Recently, NFL cornerback Richard Sherman addressed media about his opinions regarding the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Usually opinionated and controversial, Sherman calmly stated that blacklivesmatter must be a movement that is concentrated internally amongst blacks, as violent black-on-black crime is a prevalent issue that affects African Americans just as much as police brutality. He argued that it is unwise to wage in ideological and political diatribes against law enforcement figures and white people and not place an even greater emphasis on the way black people treat each other. Those who are proponents of the blacklivesmatter movement are instinctually dismissive of those who attempt to divert the focus of police brutality onto intraracial relations. Such a reaction is legitimate. Focusing on the behavior of blacks alone obfuscates the role other forces play in such experiences, and are typically brought up to discredit the sincerity of blacklivesmatter or altogether absolve law enforcement in the roles they play in the desecration of black bodies.
Both sides of the debate create unnecessary dichotomies because they place an undue emphasis on the specific actors within a conflict. Both sides comprehend the complexity of the issue, but have different operational foci through which their arguments depart. Blacklivesmatter proponents are approaching the criminalization of African Americans from a policy perspective, seeking to remedy specific grievances like improper policing and racial profiling to create better civil equality; for their legal relationship to the state to be the same as white people. Black-on-black crime fixationists approach the conflict from a psychological perspective, appreciating that there is a devaluation of black people even within the black community. However, the shortcomings of the latter perspective is that it overlooks how reciprocal the two relationships are. Proper enforcement of lives on the legal level create proper treatment of lives on the civic level.
There are many examples that show that an improvement of conditions have an impact in how individuals develop self-esteem and how they treat others. During the reconstruction era after the Civil War, it would not be unreasonable to meet a black man who viewed the white man as his social and intellectual superior, as the legal, political and cultural conditions made such conclusions unavoidable. Additionally, such conditions would cause one to make daunting judgments about the one’s own prospects as a black man, given that there are so few opportunities for growth, freedom, and self-actualization. However, as the law became more inclusive and as policy advanced to create a more-equitable society, one’s view of their role within it changes. It would be ridiculous if, during that time, someone were to argue we should not open up schools because African Americans don’t believe they can achieve, or because African Americans may or may not attend the schools, and they must develop some sense of self-worth first before they undertake larger societal roles. Conditions—conditions created by policy—change the imagination of the psyche and the role they play within those conditions.
Blacklivesmatter focuses on the structural barriers that create conditions that entrench crime, racism, brutality and civil negligence. Police brutality is simply low-hanging fruit; an easy visual and political example that symbolizes a systems ambivalence to the quality of life—and the life, itself—for black people. However, a campaign against police brutality (which extends beyond physical violence and includes inconsistent administration of constitutional rights, police intimidation, terrorism, harsh and excessive laws and statutes that extend from city hall to public schools) and black-on-black crime are like hand and glove.
Blacklivesmatter should consider incorporating black-on-black crime as a problem that is an extension of a failing law enforcement system. In 2013, only 132 of over 500 murder cases in Chicago were closed. The city has a homicide clearance rate of under 26% percent. A great majority of the unsolved murders are the result of black on black violence. Unless we are to believe murders in the black community are trained in stealth attacking, this clearly articulates a failure to act properly in finding murderers.
If law enforcement fails to solve murder crimes, then how can they effectively deter them? Police officers suggest having a larger task force would help accomplish the objectives, but they appear to have very little difficulty apprehending men and women for non-violent crimes—pulling women over for failing to use turn signals and for loitering outside of bodegas. One in three of every African American males aged 18-24 is arrested at least once in his lifetime, such an astounding rate of arrest does not sound like understaffing. If law enforcement has succeeded in incarcerating men and women of color at record rates, someone has to be doing the arresting. Yet we fail to enforce murder. It is not unreasonable to believe one can kill a black person and get away with it. Over 350 men and women in Chicago do so every year. Our government needs to step up in finding efficient ways to make blacklivesmatter. Arrest by volume has not worked. Local law enforcement fail to take the safety of black communities seriously, thus the only way for people to be protected is through retaliatory murders, protection and security through gang warfare and territory. That on top of drugs, poor schooling and housing create a recipe where black lives are the afterthought, where all of the effective solutions, intellectual resources, and political will are used to keep the urban poor away from the urban affluent.