Plunge in black-youth crime threatens politics of scapegoating

Plunge in black-youth crime threatens politics of scapegoating

December 07, 2012

FBI and California statistics showing a huge drop in violence and crime by young people of all races—particularly African Americans—to record low levels threatens the simplistic, often crazed gun-violence debate.

The desperate need of interest groups for ever-rising epidemics of youthful gun violence was epitomized yet again by sports pundit Bob Costas’s irresponsible commentaries (borrowed secondhand from pundit Jason Whitlock with no evident fact-checking by either) berating “gun culture”-afflicted urban “teenage boys armed to the hilt” and “impulsive… young men” for “more and more” shootings.

After all these years, don’t gun-control advocates (of which I’m one) get it? Costas, Whitlock, and others who make false, alarmist comments like these hamper rather than advance reasoned gun policy. Costas’s mythical image of rising hordes of hair-trigger black teenagers packing heavy steel are exactly the image tens of millions of gun-owing Americans think of when they’re out restocking their gun racks and ammo dumps. Check the equally brainless counter-rage by right-wing knee-jerkers like Fox News’ Mike Huckabee.

Under Oklahoma’s new open-carry law, stores and agencies now post signs on their doors stating whether guns are allowed inside. That’s right, the entire state is now an 1880s Dodge City Saloon. Why? So the righteous can stand their ground against made-up fears of “more and more” lethal violence emanating from dark young gangstas and Sharia-lawmen.

As usual in the United States, all sides ignore the facts vital to addressing gun violence while bellowing terrifying myths than reinforce the very emotional responses that make the problem worse. It’s no secret who this furor is about. Sure, gun-control advocates still reference the Columbine school massacre by two suburban white boys—the one that happened 13 years, scores of mass carnages, and thousands of individual shootings ago. It only shows how desperate its invokers are to avoid the elephant in the room.

The ugly truth is that all sides need rampant, rising, news-blared gundowns, along with robberies, rapes, and beatings, perpetrated by youngsters, preferably of color, to make their separate cases for either tough gun controls or for more guns.

Unfortunately for the stereotypers, just 39 black youth were arrested in California last year for homicide, down from a record 211 in 1990 and the lowest number since the first year statewide statistics were compiled (129 in 1975). Among young black women, supposedly the epicenter of a “new generation of violent girls,” zero were arrested for murder in 2011.

Violent crimes of all types fell by a record 19% among California’s black male youth and by 25% among young black females in 2011, reaching nadirs never before recorded in nearly four decades of statewide crime statistics.

Among black youth nationally from 2010 to 2011, murders dropped 35%, violent crime fell 22%, and all offenses dropped by 23%–all record declines. Rates of black-youth crime now stand at the lowest levels since the FBI first reported crime numbers by race in 1964. Like their white counterparts, more violence of all kinds is now committed by African Americans in their 40s than by adolescents.

Half of all gun violence victims (as well as the huge majority of gun owners) are white men ages 35 and older, who are many hundreds of times more likely to die from aiming the gun at themselves—and secondarily from being shot by an aging white peer—than being 187’d by young thugs.

But you can’t have a foaming war over gun-violence/control by incorporating such rhetoric-numbing realities. Americans interests need crazy untruths and demographic scapegoats. Then, we wonder why our social problems, amid improvements here and deteriorations there, remain so outsized compared to other Western nations’ that rely more on science.

President Barack Obama’s exploitation of gun violence sets a particularly dismal example. In 2007, he accused “an entire generation of young men in our society” (who his speech made clear were African Americans) of perpetrating “an epidemic of violence that’s sickening the soul of this nation” that must be stopped by “collective anger” and “collective action.” An “entire generation”? To accuse ALL modern, young male African Americans (who in fact have murder rates today less than half those of Obama’s 1970s cohort) of being killers is an extremist position promoting the fear and bigotry Obama elsewhere claims to deplore.

Instead of walking his comments back, Obama as president continued blaming “children” and “young people” for gun violence, led by “children killing children.” In fact, the FBI finds that youth under age 18 account for just 4% of the country’s murders, and 5 out of 6 murdered children are killed by adults, not other children. Obama’s inflamed rhetoric is the kind that invites prejudice of the same kind harbored by violent vigilantes whose idea of “collective action” stemming from “collective anger” is to gun down unarmed black teenagers to protect neighborhoods from the young black men who President Obama himself has branded an “entire generation” of murderers.

Gun control advocates should not be touting Obama, Costas, and those who indulge ugly stereotypes as allies, but persuading them to turn down the heat. The large, ongoing drops in violence by young black men could be a start—if all sides weren’t so threatened by them.

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