Aristotle said, “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime” (Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality). But in the wake of violence in impoverished Black communities, we often only hear the same refrain: “Why is no one doing anything about this?”
The idea that nobody in Black communities works to stop community violence is racist, classist, and false.
In 1979, Ebony magazine made the first reference to “Black-on-Black crime,” saying, “Although the black community is not responsible for the external conditions that systematically create breeding grounds for crime, the community has the responsibility of doing what it can to attack the problem from within” (ABC News). These conditions were created by American white supremacy, as the government’s own 1968 Kerner Commission acknowledged when it wrote, “White society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it” (Smithsonian).
Commentators don’t bring up Black intra-community violence to change these conditions created by American racial capitalism (Truthout). And we never hear about white-on-white violence. The specter of “Black-on-Black crime” is not a sincere reckoning with the causes and effects of poverty and interpersonal violence in Black communities. It’s a racist dog whistle. More often than not, “Black-on-Black crime” is weaponized to deflect attention from anti-Black police violence.
After a tragic weekend with over 100 shootings in Chicago (Block Club Chicago), Fox News host Geraldo Rivera tweeted, “It was most violent single day in 6 decades, per Chicago Sun Times. Will #BlackLivesMatters speak out? Will anyone kneel for them?” (Twitter). The killings are mentioned not to mourn the dead, but only to attack Black Lives Matter. If Rivera cared about those killed, he wouldn’t discuss them only to oppose a movement for racial justice.
Historically, Black folks have been deemed lazy, unresourceful, and submissive (Smithsonian). To ask “why is nobody doing anything about this?” presumes that Black folks condone violence against their families, friends, and neighbors.
When individuals and the media perpetuate the notion that Black people in low-income neighborhoods are indifferent to interpersonal violence, they also erase the work of community organizers across the country. If Rivera cared about Black intra-community violence, he would have taken a few minutes to research how Chicago activists banded together to address community violence (Block Club Chicago). He would have cited Black women-led groups like Chicago’s Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK) and Philadelphia’s Mothers in Charge (MIC). He would have talked about campaigns like Baltimore’s Safe Streets, where community members de-escalate violent events and prevent violence at the source (Safe Streets).
Every day, people in inner cities work to eradicate violence in their communities. Groups like Operation Save Our City in Philly (Facebook), GoodKids MadCity in Chicago (GKMC), Take Back Our Streets in Oakland (Facebook), and Stand Up To Violence in the Bronx (Facebook) are all grassroots initiatives made up of people working to fight violence in their own communities. They receive minimal recognition and little acclaim. The majority of Americans simply don’t know they exist.
These grassroots anti-violence organizations are led by members of low-income communities themselves. One reason they receive little attention is classism. To a middle-class audience, their campaigns may seem less “professional” or “respectable” than those run by nonprofits or college groups. Even in the realm of racial justice, Black organizations that have representation from middle- or upper-class backgrounds often garner more attention. But those most directly affected by social problems often have the best knowledge about how to set them right, even if they have access to minimal resources and power.
The loss of independent news outlets is another barrier to learning about these community efforts. Independent outlets such as Block Club Chicago report on local organizing much more than national, mainstream publications. Supporting local, independent news led by writers of color can give exposure to the wonderful community organizations trying to help their neighborhoods thrive.
After highly-publicized Black intra-community violence, “Why is nobody doing anything about this?” is the wrong question.
We might consider some others:
“How can we support community organizations working on community violence?”
“How do we support activists beyond those we see on CNN or social media?”
“Why do organizations doing the most work on the ground get the least donations?”
“How can I help make sure all of the communities around me have the resources and safety their members need to thrive?”
We can’t do that until we unpack the idea of “Black-on-Black violence.”
In every city across America, Black people (often without needed resources) find ways to combat community violence in different ways.
Classism and elitism still occur in activist spaces. Community-based organizations and activists without degrees or professional connections can be at risk of getting overlooked.
It’s important to read local and independent news and media to learn about community-based efforts that mainstream media misses.