Fresh Takes Opinion — 19 September 2014

LETTER TO THE EDITOR:

Editor,

I had to respond to your editorial on the controversy surrounding the Ferguson, Missouri shooting (08/29/14, Vol. 26, No. 1).  Like many reviewers, you are focused on the troubles that occurred after the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American youth, and seem to know what led to this shooting. Unfortunately, no one knows what truly happened since the Ferguson Police Department and the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office has been so tight lipped about the investigation.  I fault them for much of the post-shooting problems by not being forthcoming about the incident.

However, you write about young black males being gunned down by white men.  You state,  “Most troubling though is the fact that Michael Brown’s killing much like Trayvon Martin’s in 2012, is just another example of unarmed teenagers being gunned down in the street by white men.”  While you do not explicitly say it, you are implying that this is a common occurrence and happens far too often.  Really?  What most people do not realize, or do not wish to know is the true nature of a national tragedy that has been going on with young African-American men for far too long: the overwhelming homicide rate of young black men at the hands of other young black men.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2011 alone almost 50 percent of homicide victims were black and overwhelmingly male.  46 percent were white and 4 percent were classified as other.  African-Americans only make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet make up half of the homicide victims almost every year.  The other part of this tragic equation is the offenders.  The assailants in over 90 percent of these murders were also African-Americans and mostly males while white suspects accounted for only 7 percent of all murders of African-Americans in 2011.  These percentages hold true in 2012 and 2013 and in a review of homicide rates by the U.S. Department of Justice from 1980 to 2008 these percentages change very little.

As a nation, we are more sensitive to the killing of a black person by a white suspect due to our history of lynchings and other atrocities at the hands of bigots and the KKK that occurred between the end of the Civil War and into the 1960s and sometimes beyond. But the reality today is far different about African-Americans’ homicide rates. We could debate the societal problems such as poor schools, a lack of jobs, living in high crime areas and such that many blacks and other still face today that have helped to create this heartbreak, but so far no politician, no community “leader,” nor the press has been vocal about this. 

While the death of Michael Brown is a tragedy, as is any violent death, you do not know what happened. You mentioned the Utah shooting of a white college student killed by the police in Utah that same week, which included a black police officer firing his weapon at the student.  As with all police incidents, we will not know what happened until the officer involved shooting investigations are complete both cases. They may both be justifiable shootings or they may be classified as something less and now potentially prosecutable, but until that time, people with no knowledge of the individual cases or the police continue to render judgments based on personal biases not knowledge. 

Please in the future, if you are going to opine about a controversy, at least have some actual facts as your basis for that opinion.  Never mind the poorly worded “Express Yourself” that accompanied this editorial, to do otherwise is simply poor journalism and beneath any newspaper wishing to be taken seriously. 

 

Mark Tarte

RESPONSE:

First of all, Mark, I would like to offer you a sincere thanks for your readership. It’s much appreciated.

Not sure if I cared for that whole “poor journalism” thing, but I understand that not everyone who reads this column is going to agree with or even like what I write.

Comes with the territory — I’m cool with it.

But I would like to respond to a few points of contention you raised in your letter and perhaps provide some of the facts which have formed the basis of my argument. And I would like to do so with all due respect to you. A man who, by all accounts I’ve heard, has served this school well.

The first thing I feel that I should address is your point on the issue of violence perpetrated by black Americans against black Americans — yes, of course that occurs far too often and is a tragedy in and of itself.

But, at the same time, raising that topic seems to serve the same purpose it does in our national discourse — diverting from an issue that is uncomfortable for many to even consider. Race.

It’s what The Atlantic has described as “the politics of changing the subject.”

And to say that “no politician” and “no community ‘leader(s)’” have addressed the issue is incorrect. Al Sharpton had held an anti-gun violence summit in Chicago a month before Michael Brown was shot.

It’s been a topic addressed in the arts many times over such as in the film “Boyz N the Hood” or Kendrick Lamar’s masterful LP “good kid, m.A.A.d city.”

I just don’t think that because black-on-black violence occurs it somehow means that black people are not killed by white people and that it doesn’t make that any less problematic.

Or any less prevalent.

According to the FBI’s own statistics, in a period spanning from 2005 to 2012, a black American was killed by a police officer in America twice a week on average.

In nearby Oakland, the NAACP has reported that between 2004 and 2008, 37 out of 45 fatal police-involved shootings were against black people.

ColorLines and The Chicago Reporter did a study of 10 major American cities which concluded that “the percentage of black people killed by police was at least double that of their share of the city’s total population” in cities like New York, San Diego and Las Vegas.

I do understand the point you made about the Ferguson Police Department’s findings about the shooting not being made official and that I, Travis Danner, “do not know what happened.”

But, the fact remains that Michael Brown was shot and killed in the street almost a month and a half ago, and FPD have provided nothing but varying accounts of what happened. No consistency. No official incident report.

On the other hand, eyewitnesses all tell a similarly disturbing story. Brown was likely struck with gunfire as he fled. He eventually turned to the officer with his hands up and was then shot multiple times including at the top of the skull.

What is most vital to this discussion though, when we talk about race, is that we must remember to listen carefully to and pay credence to the perspectives and feelings people different from us have on this topic.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll from earlier this month showed that 72 percent of black people believe the police do not treat blacks and whites equally compared to 31 percent of whites. 60 percent of blacks believe that police use excessive force compared to just 30 percent of whites.

There’s a major problem there.

We could argue the factors which could cause black people to feel that way. You suggested that “poor schools, a lack of jobs (and) living in high crime areas,” could potentially contribute to the “heartbreak” experienced by the black community.

I would point to the “War on Drugs” waged since the early 1970’s which has operated more as a war on the poor and disadvantaged.

But again that’s changing the subject. The point of all this, and the point I was trying to make with my column is that there is still a problem with race in America that can’t be swept under the rug.

Unfairly or not, it’s still a part of our shared American experience. Instances like the shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin are painful reminders of the fact that yes, life in America, for many black people, is still inherently harder than it is for whites.
As uncomfortable as it may be to put ourselves in other people’s shoes — we have to. It’s important.

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