The black deaths that nobody wants to discuss
Black men are systematically shot in New York City and nobody seems to care because the triggers are not pulled by police officers. If you say the discussion about it is a diversion from racism, you are doing so on many graves. And how can someone say that it doesn’t matter?
The context is that New York City saw its bloodiest week in late April, with 46 different shooting events, a 300 percent increase from the same week in 2020. Those shootings were part of an overall increase in 2020 NYC shootings of 205 percent bloodiest number since 1996. The number of bodies continued to rise in early May.
Who dies 65 percent of the murder victims are black, although they make up less than a quarter of the city’s population. In the unsuccessful murders, e.g. B. “Shootings”, black Americans are over 70 percent of the victims. More and more young people are among the dead. This is because gang activity is fueling the shootings in the city. Over 90 percent of black homicide victims were killed by another black person, not the white supremacists or police officers that the media warn us about.
In 2020, 290 blacks were murdered and over 1,000 shot, almost all by other blacks. By comparison, only five of the 20 years of the war in Afghanistan have killed more Americans of all races. In a further comparison, five of the people killed by the New York police in 2020 were black.
One has to wonder which pile of bodies is really the distraction and which is really the more serious problem. This is what a systemic problem actually looks like.
A disproportionate number of murders and shootings take place in New York City’s vast world of public housing, the 2,602 buildings controlled by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Because so many people live “off the lease,” no one knows the actual NYCHA population, but it’s believed to be over 600,000. If NYCHA were its own city, it would have roughly the same population as Boston. While much of public housing is in “bad” neighborhoods, that’s not all. The enclosure was largely built on city-owned and available land and championed by liberals in the 1950s and 60s. Some of NYCHA’s worst residences are across from million dollar condos on the Upper East Side.
New York in general, and NYCHA in particular, is one of the most diverse places in America and the most separated. Approximately 27 percent of the city’s households in poverty are white, but less than 5 percent of NYCHA households are white. In contrast, about a quarter of the city’s poor households are black, but black households make up 45 percent of NYCHA units. But that doesn’t tell the real story either. NYCHA is separate building by building. Rutland Towers in East Flatbush is 94.9 percent black. Although Asians make up less than 5 percent of the total NYCHA population, the La Guardia addition at Two Bridges is 70 percent Asian.
NYCHA is also a very dangerous world. The NYPD counted 59 murders on NYCHA properties in 2020, an increase of 41 percent from 2019. The homicide rate in the projects is far worse than anywhere else. By the end of 2020, there were 15.5 murders per 100,000 people in the projects, compared to just four per 100,000 in other parts of the city. Police counted 257 shooting incidents in NYCHA projects in 2020, up 92 percent from 2019. 67 shootings were reported per 100,000 NYCHA residents, compared to 12 per 100,000 in the rest of the city. Lots of numbers that all add up in one direction.
The vast majority of these shootings are gang-related, the gangs in some of the worst places are black, and the beef is in control of the turf to sell drugs within the city’s vast Gulag archipelago. The mayor’s office recognizes this uncomfortable truth and circumvents it by blaming “interpersonal beef” for the shootings. Worried about the thin blue line when cops don’t testify against other cops? Try to find a witness to a murder of a black-on-black gang in the projects.
That was not always so. The last time NYC saw a drop in crime was in 1993 after Black Mayor David Dinkins launched a quality of life initiative. This was the cornerstone of the so-called “broken window” police. Minor violations such as graffiti, panhandling, and public urination result in disruption which, if left unturned, creates the impression that crime will be tolerated. Aggressive punishment of petty crimes creates perceived intolerance to crime, thereby reducing the number of serious crimes.
The numbers support this. New York City saw a sharp decline in homicides from 1990 to 1999. Homicides peaked in 1991, with an average of 22 homicides per 100,000 population, and fell to a low of just over four per 100,000 in 1998.
Everything changed with the election of Mayor Bill De Blasio in 2014. He eliminated the surveillance of broken windows and expressly prohibited the liberal use of stop and search tactics by the police. After the BLM, New York also stopped jailing people for many crimes for which they had previously been bailed and reduced covert and special police units.
After these changes, complaints about discriminatory policing decreased. But violent crime increased. People released under bail reform committed 299 other serious crimes in the past year that would never have occurred the year before.
Because lived experience is so important today, before De Blasio changed police policy, I was able to walk my dog around a nearby NYCHA complex. Nobody was gracious, but I was left alone. If I go to the same place today, a young man shows up and asks, “Are you buying?” and when I say no, he growls in response, “Get that shit out of here”.
Once believed to be the solution, these NYCHA islands are now incubators of the problem. We can argue about why they exist, but only in the face of the fact that absolutely nothing that has been tried over decades has made any significant difference. The death of young blacks continues.
It has proven next to impossible to provide incentives that exceed what the gangs have to offer, including easy cash, access to drugs, a sense of belonging, a rap music-encouraged lifestyle, and protection from other gangs. This is needed now more than ever as the police are pulling out (this year the NYPD saw a 75 percent increase in departures and retirements, the loss of over 5,300 police officers).
We’ve pondered longer-term solutions for decades, with NYC offering one of the most comprehensive menus of such ideas in the nation – near-free housing, education, internships, public health care, maternal and child benefits, before and after school programs, pre-K, school breakfast and lunches, college scholarships, help centers, free or low-cost public transportation, renaming, canceled statues and so on. There is little in the lives of those affected in New York that has not been touched to fix anything.
The standard progressive response to white people talking about black-on-black murders is that it is a distraction from the real problems, a trick of misdirection, and a way to minimize the real problem of the police killings. That ignores the harsh light; The NYC score is 290 dead in a black-on-black homicide of five dead who were killed by police. They bandage all wounds but start with the most life threatening.
Another argument is that black Americans already talk a lot about racial violence, and that is enough. But it is also our country and our city. We all live here and – sorry to break the tale – many of us care for others who are beyond us. We can also talk about more than one thing at a time, especially when the media, politicians and black leaders give us the space and stop to end the dialogue and keep the wound open.
White Americans talking about violence in the black community are not a palliative for other violence, but an acknowledgment that complex problems exist that cannot be solved by ignoring some things and others with argumentative expressions of racism and systemic bias that are now being reduced even further to encode words like “1619”. The work is pretty easy when you put it all down to one thing, racism, like it really is that simple.
Yet while we wait for all of this to be cleared up, the young black men of NYCHA seem to be making our choice between aggressive (“discriminatory”) policing, which rudely puts many of them in jail, even if it saves lives, or easier Police work that allows young blacks to kill other young blacks as they wish. It’s almost as if their lives don’t matter when the politics of race are at stake.
Peter Van Buren is the author of We meant well: How I helped lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, Hoopers War: A World War II novel in Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A 99 percent story.
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