No, Rudy Giuliani, black-on-black crime does not excuse police killing black Americans

On Meet the Press Sunday, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said of the controversy in Ferguson, Missouri involving the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, “Ninety-three percent of blacks are killed by other blacks.” He added, “I would like to see the attention paid to that that you are paying to this.”

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This began an argument with Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, who shot back, “Black people who kill black people go to jail.” “White people who are policemen who kill black people do not go to jail,” Dyson added.

Even if Giuliani is not necessarily wrong in his facts, those facts have nothing to do with the subject at hand. Giuliani is not the first Republican or conservative to demonstrate such an astounding tone deafness on this issue.

As Ferguson erupted, many conservatives made the same argument as Giuliani, that somehow black-on-black crimes rates should be the focus rather than whether black lives seem to matter less to law enforcement on a routine basis than white lives.

Just two days after Michael Brown was killed, National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke addressed the controversy in Ferguson:

(F)ar too many conservatives have today taken a different road, responding to the news instead by insistently and smugly repeating a non sequitur. “Well,” these types have inquired on Twitter and beyond, “what about black on black violence, huh?” Distilled into its purest form, this request boils down to a scoff: “Why, pray, are the people of Ferguson so worried about this  unlovely episode, when almost 500 black Americans die at the hands of other black Americans every month?”

This is a peculiar and inappropriate response. Whatever its cause, it is indisputably true that the United States has a problem with blacks killing blacks. And yet this has absolutely nothing to do with the question at hand…

whether or not it is intentional, reacting to a community’s grief by raising an entirely separate topic smacks largely of distraction — of reflexively throwing up a roadblock to what is a legitimate line of inquiry in the hope that the subject might swiftly be changed.

Can it be any surprise that many black voters believe conservatives are deaf to their concerns when “this cop shot my unarmed son!” is met by so many with “but there are lots of citizen murders in this city; let’s talk about that instead”?

Such conflations do violence to time-honored American conceptions of law and liberty. The problems of black-on-black crime and the alleged miscarriage of justice in Ferguson are discrete issues per se. But they are philosophically separate, too.

If officer Darren Wilson is exonerated, it will not mean that African-Americans have simply imagined that they have become police targets and this one case was the deciding factor, as many will no doubt claim. Black Americans being abused or killed by police is not new and it is certainly not imaginary. This is especially true in Ferguson.

The death of Michael Brown became a flashpoint because perceptions by the black community reflect a larger truth: Black Americans have been killed by police officers at a disproportionate rate for a very long time without anyone questioning why, and without many in power thinking it was worth addressing.

Focusing on black-on-black crime as the only culprit lays the entire blame on the black community without any acknowledgment of many of the disturbing ways in which law enforcement has treated those communities.

To fix these problems we can no longer have one-way conversations. Americans, black, brown and white, have to stop talking past each other. As I wrote in October:

It’s intellectually dishonest for whites to judge the black protesters seen marching in the streets of Ferguson and St. Louis without some sort of acknowledgment of the systemic injustice that continues to be part of the black experience in the United States.

In my experience, the mere suggestion that blacks might be suffering an inordinate amount, particularly for reasons beyond black people’s control, irritates many whites. Many whites find it easy to blame blacks but are extremely averse to even considering that some of their grievances might be justified.

If we’re going to make this country better, we’re all going to have to start listening to each other and try to be more understanding in ways we haven’t before. For too long, particularly when these types of controversies arise, it has been blacks talking to each other and whites talking to each other but not enough of both talking to one another. We probably need more listening than talking.

Black Americans have a pressing story to tell, in Ferguson, St. Louis and beyond. And it is tragic. Let’s hear it.

What do you think?

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