It’s been a good stretch recently of headlines detailing what’s been going wrong, particularly when it comes to young black men and police officers. Those stories are necessary, because there are real problems. But we must not forget that broader, overall context.
A few things I shared with my Facebook friends recently:
Some context I'm coming across for my next column:
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Only about 2 percent of black men are likely to commit a violent crime in any given year. A black teen in 2012 was as likely to commit a crime as a white teen from 1959. On the other side, most cops never fire their gun during their entire careers - let alone use them to shoot black men, or anybody else. And it has never been safer to be a police officer in this country that it is right now. While there are problems among young black men, and police officers, that are serious and need addressing, we shouldn't lose sight of the overall reality, because when we do, that's where stereotypes and fear take hold - and when they do, we often do dumb, dangerous things in response and unnecessarily harden divides.
Something you probably don't know about young black men and crime, because folks like me (members of the media) don't tell you frequently enough because we tend to focus more on highlighting wrong and what needs to be done to make things right, rather than the things that are already going well, or getting better:
“Today’s young African Americans display the lowest rates of crime and serious risk of any generation that can be reliably assessed,” according to a 2013 Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice report. “In the last 20 years in particular, the FBI reports, rates of crime among African American youth have plummeted: All offenses (down 47%), drug offenses (down 50%), property offenses (down 51%), serious Part I offenses (down 53%), assault (down 59%), robbery (down 60%), all violent offenses (down 60%), rape (down 66%), and murder (down 82%).”
The same decline in the black teen and abortion rate has been ongoing as well, which dovetails with what's been going on in the country overall among most groups. We have to find a better way to tell the hard stories and highlight real problems - and there remain real problems on all of these issues - without ignoring this broader reality.
And this: There are problems - real, serious, deep-seated - that we have to contend with, particularly when it comes to young black dudes and crime. I've seen it first-hand in my professional and personal life. No one has to tell me. But when we don't put things into proper context, we create fear and stereotypes that end up making things worse. When people believe there's something wrong with black men, they are more likely (logically) to not really want to hire them, feel safe around them, even if on a subconscious level - which impacts our behavior more than people like to admit. That's why we have to think about this:
There are about 6,000 black men killed in America every year - but that's out of 21 million black men. And the raw number of black men who actually commit murder in any given year is even smaller. We too often talk about how many times a group is more likely to do something than another group, etc. That makes sense sometimes. But when we leave it there, we leave the impression that an entire group, or most of it, is either committing crime or victims of violent crime - and that's simply not true.
And this: Here is one other thing I'll share before I jump on this plane: The one thing that still seems to be stubborn when it comes to young black dudes - even with all the improvement in the crime rate I've just posted - is the prevalence of gun violence and deaths. That's why you hear people like me talk about the need to reform our gun laws, to change the gun culture, not because I want to take away anyone's right to defend himself, but because I know the harm still being caused by guns in this particular community.