**Disclaimer: I will be incorporating a lot of excerpts, articles and studies in-order to prove my point. Please bear with me**
Homicide and police violence are not contemporary issues. For centuries the criminal justice system and law enforcement failed to protect and serve Black citizens. Law enforcement agencies sanctioned violence by turning a blind eye to the murder of black men in the American south and later in northern cities, during and after the Great migration. Today law enforcement agencies perpetuate this legacy through misconduct and abuse of power. To illustrate, the Department of Justice found the Ferguson Police Department:
Police Accountability Task Force (Chicago Police Department )
Policing killings have dominated national dialogue but I want to shift the conversation to non lethal interactions between police and community members. Most people won't die in their interaction with law enforcement but unpleasant interactions affect the type of relationship residents have with police.
A 2017 study by departments of Linguistics, Computer Science and Psychology at Stanford found when reviewing footage from body-cams "that officers speak with consistently less respect toward black versus white community members, even after controlling for the race of the officer, the severity of the infraction, the location of the stop, and the outcome of the stop".
Community Police Relations
The above practices erode community trust and affirm the belief that police members don't value community members. When community members don't trust law enforcement they are less likely to testify as witnesses to homicide- which makes it hard for officers to solve murder. Homicide arrest rates indicate how well residents and law enforcement agencies work together. The homicide arrest rate among 50 American cities is 49.6 percent. In areas with high homicide rates less than 33 percent of murders get solved.
It's difficult to get witnesses to testify for 2 reasons:
So the response to this conversation is often - "yes police violence exist but the media (and the Left) have created a skewed narrative that unjustly makes cops look bad and Black people perpetual victims when they are not".
The issue is bigger than the media. Again, police violence is not a contemporary issue - one of the primary reasons the Black Panther Party formed in 1966. I'm not talking about people simply watching CNN and disliking cops in their words and attitudes. I'm talking about residents not calling police when they or their loved ones are hurt or injured because they fear that police will make it worse and/or don't care.
The work of Sociologist David Kirk, Matthew Desmond and Andrew Papachristos illustrate this sentiment. Their study analyzes what happened to crime related 911 calls following one of Milwaukee’s most publicized cases of police violence against an unarmed black man:
Mr. Frank Jude was attacked by several off-duty police officers — and one who was on-duty — after being accused of stealing a police badge at a party. Officers boot-stomped his face, snapped his fingers and pressed pens into his ear canals. The lost badge was never recovered.
The findings of their study show:
"Residents of Milwaukee’s neighbourhoods, especially residents of black neighbourhoods, were far less likely to report crime to the police after Mr. Jude’s beating was reported in the press and the subsequent fallout shook the city. Their work accounted for crime rates, previous calling patterns and several other neighbourhood characteristics. The effect lasted for over a year and resulted in a loss of approximately 22,200 911 calls, a 17 percent reduction in citizen crime reporting, compared with the expected number of calls
In the six months after Mr. Jude’s story was published, homicides in Milwaukee jumped 32 percent. Their research suggests that this happened not because the police “got fetal”- which challenges the idea of the "Ferguson effect"- that homicides increase because of increased scrutiny of police forces by activist and the media- but because black residents stopped calling 911, their trust in the justice system in shambles"
Research shows that urban neighbourhoods with higher levels of legal cynicism also have higher rates of violent crime: When citizens lose faith in the police, they are more apt to take the law into their own hands"
Their findings confirm what the people of Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and other cities have been saying all along: that police violence rips apart the social contract between the criminal justice system and the citizenry, suppressing one of the most basic forms of civic engagement, calling 911 for help"
And when murders don't get solved it perpetuates the cycles of violence we see in St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago.
Again, this is not unique to residents in these enclaves- high rates of victimization occur in any context among any demographic where formal law is missing or weak. The factors that contribute to this are the same everywhere:
- Weak legal framework to address crime
- Strained relationship between citizens and police
-Extralegal forms of justice
To illustrate, I was reading an article about homicide in Latin America. Latin America has the world's highest murder rate. The region accounts for a third of the world’s murders—about 400 a day, with almost half of them in Brazil and Mexico.
Heres an excerpt:
"Yet throughout the region, LESS THAN 20% are solved. This results in an extralegal form of justice: lynching. With little faith in the police or the courts to bring criminals to justice, mobs routinely kill suspected lawbreakers in spontaneous attacks"
According to Criminologist and professor David Kennedy there are 3 communities involved in this dynamic
1. Non-threatening majority
Despite living in structurally disenfranchised socially disadvantaged neighbourhood most people in these communities don't commit crime. Residents want the same thing any group of people would want- a safe environment for their children to live and prosper.
People in these communities live with 3 painful realities
a) Gun violence and high rates of incarceration
c) Deeply troubled relationship with law enforcement particularly the police
2. Police Officers
I haven't read enough literature on law enforcement to come to a conclusion on modern day policing. However, I've met lawyers and academics who are very weary of the presence of law enforcement and advocate for alternative measures to community safety.
I think to better understand the issue- we have to shift the conversation from individual police officers to policing as an institution.
The answer is no. Policing as an institution has been extremely hostile to the aspirations of Black people.
Is it any surprise we are here right now?
I can already anticipate the retort- “well that’s not the case now”
The problem right now is 3 things
This type of adversarial relation is common even expected among communities that have been hurt by the law. For example, I was at a panel discussion about Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and one of the speakers who is a lawyer and professor said she would never call police when in trouble.
People don't believe in the law.
When a gang member was asked about gun violence he said "“because they don’t believe in the law. The law don’t work, never will, in my neighbourhood".
Nevertheless, I recognize being a police officer is a challenging and dangerous job. I believe most officers are good. I want to believe most want to save lives and protect neighbourhoods. Aggressive forms of policing exist within a context and oftentimes have been asked. However, they don't work and drive a chasm between law enforcement and communities.
David Kennedy puts it best
"being over policed for the small stuff, and under-policed for the important stuff, alienates the community, undercuts cooperation and fuels private violence: which itself often then drives even more intrusive policing, more alienation, lower clearance rates, and still more violence. The cops write off the community even more; the community writes off the cops even more.
The rates of victimization are high but they're driven by a very small group of people-often less than 5 percent of the population within these neighbourhoods.
20 years of research has created a new understanding: homicide is extremely concentrated among a small network of young men - most likely to victimize and be victimized by others. I'm not sure what separates the vast majority of young men who don't offend from the minority that does.
However, there's a distinction to be made between men in these networks- those who are called "impact shooters"- gang members who make things happen, make money and shoot people and other men within these networks- who are often scared, follower and wannabes. Even within a gang crew of lets say 20 people only 2 may be impact players. Again, not everyone injured or hurt is a gang member. Those injured or killed can be kids waiting at the bus stop, parents picking up their children from school or just people being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Author Jill Levoy provides another take on gang
Gangs could seem pointlessly self destructive, but the reason they existed was no mystery. Men and women always tend to group together for protection. They seek advantages in numbers. Unchecked by a state monopoly on violence, such groupings fight, commit crimes, and ascend to factional dominance as conditions permit. Fundamentally, gangs are a consequence of lawlessness, not a cause.
The tendency for people to band together when state power is weak is so inevitable it can even seem innate...Without law people use violence collectively to settle scores and right wrongs, and commonly refer to violence as their own law. Wherever law is absent or undeveloped.- wherever it is shabby, ineffective, or disputed- some form of self-policing or communal justice usually emerges.
Police, prosecutors, and politicians in L.A. blamed gangs for the homicide problem. They portrayed gangs as formidable nations of organized crime or as an exotic new social disease. But among street officers in South Bureau, doubts sometimes surfaced, a sense that much of way was breathlessly termed “gang culture” was pretty ordinary group behavior. Officers couldn’t help noticing certain inconsistencies, like the way so much gang crime seemed to involve just four or five guys “cliquing up,” in the spirit of a high school locker room, or the way so few gang homicides stemmed from drug deals-and so many from infighting...Gang members in Watts bragged of making large sums. But in the morgue, the rolled wads of dollar bills found inside shoes contradicted them: these were poor people. The black market is a desperate place."
Changing the Narrative
One of the most frustrating things about engaging Urban Homicide is confronting the narrative surrounding it. I hate how this issue is framed. To illustrate, I've gotten into conversations with people who say "the Black community doesn't care about bl*ck on bl*ck on crime. The Black community needs to address this issue first before having a conversation about how the police treats you guys (which is distorted by Leftist media anyway).
The assumption is that gun violence is an internal problem- pathological culture- that Black people must take accountability for and solve on their own.
This notion is not wise or sensible. Aside from being asinine and anti-black it reveals a rudimentary understanding of the problem.
Of course I expect individuals and communities most affected to take a leadership role in solving the problem (and they do from what I've seen).
However, I've never seen the Opoids epidemic characterized as a white problem with which the "White" community and white leaders must take responsibility and solve on their own. This is because for the most part we recognize the opoiod crisis does not occur in a vacuum. Similarly, Urban Homicide doesn't exists in a vacum- I've already provided the historical context - but Urban Homicide intersects with rule of law, policing, mental health, poverty, neighbourhood planning etc. All stakeholders must be brought to the table in order to reduce the rates of victimization in the case of Urban Homicide in the same way we would expect for Opioids.
Those who wag and wave their fingers at Black people about intraracial violence (which is often disingenuous) often ignore a major barrier to solving this issue: lack of political will.
To illustrate, I was reading an article titled Why Gun Control Ignores Black Lives. It highlights those on the frontlines of this issue and the obstacles they face to solve the problem
Here are some excerpts:
"When speaking on the response to their request for support Rev. Charles Harrison, a pastor from Indianapolis said, [w]hat was said to us by the White House was, there’s really no support nationally to address the issue of urban violence...The support was to address the issue of gun violence that affected suburban areas — schools where white kids were killed.”
I think that people in those communities are perceived as not sufficiently important because they don’t vote, they don’t have economic power,” said Timothy Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney who has spent much of his career focused on urban violence. “I think there’s some racism involved. I don’t think we care about African-American lives as much as we care about white lives.”
Former administration officials said they thought it was tragic that the everyday killings of black children did not get more political attention. “I totally agree with their frustrations,” a former official said. “At the same time, when the nation listens, you’ve got to speak, and you don’t get to pick when the nation listens.”
I can anticipate the skeptical eye rolls of my friends on the political Right. Say what you will, but the level of response differs based on which people are dying, what they look like and the status they occupy in society.
However that's changing. There's been a lot of pushback against the apathy and scorn with which Black people particularly the underclass received. I'm optimistic.
Contrary to popular belief, residents in neighbourhoods have been on the frontlines rallying for change for years. Which makes so much sense- it's their children, brothers, fathers, husbands and friends dying.
Centres of Trauma
Urban homicide represents an immeasurable level of suffering for all those involved.
When the leader of a Christian missionary group asked a group of children in the Cooper housing project [in New Orleans] to name some things they worry about, a 7-year-old girl raised her hand and said 'dying.' After the class, the children ran screaming from the playground when the sound of a machine gun ripped through the air. It was 11:57 A.M." A mother in a different public housing complex in New Orleans r eported, "I got a letter from this one little girl. She said her goal in life was to live to graduate high school (91).
Similarly I was reading about 13 year old Sandra Parks a few weeks ago. She was an aspiring writer who wrote an award winning poem about gun violence 2 years ago where she said:
"In the city in which I live, I hear and see examples of chaos almost every day. Little children are victims of senseless gun violence," she wrote. "Many people have lost faith in America and its ability to be a living example of Dr. King's dream!"
Her life was tragically ended on November 19th when she was killed by a stray bullet in her bedroom.
I can't stand those who wave and wag their fingers at Black people as if we don't know its awful. It residents could snap their fingers to make this problem go away they wouldn't ?
I see "Urban Homicide'" as the intersection between mental health and the Criminal justice system. An intersection that must be recognized and inform the public’s understanding of communities that are affected by this issue.
Urban Homicide compromises the social and mental wellbeing of residents.
High exposure to violence in communities severely impacts mental wellness by triggering anxiety, nervousness and nihilism.
This was the case for Camiela Williams who is an anti-gun violence advocate. She's 31 years old and has lost 33 friends to gun violence.
In her own words “I went through rage, depression. I still can’t sleep,”
In a series of nationally funded studies, researchers interviewed 8000 residents from communities most affected by gun violence, unemployment and poverty:
- 2/3 of respondents said they had been attacked at some point in their lives
- Half knew someone who had been murdered
- Of the women who were interviewed, a third had been sexually assaulted
** 30 percent of respondents had symptoms that demonstrate PTSD- a rate as high or higher than that of veterans from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan**
- In Chicago's County Cook hospital researchers found 43 percent of those injured had signs of PTSD
This shows the mental toll that high rates of victimization takes on residents, particularly youth and children. One must understand the psychological profiles’ of residents and offenders within these context. This is because high rates of exposure to violence increases one’s inclination to risky behaviour and likelihood to be a perpetuator of violence. This must be taken into account in the same way the psychological profiles of white men who commit mass acts of violence are considered when making moral judgements.
Researchers are just beginning to analyze the effects of untreated PTSD on neighbourhoods that are already affected by poverty, unemployment and the War on Drugs.
Little is being done to address the growing evidence Hospitals treat physical wounds but do little to treat the mental and emotional affects of gun violence. In 2014, ProPublica did a survey of 21 tramau centers in cities most affected and only found 3 centers in New Orleans, Detroit and Richond that regularly screen victims of gun violence for PTSD. "Trauma surgeons said they were aware of the burden of post-traumatic stress on their patients, but it was hard to get hospitals to spend money on new programs or staff to deal with PTSD" (Lois Beckette)
Residents need access to mental health services.
Urban homicide represents one of the greatest inequalities in America today- the inequality around safety. Neighbourhood safety is the distinction between 2 Americas- one defined by bullets and bodies and another defined by safe streets and neighbourhoods. Urban Homicide significantly decreases the quality of life because residents are forced to live and occupy neighborhoods that are unsafe. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, individuals cannot self actualize if their basic need for safety is not met. In fact, Urban Homicide undermines the “American Dream” for many Americans. Residents cannot aspire for success when they live in environments that undermine their ability to experience life, liberty and the pursuit” of happiness.
In my next article I will make the argument for why you should care, highlight promising solutions to gun violence and profile those doing amazing work on the ground.
Until the ink drips,