MIAMI — When little Marlon Eason, 10, was shot and killed near his Overtown home while doing what children do, social media lit up with complaints about the black community’s silence and its failure to take to the streets in protest.
The ten-year old was chasing a basketball when a bullet struck him in the head, fatally wounding the youngster who attended a charter school blocks away from his home. Just miles away, Richard Hallman, 16, met the same fate-the Booker T. Washington student was shot and killed by an unknown, presumably black assailant.
Both murders, lumped under the ubiquitous “Black on Black crime” heading, while tragic and painful, would be labeled differently if both youngsters and the suspected murderers were white. The moniker “White on White crime” doesn’t exist, and if it were up to Tameka Hobbs, Ph.D, an assistant professor at Florida Memorial University, the phrase “Black on Black crime” wouldn’t either.
“It’s a bit of a statistical trick. All crime in the United States is what we call intra-racial. Because of the way that we live, black people tend to commit more crimes against black people and white people tend to commit more crimes against white people,” said Hobbs, who teaches African-American History at FMU and whose background includes the extensive study of lynching and racial violence.
The widespread labeling of blacks who are murdered at the hands of other blacks as “Black on Black crime” and the mainstream media’s excessive focus on crime statistics in black communities is by design, she explained. “Why is it that we always hear about “Black on Black crime” and never “White on White crime,” Hobbs queried.
When white children are murdered by white people in white communities, their race and the race of their murderer is not a part of the news story, although 84 percent of whites are killed by whites.
Citing Khalil Muhammad’s book, ‘The Condemnation of Blackness,’” Hobbs said that there is a long history of the powers-that-be using “statistics to demonize and dehumanize African Americans.”
She said complaints that blacks protest when white police officers kill blacks but fail to do so when blacks kill each other are “unfair and inaccurate,” because “we will, and we do. There are peace rallies that continually go on in our community. They probably don’t rise to the level that everyone in the community would know about,” and they are not always covered by the media, but they happen.
Hobbs pointed out that when blacks take to the streets to protest police officers murdering blacks, the systemic nature of the offenses is a significant part of the outrage.
“The difference is…you have police officers acting under the color of the law using the power of their badge, or the power of their office…to commit these crimes,” Hobbs explained. She said that the injustices are compounded by what often happens after the crimes are committed.
“What’s more troubling is that then the whole machinery of the police force, the criminal justice force, the prosecutors and sometimes judges seem to be colluding together to protect officers from prosecution, when, in fact, they probably do deserve some type of punishment,” said Hobbs, who also serves as advisor to FMU’s Alliance for Justice.
She acknowledges that something must be done to curtail the violence in black communities, where 90 percent of murders are committed by other blacks.
“Do we have work to do, absolutely yes. But the whole “Black on Black crime” accusation and statistics should not be used to divert the real conversation of police brutality and white cops who shoot unarmed black people. Those are two separate conversations,” Hobbs said.
“We have to begin to change the conversation.” In addition to understanding how the phrase “Black on Black crime,” is used to dehumanize blacks, she said, it is necessary for blacks to look for ways to engage in underserved communities.
Mentoring, she said, is a great place to start; however, “we really need to have a real long and sustained conversation around economic development in the African-American community…it’s our Achilles heel,” she said.
“We are a culture that tends to be ahistorical. We don’t like to look back and connect the dots,” she explained. “But if you look at the very painful history of our history on theses shores, beginning with enslavement and continuing through Jim Crow, and some of the legacies of racism that are still with us today, there is a long history of black people being excluded from the economic greatness of this country,” Hobbs said.
She said many people without viable options for taking care of themselves often resort to whatever is available, whether legal or not.
“What we’re still dealing with are people who are still on the margins, who see no opportunity for themselves but the illegal trade and there is a whole culture that comes along with that, that embraces violence. That’s where a lot of this is born.”
“There is an entire system and a very long history that undergirds some of this very painful reality and those systemic issues must be addressed,” she said. Still, blacks have a role to play in restoring their communities.
“There are a lot of things in our control, especially around the black dollar. Until we can harness the economic engine that is the black dollar and begin to use it to create jobs in our community for people who are at the margins, who perhaps have records and can’t go out and get jobs because they have to check the box,” she said, the violence will continue.
Ronda Vangates, assistant attorney with Miami-Dade Public Schools, posted her outrage on Facebook. “If the senseless murder of a ten-year old does not make this community stand up and demand more, I don’t know what will. Our silence is deafening and our inaction is paralyzing.”