Megyn Kelly of Fox News recently demanded Cornel West explain why #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t protest “black on black” violence. After all, far more blacks kill each other than police do. Megyn is not alone. Many others, including several black “leaders” have raised the same battle cry. The real issue is not police violence but that Negroes are simply pathological killers, determined to do harm to each other…right?
The entire sensationalized narrative around “black on black” crime is utterly nonsensical. In China, Chinese people kill Chinese people. In America, whites kill whites. In fact, between 1976 and 2005, 86% of all white homicide victims were killed by white offenders. If, however, the argument is blacks are disproportionately perpetrators of homicidal violence, given our numbers that may be a discussion worth having (although rates of violent crime among black youth have been at forty year lows). A little American history might help us get a handle on the issue at hand.
Over a five year period, one street gang in Detroit was estimated to have been responsible for 500 unsolved murders. This is outside of those which were solved! The members of the gang were mostly from poverty-stricken neighborhoods, many of which became breeding grounds for crime. The gang mostly started with petty thefts and the like but ultimately, the economic opportunity in an unregulated industry lured them to violence and terror, turning the city’s streets into a bloodbath. The gang was the Purple Gang, a collection of Jewish kids mostly from Eastern European immigrant neighborhoods. The time was the 1920’s and 1930’s, when many poor immigrant communities were desperate for economic opportunity. The unregulated industry that promised economic mobility was the illegal liquor business. After the 18th Amendment was passed, outlawing the making, transporting and selling of alcohol, the country moved to enforce the measure with a heavy hand from law enforcement. We commonly refer to the era as “Prohibition,” when black markets popped up and with it, a wave of unprecedented violence.
While the Purple Gang was terrorizing Detroit, Al Capone was wreaking similar havoc in Chicago. Many petty criminals in other cities across the country, often from poor immigrant communities, graduated to crime syndicates as Prohibition brought many of these groups into serious cash. An unregulated industry with immense profits and no legitimate recourse to settle disputes could have no other result. Even with all the bloodshed, violence and terror inflicted by these European gangsters, the country understood that it had to attack the policy responsible for the violence and not the people. To that end, Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Today we have a very similar problem but rather than attack the policy we attack the people. The policy is the prohibition and enforcement of narcotics (as opposed to alcohol) and the people are not poor, Eastern European immigrants but blacks in poor neighborhoods.
Dr. Jeffrey Miron, a scholar from Harvard University, asserts in a 1999 paper that in black markets violence is used to resolve commercial disputes. Further, it is not only the legal prohibition of a substance that spurs violence but the degree to which that prohibition is actually enforced. For example, drug prohibition existed after the repeal of alcohol prohibition but was not vigorously enforced for some time (measured primarily by enforcement expenditures) and thus the homicide rate did not spike immediately. While many would concede to all this, few understand how dramatic and far reaching the consequences of such policies are. According to Miron’s research in 1999, there were two periods, roughly, of high homicide rates in U.S History: the 1920-1933 period and the 1970-1990 period. After the repeal of alcohol prohibition, the homicide rate dropped quickly and remained low until prohibition expenditures began to rise again in the 1960’s and the 1970’s. The homicide rate was actually lowest when neither drug or alcohol prohibition existed. Overall, Miron finds a strong, positive relationship between spending on prohibition enforcement and the homicide rate.
Miron is not alone. Neill Franklin, a former commander in Maryland’s Bureau of Drug Enforcement and current Executive Director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), asserts that the majority of homicides in any American city are drug related. In his old stomping grounds of Baltimore City, in fact, Franklin puts the percentage of homicides that are drug related at seventy five or eighty percent! That is quite substantial and frankly, appalling. Yet there is broad consistency with prohibition enforcement and homicide rates. The same observations can be made in Mexico and various other places in the world where vigorous enforcement of prohibition has been adopted.
Ultimately, there must be a connection drawn between alcohol prohibition of yesteryear and the context of street violence today. Many Eastern European immigrants, lacking economic opportunities, latched on to an industry that was hiring in their neighborhood but that had no legitimate means to resolve conflict. As such, the illegal liquor business grew to become quite violent. As spending on prohibition enforcement increased so did the homicide rate and dramatically so in many cities like Detroit. Seeing the negative impacts of the policy, the nation repealed alcohol prohibition. Today there is another prohibited industry in need of a labor supply. Without the ability to legally resolve disputes, the illegal drug business is quite violent. As blacks have remained at the lower end of the economic ladder, the industry is hiring that marginalized group to participate. The consequences are horrible for poor, black neighborhoods.
Frankly, it is crazy to believe that young black men wake up with natural cravings to rack up murder charges. As was the case during alcohol prohibition, drug prohibition is spurring the vast majority of violence in our cities and the most likely employees to sign on to the working conditions of the drug game are those with fewer options: poor, black youth. Due to race, however, this time around we refuse to attack the policy but choose to continue attacking the people. We won’t end this prohibition because it’s much more convenient to wax on about the “pathology” of black folks and to make cheap political points about crime and safety. The issue isn’t “black on black” crime. As it was then, the issue is still prohibition.