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Combatting The Stereotypes About Black Crime

Combatting The Stereotypes About Black Crime image Combatting The Stereotypes About Black Crime image
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In Dec. 1986, The Michigan Daily printed a racist cartoon which depicted Black teenagers in Detroit as mindless criminals.In self defense the cartoonist claimed that he was only trying to make a statement about the pervasiveness of violent Black on Black crime in cities like Detroit. It did not occur to him to make any statement about the racially motivated white on Black crime which has been on the upsurge in recent months, or even more prevalent, the rich on poor crime which the Reagan administration has mandated at virtually all levéis of govemment. Three short weeks later a vivid example of what this type of thoughtless, yet inexcusably racist stereotyping leads to. In late Dec., three Black men had the extreme misfortune of having their car break down in the Howard Beach section of Queens, New York. When they entered a local pizza parlor in search of help, one patrón immediately called the pólice informing them that three "suspicious" Black men were there and they should come and "check them out." Before the pólice arrived, a racist mob armed with baseball bats surrounded the three men and began chasing them through the streets, beating, kicking and punching them mercilessly and screaming "get out of our neighborhood, niggers." In a desperate attempt to escape, one of the victims, 23 year old Michael Griffith, ran out onto a nearby freeway and was struck and killed by a hit and run driver. Some might argue that the racist punks who killed Michael Griffith are exceptions and no cause for alarm, but the facts and history belie this argument. What is as alarming as this brutal murder is the widespread support for the attack among other Howard Beach residents. When a group of predominantly Black protesters marched into the neighborhood a few days after the incident, a mob of 200 whites jeered, spit upon and threw rocks at the marchers, calling them "niggers" and "niggerlovers." In interviews with the press, other Howard Beach residents made comments like: "this sort of thing was bound to happen; 'people' are just tired of 'them' (blacks) ripping us off,' and "if they (the victims) werc over here, they were probably up to no good, but its too bad things got out of hand" (just a plain, old-fashioned flogging would have been okay, I suppose). The reason I have equated the seemingly "benign" stereotype suggested in the Daily cartoon to the brutal act of physical violence which characterized the Howard Beach incident is because I think there is a very thin line beween the two. The right-wing analysis of Black crime - that we are all violent savages and need to be either caged or lynched - is one that is clearly racist and dangerous, but (see CRIME, page 9) ". . . so-called 'cultural' explanations for crime ignore the reality that most poor Black people are not crimináis or drug addicts, and most have more moral values and dignity than most politicians and corporate leaders. In fact, with the recent exposure of the Iran-gate scandal and with Watergate still fresh in our memory, there seem to be a lot more crimináis in Washington these days than on the streets of Detroit, Chicago or Harlem." CRIME (from page 4) more subtle, and equally dangerous, is the parallel liberal view of Black crime: that there is a tremendous violent and anti-social tendency among poor Black youth, not because we are innately this way, but because of the so-called "culture of poverty," rooted in "unstable" family structures and the lack of moral guidance. This view, although it seems more benevolent, is a classic cxample of blaming the victim. It ignores the social bases for crime, and the cultural and economie norms that reinforce it. Moreover, so-called "cultural" explanations for crime ignore the reality that most poor Black people are not crimináis or drug addicts, and most have more moral values and dignity than most politicians and corporate leaders. In fact, with the recent exposure of the Iran-gate scandal and with Watergate still fresh in our memory, there seem to be a lot more crimináis in Washington these days than on the streets of Detroit, Chicago or Harlem. There is so much legalizad violence embedded in the current domestic and foreign policies of this administration that we should look carefully at how we define crime in this society. A second point to be made in response to racist stereotypes about Black crime is that the few Black youth who do turn to crime, do so not because they are "social deviants," but because they succumb to the corrupt social messages implicit in much o'f the dominant culture; a culture which promotes violence, materialist greed and cutthroat competition. Kids who watch movies like Rambo, Miami Vice, and Dynasty, and then are thrown into a situation where guns and drugs are more readily available than scholarships and jobs, are not "deviating" from the cultural norm, they are simply using their meager resources to emulate the values and images which the society promotes. However, very few of the politicians ostensibly concemed with youth crime and drug abuse are even talking about the sources of these problems, only the symptoms. Their solution is more jails for both the young people and their parents. This narrow and racist view of the origins and scope of crime in our society fuels the kind of mentality that leads to pólice harassment and brutality on the one hand, and vigilante violence on the other. Pólice harassment of Black youth in Detroit, New York and other communities is scandalous. One vivid example is the Michael Stewart case in New York two years ago, where a young Black artist was murdered by the New York City Pólice after being arrested for allegedly writing graffiti on a subway train. Although this is one of the few cases the media picked up on, it is by no means isolated. In fact, growing up as a Black teenager in Detroit in the 1970's, I too was a victim of pólice harassment on more than one occasion, despite the fact that I was never guilty of any crime. Once I was pulled over at gunpoint with two friends because, as the cops put it, we "looked suspicious." Although we were rightfully humiliated and outraged by the incident, the pólice treated it as routine and did not even bother to apologize. In addition to pólice harassment of Black and Latino youth, there has been a significant upsurge in vigilante violence against theses same targets. Many of these incidents are related to the stereotype of the Black criminal or at least rely upon that stereotype as justification. For example, Bemard Goetz, the white New York subway vigilante who shot three Black youths on a crowded subway train who were alledgedly attempting to rob him, was immediately heralded as a crime fighting hero by thousands of New Yorkers. Even before all the facts in the case were revealed, many people leapt to Goetz's defense, assuming that any young Black men, especially two with previous criminal records, were undoubtedly guilty by virtue of who they were, not what they had done. More recent examples of racist violence include: the Black military cadet at the Citadel who was attacked by a gang of white cadete wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods; the Black University of Massachussets students who were beaten and called "niggers" after a sports event; and the Jan 16 Martin Luther King day march in Forsythe County, Georgia, which was disrupted by 300 KKK members carrying Confedérate flags, throwing stones and boules and yelling "niggers go home." These are all frightening by-products of the conservative period in which we are living - a period in which the most opressed groups in our society are bearing the brunt of the economie chaos and the anger, violence, and scapegoating that has grown out of it The upsurge in racial violence, the continuing prevalence of pólice harassment and the dangerous "blame the victim" mentality inherent in the stereotype of the Black criminal must be vigorously opposed by all progressive forces. This is why a broad based multi-racial coalition which recognizes the importance of Black and Third World leadership, and has and-racist politics at its foundation is desparately needed, not only in Ann Arbor, but across the country. Anti-racist politics can and should be integrated into our Latín American solidarity work, our peace and disarmament work; our anti-hunger work, and all other progressive struggles.


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