing gun violations to be prosecuted as federal crimes guilty persons were renditioned to federal prisons in places like Utah. This likely included some African Americans.

When former Mayor Shelia Dixon and Police Chief Frederick H. Bealefeld III got tough on “bad guys with guns,” homicides in Baltimore went down. It is likely that most of those detained were black. In these three reductions in homicides, the people who benefited most also were African Americans who lost fewer sons, daughters, fathers and mothers to senseless street violence. More black people lived.

This poses a real problem for the black elite and white progressives. How to address bad behavior by some black folks without denigrating the “whole” black community? Many continue to struggle to give a balanced and positive picture of black life in America. The truth is, there are some black folk who do bad things. The sad truth is that their victims are most often other black people.

The attitude toward bad guys with guns is not the same in these violent neighborhoods, where people fear for their lives everyday, as it is in the relatively peaceful suburbs far away from the crime. Many African American communities are under siege by black gun-toting terrorists. Children cannot play in their yards and the elderly can no longer sit on their porches. At a recent town hall, a young black woman could not understand why her brother’s killer had still remained free on the street awaiting trial for a previous gun violation. Many of the people accused of murder in the city frequently have existing gun violations. This is a cycle that must be broken.

Now is the time to reconcile, black pride, civil liberties and civil rights with the need for safe black communities. No one wants to resort to stop-and-frisk policies or mass incarceration, but something like it may be needed. Such efforts can target illegal weapons pretty much the same as stop-and-frisk efforts at major airports. This is not a problem in the larger white community, but it is in black communities and must be addressed as a problem particular to those neighborhoods.

This senseless gun violence and predatory behavior should not continue to be tolerated. This lawlessness victimizes black families, the black community and future generations. At some point we need to stop letting the presumed rights of a few endanger the lives of many.

John L. Hudgins (jhudgins@coppin.edu) is co-director of the Human Services Administration and an associate professor of sociology at Coppin State University.

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