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Originally published Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 3:03 AM

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America needs to re-examine systemic racism after Ferguson shooting

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. warns not to talk about “black on black” crime in relation to the Ferguson, Mo., shooting, but to talk about the larger societal dynamics in play,


Syndicated columnist

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OK, fine. ­Let’s talk about “black on black” crime.

That, after all, is where the conversation seems to inevitably turn whenever one seeks to engage a conservative on the American habit of shooting unarmed African-American boys and men. So it was exasperating, but nowhere near surprising, to see former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani go there last week on “Meet the Press.”

Asked by host Chuck Todd, during a discussion of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., about the fact that African-American communities like that one are often served by snow-white police departments, he offered some perfunctory words about the effort to produce more representative cop shops. But then Giuliani took a sharp turn off topic and into the brambles. “I find it very disappointing,” he told Todd, “that you’re not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. ... I would like to see the attention paid to that that you are paying to this.”

There followed a sharp exchange with another panelist, author and professor Michael Eric Dyson, which produced this parting shot from the mayor: “The white police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other.”

Somehow, he managed not to call Dyson “you people.” In nearly every other respect, Giuliani’s words reeked of a paternalistic white supremacy unworthy of a former mayor of America’s largest city — or even a sewer worker in its remotest Podunk. But again, this has become the go-to “reasoning” for those on the right — Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh — when asked to give a damn about the killings of unarmed black boys and men.

That formulation is false for multiple reasons.

In the first place, being concerned over the shooting of unarmed black men hardly precludes being concerned over violence within the African-American community. Giuliani and others suggest a dichotomy where none exists.

In the second place, they ignore the obvious: When black people commit crimes against black people, they face prosecution, but when police officers (or certain neighborhood watchmen) commit crimes against black people, they face getting off with little if any punishment.

In the third place, what exactly is “black on black” crime?

Do black people kill one another? Sure they do. Ninety percent of black murder victims are killed by black assailants.

But guess what? White people kill one another, too. Eighty-three percent of white victims are killed by white assailants. See, the vast majority of violent crime is committed within — not between — racial groups. Crime is a matter of proximity and opportunity. People victimize their own rather than drive across town to victimize somebody else.

So another term for “black on black” crime is crime.

But there is crime and there is crime.

Redlining, loan discrimination and predatory mortgages have stripped generations of wealth from the African-American community. What is that if not robbery?

The Republican Party practices policies of voter suppression. That’s the assault and battery of African-American political rights.

Mass incarceration criminalizes the very existence of black men and boys. That’s the rape of equal justice.

Unarmed people are killed by those who are purportedly there to protect and serve them and the “just us” system looks the other way. That’s the murder of basic human rights.

It is touching that Giuliani and others are so concerned about black on black crime. But African Americans have also been long oppressed by what might be called “America on black” crime.

When do you suppose they’ll be ready to talk about that?

Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Email: lpitts@miamiherald.com



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