Two days after I received a call from Bennie Swans, a well-known community activist in Myrtle Beach, a reader’s call pulled me down from a short-lived high.
Swans told me that a drug dealer we sat down with several months ago and admonished and probed and encouraged to think through his destructive lifestyle had turned a corner.
He had moved away from the area, gotten away from the drug game and has been holding down a steady job since.
It’s a small but important victory in a much larger war.
It’s a topic I’ve dealt with several times, but each time with trepidation, because I know the racial stereotypes rolling around people’s brains.
I suspect the woman who called me was just trying to make sense of a subject upon which she only has passing knowledge.
This is what she said, in full:
“Mr. Bailey, you don’t have to get back to me. I just want to state an opinion. I’m an 87-year-old white lady and the reason I’m saying that is because I’m sick and tired of picking up the paper everyday and hearing on the television about these black young people that are killing, murdering, robbing, slaughtering, doing everything day after day. So, on one of your columns, I wish you’d write it on that. And they need to be straightened up or sent to jail for years and years or something; it’s just getting prohibitive. And that is my opinion, so maybe I’ll see it in the paper when you write your column. OK, thank you. It’s disgusting. It’s always the black ones that are doing this. Well, 99 percent of the time it is. They need some parents to straighten them up or do something with them. Bye.”
This was on a day in which I wrote about politics.
Other stories in the paper included news about a rise in Social Security payments, an expanding airport and a heated presidential debate.
Readers were told about Surfside Beach’s search for a police chief and former Myrtle Beach High School standout Everett Golson’s post-concussion symptoms from last weekend’s Notre Dame game.
There was a story about a man accused of killing a Myrtle Beach pediatrician. He will appear in a Kansas court.
Then there were briefs about an Ohio woman being jailed on a prostitution charge, an elderly couple robbed and a salesman charged with tax evasion.
But none of that – nor a prominent image of the nation’s first-black president on the front page – could overshadow 2 mug shots of a black couple facing carjacking and attempted murder charges.
Perceptions based on incomplete or misleading information are hard to dispel.
Earlier this year Mike Males, senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, wrote about the violent black youth myth in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy.
“The latest figures from the FBI, Bureau of Justice Statistics and public health agencies show that among black youth, rates of robbery and serious property offenses are the lowest in more than 40 years,” he wrote. “Rates of murder and rape are now lower than when nationwide crime statistics first appeared in 1965.”
FBI statistics released this week showed a slight increase in the number of white and Latinos victims of serious violence – but not among blacks.
“In Chicago in 1994, the worst year with the highest murder rate, 168 of every 100,000 black teens ages 15-19 died from homicide — a rate nearly 20 times higher than for white teens,” Males wrote. “But even in this worst and most tragic situation, murder remained rare, less than two-tenths of 1 percent. It was far from being a behavior that characterized all black youth there — or anywhere else. Since the early 1990s, homicide deaths and arrests have plunged by 70 percent among black youth in Chicago and nationwide — making this generation even less deserving than past ones of being condemned for wanton killing.”
Research also shows that young black men are arrested and convicted more and given longer sentences even when they have similar backgrounds and commit similar crimes as their white counterparts.
That’s in part because so many people harbor an unnecessary fear of black men, which imbeds in the subconscious and manifests itself in ways that make things worse.
I would have deleted the caller’s message if I didn’t know there were others who think as she does.
I know – because I hear from them, too.
I just don’t much like talking about them.
But every now and again, it’s important to expose false perceptions that make finding solutions harder.
Viewing black people in the worst possible light – or pretending crime is solely a black problem – won’t solve the serious issues we face.
Contact ISSAC J. BAILEY at 626-0357, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.com @TSN_IssacBailey.