In reaction to a post about police brutality, a friend of a friend, Carl (not his real name), writes:
“50% of all murders in USA are committed by 13% of the population!! Guess who? Start there with your fixes then the other one won’t exist”
I offer my response not just to Carl, but to anyone who is truly interested in deepening their knowledge of race in America.
The general thrust of your argument appears to be, “Black people commit more homicides than whites. That is why they are shot more by police. If they behaved better, they would be killed less often.”
The subtext of your point, let’s be clear, is that black people are, by nature, more homicidal than whites. Crazier. More dangerous. More to be feared. Rightfully oppressed.
There are many, many, many factors that contribute to violence in a community. Perhaps to you, my friend, it is well enough to post the statistics of black males being more likely to commit homicides than white males, and leave the subtle whisper of *black people are less civilized* hanging, though unsaid, in the air.
I will arrange my rebuttal into two parts. For the first, I will submit several statistics for your consideration. These stats will look primarily at the racial disparity in wealth and criminal justice in this country - a few out of dozens of factors related to violence in the community.
In my second part I will summarize the information in my own words, and touch on some (but not all) of the other issues that relate to racial disparity in crime rates.
Before I continue, I need to stress that this is just a tiny, tiny scratch on the surface of racial inequality and disparity in our country. I also want to stress that I don’t blame you for feeling the way you feel. It’s easier to blame black people’s “violent nature” for black crime. And that point of view is strongly encouraged in a lot of circles and media. But if you are open-minded, hopefully you will find this information illuminating. Or you will ignore me, and I will feel a little better anyway for having spent the time to write this.
According to the last census, White Americans account for 64% of the population but control over 88% of America’s wealth. Black Americans count for 12% of the population but only 2.7% of America’s wealth.
According to a Brandeis study, the wealth gap between White and Black Americans has nearly tripled since 1985.
According to the Center for Responsible Lending, Black Americans were 30% more likely to get higher-rate mortgage loans than White Americans in 2008.
According to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), 40% of Black Americans were denied a GSE home loan, compared with 14% of White Americans. This is even adjusted for application “strength” according to credit, etc.
According to the Center for American Progress, schools with 90% nonwhite students receive $733 less per student per year than majority white schools. With an average school size of 605 students, that means a 90% nonwhite school has on average a $443,465 smaller budget than a school of the exact same size with 90% white students. That is enough to hire ten full-time teachers.
According to Human Rights Watch, Black Americans are almost three times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than White Americans. In a related study, SAMHSA found that only 12-15% of adults who have used illicit drugs are black. Yet in 2011 Black Americans made up over 40% of adults sentenced for drug offenses.
According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Black Americans receive jail sentences on average 19.5% longer for the same crimes as White Americans.
According to the Center for American Progress, schools in America spend an average of $334 more for every white student than for nonwhite students.
According to the Sentencing Project, Black Americans are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison time than White Americans.
According to the NAACP, Black Americans make up 12% of drug users, yet account for 38% of drug arrests and 59% of drug-related prison sentences.
According to a Brandeis study, a white family can afford to buy a home on average 8 years earlier than a black family.
According to the last census, 27.4% of Black Americans live below the poverty line and 45.8% of black children live below the poverty line. This compares with less than 10% of White Americans and less than 15% of white children. In other words, black children are over three times more likely to live in poverty than white children.
According to the Center for American Progress, 13% of all Black male adults in America are disenfranchised (unable to vote) due to felon-disenfranchisement laws.
According to the Pew Research Center, Black Americans are 6 times more likely to be arrested than White Americans. This is an increase since the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
According to ProPublica, black teens are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than white teens.
According to a Brandeis study, white families are five times more likely to receive an inheritance from their relatives. Those inheritances are, on average, ten times more valuable.
There is no country on earth that imprisons a racial minority group at a higher rate than America imprisons black people. Not Turkey, not Syria, not China, not Russia. Nowhere. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, America imprisons blacks at a 5.7 times higher rate than blacks were imprisoned during the notoriously oppressive Apartheid regime of South Africa.
There are only two black U.S. Senators. Corey Booker and Tim Scott. There have been 1,963 members of the U.S. Senate. There have been only 9 black senators in American history.
So, Black Americans account for a high level of homicides in this country. That is true. Although consider how blacks are six times more likely to be arrested, 80% likely to be overseen by a white judge, 88% likely to be prosecuted by a white prosecutor, almost 100% likely to be judged by a mostly-white jury, and are convicted more often. (American Bar Association) It makes me wonder whether the “50% of all homicides are black perpetrators” might be skewed by the overwhelming disadvantage Black Americans face under the law.
But even granting your statistic as valid, we also have lower wages, less education investment, less access to healthy food (look up food deserts), less inherited money, higher-interest-rate mortgages, less home ownership, less business ownership, higher arrest rates, longer prison sentences, less representation in government, and lower-paying jobs.
And remember, when people are in prisons, their families suffer. Grandmothers raise children, entire family incomes are lost, and black men leave prison almost unemployable. It’s hard enough to get a job if you have a “black-sounding” name, according to several studies. Imagine if you also have a record. Well, over one-fifth of Black males in their 20’s already have records. White employers and corporate employers won’t hire them, even if they were wrongfully arrested. Black employers are relatively scarce, even in black communities, because banks don’t often give out business loans to black entrepreneurs.
Let me get back to your point. Should black people be held responsible for commiting crimes? Sure. If you pull the trigger, you pull the trigger. Society didn’t pull the trigger. But understand, there are huge societal, corporate, governmental, criminal justice, and other institutions that oppress my people. We are over thirty seven million people, and yet we control only 2.7% of America’s wealth. Do you really think that’s because we don’t work hard enough? Do you think we’re poor because we’re lazy? Please.
Here’s the last point I want to make. Why, you may ask, are we so upset with police killings, when over 90% of black murders are committed by black offenders?
Our taxes pay the salaries of the police, and the police have taken an oath. They are sworn to protect the community. So when an unarmed black teenager is 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a white teenager, there is a problem. Police are an institution of the state. They are a representation of the force of our federal and state governments. Not figuratively. Literally. So if they kill us, and don’t even go to trial, there is a problem.
Carl, I’m not surprised you were able to find some black people on YouTube who blame black people for black crime. Some of them have legitimate points to make, to the black community; but as a white man, that message is not meant for you. And as to that interview you found where Morgan Freeman says that the best way to end racism is to “stop talking about it,” it is the most embarrassing Uncle Tom nonsense I have ever heard uttered. I strongly disagree with Mr. Freeman and it is a shameful thing to suggest. But that’s a different argument for another day. He does not speak for Black America. Nor, by the way, do I. We are not a monolith.
You’re probably a nice guy, Carl. You’re facebook friends with somebody I really like. I saw your profile picture with your adorable kids in American Flag shirts. My kids are a similar age, and I’m a patriot too. I love this country. But when you, as a white man, start talking about black-on-black crime, you need to check yourself. Do you deeply understand what institutional racism is? Do you actually know what the hell you’re talking about?
Your “well-reasoned” arguments about why police brutality doesn’t matter are part of the problem. It’s not the Klu Klux Klan or cross burning, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, but white moderates, who dismiss or deny or shrug their shoulders, who are the greatest impediment to justice.
You’re arguing the part of the oppressor, and you don’t even realize it. So I have a suggestion: the next time a black activist, or a Native American activist, or a gay or trans activist, or any activist, speaks up about the oppression of their people…
And fight on their side.
PS: Here are two great organizations for white allies in the fight for justice, if you’re interested in learning more.
It is the 21st century and we have become a secular society. Now, when we hear “Islam,” people immediately pair it with “extremism,” or “terrorism.” When we hear “Christian,” people think “right wing,” and “homophobic,” etc. And for those of us in the faith community, most of our friends look at us with some confusion. This is understandable. If I am a person of faith, doesn’t that mean I don’t believe in evolution or global warming, and that I think gay people are going to hell? If I’m a Christian, doesn’t that mean I hate Muslims?
Some do. I can’t speak for them. I’ll just speak for the rest of us.
The rest of us believe in science, and technology, in as much as they improve the human condition and make the earth a better place to live in. The rest of us believe in equal rights for all, including our LGBT brothers and sisters, and including our brothers and sisters of other faiths.
The rest of us are pacifists, because Jesus wouldn’t raise a hand in violence even to save his own life. When people fought on his behalf, he scolded them.
The rest of us seek peace and wisdom in our own lives, and work every day to raise our children with compassion. We have high hopes for our children, to be better than we were, and to treat other human beings with dignity, grace, empathy, and genuine love.
Some Christians advocate violence. Some Christians close women’s health centers all across the country, and attack women and gay and trans people for their lifestyles. Some Christians defend the second amendment at the expense of all else, shunning the statistics, arguing with people in the wake of every atrocious mass shooting. Calling people names. That is fine, for them.
The rest of us practice nonviolence, and pray for equality and compassion and safety and kindness to reign in this world. We don’t need to “defend ourselves.” A gun doesn’t defend us. God defends us. Our faith defends us. We look people in the eye and treat them with honesty and kindness. We donate to charity, and volunteer our time, and work to heal the sick, or clothe the naked, or protect the innocent. We pray for people, and the world. That is our defense. And it works.
Some Christians spend a lot of time talking about “defeating the enemy.” I don’t speak for them. The rest of us are not trying to defeat the enemy. Defeating the enemy is nowhere in the commandments of Moses, or the teachings of Jesus. And who is the enemy? Poor people in the Middle East, ravaged by drought and famine, forgotten or oppressed by their government, bombed by American drones, who have known little other than warfare for decades? Is that the enemy? Is that who we want to destroy?
My father is a Navy veteran. Represented in my friends and family are all branches of the military, some active and some retired. I understand that some people are willing to fight, kill, and die for “the mission.” Others work in other ways to support “the mission.” I pass no judgment on them. Some people take personal offense to foreigners who hate America. I can understand why.
Many people say “freedom isn’t free.” Our country needed a civil war, after all, to free the slaves. I believe this is both true and not true. Martin Luther King killed no one. Gandhi killed no one, and Jesus killed no one, and Thich Nhat Hanh killed no one. The Buddha, and Pete Seeger, and Mohammed Ali, and Thurgood Marshall, and Harriet Tubman, and Florence Nightingale killed no one.
Freedom is granted by God, not by warfare. No man controls my freedom, and though he throw me in prison, he still does not control my soul or my values or my integrity. St. Paul and Nelson Mandela and many others spent time in jail.
This is what faith looks like. They call me naive, for not knowing the ways of the world. They tell me that you cannot just be kind to others. The world is too dangerous, or too scary, or too violent. That is fine, for them.
But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. We will commit, again and again, to practicing loving-kindness and fairness and gentleness. We will make mistakes. We will get angry, especially in the face of injustice. If we are strong, we will channel that anger into positive action, to heal this broken world.
You may not believe in God. That is fine. Your beliefs are your own. I just want you to know that although there are Christians who fight and oppress and judge and pass bigoted laws and justify murder, there are also the rest of us.
We are quieter than them, but we are much, much more numerous. We surround you every day, working in hospitals and schools and homeless shelters. We support gay marriage, and we support the Black Lives Matter movement, and we believe in immigrant’s rights and environmental justice and transgender rights and freedom of expression and freedom of the press. We are in soup kitchens and we are in corporate board rooms and we are in retail stores, doing our small part to make the world are more beautiful place to live. Praying for peace.
They are loud, but we are powerful. They are on television, but we are in your lives. They are pointing fingers, but we are reaching out our hands.
We are more powerful than drone strikes and assault weapons and bigotry and violence. We are unstoppable, and faithful, and free.
For a long time I resisted the entire concept of selling out. It’s a free country, and artists are allowed to create whatever they want, right? If they’re able to make money doing it, all the better. No need to hold it against them. But remember when Taylor Swift used to play guitar?
Taylor Swift stops playing guitar and tries to become Madonna. Well let’s face it: everybody wants to be Madonna. Maybe they don’t even realize it. But when Madonna did it, nobody had heard that sound before. Now, listening to this stuff is like eating a Big Mac or buying Chinese-manufactured plastic garbage at Wal-Mart. Top 40 is a one-size-fits-all music costume made of tin foil and rubber bands. Wait, who’s that? Oh yeah, Taylor Swift.
Then, well, I hate to pick on Ed Sheeran. Talented young man, great songwriter. When I heard “The A Team” I thought this guy could become a modern-day Dylan or Paul Simon. There’s pop in the sound, but it’s still an excellent folk song about a real human issue. Deep. Evocative. (Videos are below)
Then he put out his new album X, and gave us songs like “Sing.” What happened to the singer-songwriter? What is this pop-dance beat and over-produced vocals? Where did these so-so lyrics come from? Also notice that he is literally a puppet in the music video. Hmmm.
And the love ballad “Thinking Out Loud” is a nearly identical sound to John Legend or Sam Smith. The lyrics and melody sound like they were taken out of a pop music machine. Like put in two quarters and it spits out another top-40 song.
Really, the Youtube cover image for “Sing” (below) shows everything you need to see. Our young, curly-haired British songwriter looking absurd on a ridiculous colorful backdrop next to a top-40 music producer, who’s showcasing him, like, “Hey, it used to sound like folk music, but now it sounds like big money!”
Who’s going to be the Indigo Girls? Who’s going to be Ray Charles? Who’s going to be Sam Cooke? Who’s going to be Pete Seeger? Well, they could certainly be out there, but they’re not being played on the radio. Joni Mitchell was actually popular in the 60′s. Could you imagine a songwriter of that caliber being popular in today’s market? Or would she stop playing hammer dulcimer and start doing her hair like Madonna?
Turn off the radio. Dig into the winding halls of Spotify or iTunes. Better yet, pick up a record player (you can buy them at Target now) and go to a record store. Spend three dollars on an artist you’ve never heard of, and sit and listen. Better yet, spend thirty dollars on ten artists you’ve never heard of.
Grab a .99c iTunes of an unfamiliar artist. Once a week would give you fifty new artists in a year. Better yet, twice a week. What would the world be like if everybody listened to 100 new artists a year?
Our music would stop sounding like an audio version of a rich producer’s bottom line.
There’s a kid out there right now writing the next “Blowing in the Wind” or the next “A Change is Gonna Come.” Let’s go find him. There’s a girl singing at hole-in-the-wall talent shows somewhere who’s the next Mahalia Jackson. Let’s go find her.
We’ve just moved from seven years in wine country to a place off the Central Ave exit in El Cerrito, CA. We replace the rolling hills and vineyards with asphalt and the screech of the passing BART train. And I’m so happy.
Hit the sidewalk. Chinese, Black, Hispanic, Arab, Russian, White, every block a different language. People cussing, people hugging, people jogging, people pushing shopping carts with their belongings, ugly people, rich people, homeless people, dark, light, poor, stupid, crazy, beautiful.
R&B and Jazz at Yoshi’s Oakland. Folk at the Freight & Salvage. Shows at the Berkeley Rep. Old school hip-hop and 90′s R&B blasting from the local radio station. Are you kidding me? Music stores that sell vinyl and still have headphone listening stations. Fast food places where Mexican chefs make Chinese food AND Mexican food at the same restaurant. What? Five dollar sushi that tastes a little too good to be true. And, Hallelujah, did I mention black people? It’s been too long, y’all. I’m back.
In two weeks my roots already dig into the soil of the East Bay. Like I’m back on the streets of Hackensack or Paterson. Every skeezy old pawn shop is filled with musical instruments. Families hanging out on the benches around the playground, just letting the kids play. Letting them fight and negotiate and learn and figure it out without hand-holding. Nobody bleeding? Okay, you all have fun now.
Pavement Power. I could lay down on the sidewalk and breathe in the disgusting, delicious scent a million footfalls. Everybody has a story, and there are too many people, and there are too many stories, and all of it is like music to me.
Down the road, Oakland is breathing and shouting and weeping. Across the water, San Francisco is writing beat poetry in a heavy cloud of fog. Through the steel arches of the Richmond Bridge, Marin County is sipping wine on the edge of perfection. From my backyard, the BART screeches across the tracks. My sons look up from their sandbox, eyes alight, tiny hands reaching out toward the silver train car as it rumbles by.
I hear it all the time. “When I was growing up, we didn’t even see color. I had Asian friends, Hispanic friends, Black friends, and they were just my friends, and we never thought about it!”
People have a strange compulsion to tell me this without being asked. I’m not sure why. Like I have a sandwich board that reads “Explain to me why you’re not racist!” or something. You don’t need to prove to me that you’re liberal and open-minded. You’ll show me whether you’re inclusive or not by the choices you make and the way you live your life. Just walk the walk. That’s explanation enough.
I understand the sentiment about being color-blind, and the point people are trying to make. But this post-racial ultra-liberal attitude is useless and a big step backward.
First of all, your Asian, Hispanic, and Black friends each have a unique, rich cultural history that is an important piece of their identity. (By the way, so do you.) Their grandparents told them different stories than your grandparents did, and they ate different foods, and had different exposure to art and music, and had different sets of beliefs and values growing up, and most importantly, were seen differently by the world around them. This had a profound impact on their upbringing, and their parents and their parents’ parents.
Because the deal is, whether you “saw color” or not while you were growing up, color exists, and most major structures of society (law&order, education, healthcare, food availability, etc.) have huge racial disparities. So Santa Rosa, CA is 70% white and 25% Latino. But when Andy Lopez was shot by police, the protests were at least two-thirds Latino. Trust me, I was there. So what happened? You’re color-blind growing up, but when one of your community’s children is shot, it’s a Hispanic issue?
So my mother, a white woman who raised a black child, is wearing an Andy Lopez protest shirt at work. And her white co-workers are like, “Well, you know how kids in that neighborhood are. I’m not surprised this happened." Yes, they all understood why the cop pulled the trigger. No, they weren’t sure why the protests were so angry. And can’t those people find someplace else to protest so they’re not clogging busy streets in the middle of the day?
If you asked any one of these people, they’d probably say, "Of course I’m not racist! I mean, there’s Maria in the kitchen, and Lupe at the front desk, and I’m friendly with them. I mean, I don’t even notice they’re Hispanic. I had Latino friends in middle school! I grew up color-blind!”
Barack Obama does not mark the end of American racism. It’s time to get over that idea. I mean, checked out the news lately? I can’t listen to the news without wanting to fly to St. Louis or New York or Florida and burn something down.
Stop telling me you’re color-blind and then sending your kids to private schools that are 90% white. Show me that you wantyour kids being raised in a diverse community. Start getting mad about Ferguson. Next time a black man is arrested for waiting outside of his child’s preschool for looking suspicious (true story) or getting choked to death by a white police officer, stop telling me that you see all God’s children equally and start writing angry letters. Interrupt your day and come to the marches.
And STOP telling me “Oh, you have to meet my friend, you’ll love him!” and proceed to introduce me to YOUR ONLY OTHER BLACK FRIEND. Stop it! He and I don’t have to meet eachother just because we’re both stupid enough to be part of the 1.7% black population of Santa Rosa.
Yes, I get that Jamaal is cool and likes jazz music. That’s great. But Jamaal and I both know why you’re introducing us. Because you’re proud that you’re not color-blind. I get it.
Analyze and accept your preconceptions about other people. Question your actions, and the actions of others. Question your opinions. Question authority. And take off your color-blind goggles, damn it. See what’s in front of you.
There is a stirring, roiling nausea in the stomach of the American minority. We are hurting - not just our own pain, but a weary ache handed down from our fathers and their fathers before them. It is an old, old wound. I feel it deep in my guts, in my chest, weighing down my limbs like the remembered heft of a bale of cotton. And society’s fingers dig deep into that wound, wielding the knife of injustice.
Not a very long showdown between an eighth-grade Hispanic boy and a military-trained weapons expert. In fact, Andy probably didn’t even know he was in a war zone until seven bullets threw him straight from Moorland Ave into the arms of Jesus. And one of those shots, according to the autopsy, hit him while he was still turning to face his assailant.
We in the black community have long memories. The policeman who shot Andy was an Iraq War veteran, but we are veterans of a war that has lasted for centuries and claimed far more victims. A war that has bent our backs, spilled our blood, denied us access, hung us from trees, sent us to the worst schools, assassinated our civil rights leaders, prostituted our music, thrown us to the back of the bus, and executed us while we lay pleading on the ground at a BART station in Oakland, California.
And so when a white cop shoots a preteen boy walking in his own neighborhood, we feel the shackles around our feet again. And we don’t need to wait for the end of the trial. We’ve watched this happen before. We’ve spent decades, lifetimes, generations, watching this gruesome story unfold.
The headline reads: White cop shoots minority child seven times. Investigation finds no inappropriate action.
You think that electing a black President proves that America has come around. Well, I still get gunned down in the street by the neighborhood watch for looking suspicious. And I still get shot seven times by police for holding my friend’s plastic rifle. And I’m still more likely to go to jail than to college.
So go ahead and tell me that Officer Erick Gelhaus, a military veteran who has taught and instructed firearms for decades, who writes for gun publications, didn’t recognize a plastic gun when he saw one. And go ahead and tell me that he actually thought a middle-schooler in SANTA ROSA was strolling the god-damned street in broad daylight with an actual AK-47.
This isn’t Fallujah. This is my neighborhood and that boy could have been my son. So go ahead and tell me that the military and the police force isn’t training soldiers to shoot and kill brown people. See if a single black or Hispanic person on planet earth believes you.
But we shoulder our burdens. We build your roads and bridges, mow your lawn, do your dishes, collect your garbage, pick your fruits and vegetables, and smile. Then, when we wear hoodies, you cross the street to avoid getting too close. Or you kill us. Which isn’t a big deal, because an investigation will find no inappropriate action. So go ahead and shoot.
I’m dying inside, little by little, anyway.
Director, Joyful Noise! Gospel Singers
Adjunct Music Faculty, Sonoma Academy
Minister of Music, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Sebastopol
I ain’t satisfied with having money or fame, playing the game Going insane just trying to make it to tomorrow I gotta know that I am going somewhere, taking a dare, Writing my songs, and do my singing for a living
How many brothers do you know who go for it Stepping out on faith, entering the race No matter what happens? I’m gonna make my mark out on the scene, Whatever means necessary to tell you ‘bout my story 'cause
Music is the Highlight of my Life
Don’t give me long walks on the beach Holding hands on city streets Don’t give me dinner and a date unless the music’s pumping Don’t give me romantic nights Don’t give me dramatic fights Just give me backbeat and a vocal mic that’s thumping
I feel like I could just fly, tear a hole in the sky Write my name into the clouds using a magic marker I feel like I could just dance You want to talk about romance How 'bout turning up the stereo because
Music is the Highlight of my Life
(rap) Burnin’ up the treble and intensify the bass My microphone is in your dome the sound is in your face Let my rhythm vision influence your every movement so you Groovin’ with your hips and dancin’ all over the place Do you know the feeling when the club is hoppin’ never stoppin' Beats are droppin’ Eyes are poppin' Somethin’ fixin’ to explode Ain’t no secret code, Unlock the secret of your mental state I’m 'bout to legislate about your body Open to the dictates of a higher calling Feels like I’m falling But I’m soaring on an unexpected trajectory Filling up the atmosphere with lack of fear and Channeling the greatness of humanity It’s not insanity, it’s how God planned it to be Intended to be, Sending to me, Calling and Demanding of me, Filled up with the mystery, Reminding me to tell you all to have a good time!
We can do better. As musicians, we can write better songs. As storytellers, we can tackle deeper issues. We can write about love without objectifying women. We can be proud of ourselves without wishing violence on others. We can talk about race without being reactionary. We can stop celebrating the kinds of things that destroy our kids’ lives. Let’s get together and make better music. Let’s listen to better music. Let’s give up on the cultural myth and live with integrity. Let’s demand more of our trend-setters. Let's become the trend-setters. I want my music to be smart, savvy, thought-provoking, beautiful, dark, ugly, intelligent, challenging, emotional, spiritual, and honest. Who’s with me?
BenjaSoul is the R&B/hip-hop project of Benjamin Mertz, a gospel choir director, jazz pianist, flutist, and music educator living in the North Bay in California. BenjaSoul is dedicated to bringing positive, moral, socially conscious, intelligent lyrics back into R&B and hip-hop.