Can We Retire ‘Black-on-Black Crime’ and ‘Superpredators’?

bill clinton


Remember when the NAACP had a symbolic funeral for the N-word in 2007 and even those of us who pretend we never say it laughed because 1) Black folks’ appropriation of the word, however complicated, is among the least of our problems and 2) it was just…weird? Well, let me offer my apologies now, because I would like them to pull out that casket and have a physical homegoing service for the canard that is Black-on-Black Crime™.

Actually, I kinda thought we had gotten Black-on-Black Crime™ out of the paint some time ago. I’ve observed what appears to be a cultural shift, among Black folks at least, in the dialogue around violence in our neighborhoods—we aren’t ignoring the issues, but instead, expanding our understanding of the systems that put guns in the hands of broken, disenfranchised young Black people. We’re reminding one another (and the rest of the world) that most victims of violent crime are harmed by people who look like them, and despite the wide-spread belief that African Americans are a national community that should aspire to a deeper sense of responsibility towards one another, it’s unreasonable to single out Black-on-Black Crime™  when we never hear the words “White-on-White crime,” when yet another young White male goes on a murderous rampage and shoots up a school, unless it’s from a pundit like myself asking why we don’t.

I would have hoped that the brightest among us might understand that Black-on-Black Crime™ can no longer be used to redirect conversations about racism because it is the product of racism. Surely someone as intelligent as President Bill Clinton, who has enjoyed his status as Black America’s fourth favorite president (behind Obama, Kennedy and Jesus), should know better than to point a finger at Black-on-Black Crime™. Surely someone who was embraced by Black people so much so that his 2001 relocation to Harlem was welcomed with open arms by many who should have instead hollered “There goes the neighborhood” (don’t know if you’ve been there lately, but Harlem’s 125th Street is a Sketchers store and Auntie Anne’s away from becoming a mall in Middle America) would know better, right?

Wrong. Confronted by Black Lives Matter protestors at a Philadelphia event on Thursday, Mr. Clinton revealed a gross misunderstanding of the modern-day social justice movement: “This is what’s the matter. I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-olds hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African American children. Maybe you thought they were good citizens. You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter! Tell the truth! You are defending the people who caused young people to go out and take guns.”

Surely the cloud that Mr. Clinton’s 1994 crime bill has cast over his wife’s second presidential campaign, most especially her use of the racially-charged term “super predators” in a now-infamous 1996 speech, would have led someone as bright and articulate as Mr. Clinton to choose his words about that subject carefully, though he has since “almost apologized.”  I mean, considering that both he and the former First Lady have expressed contrition over their contributions to what we now call “mass incarceration,” how could yesterday’s embarrassing clash with Black Lives Matters protestors have happened?

How could Mr. Clinton defend “super predators” when Secretary Clinton has said, “I should not have used those words then and I would not use them now?” And just weeks after a top advisor to President Richard Nixon confirmed what many of us known for quite some time: that the “War on Drugs” criminalized and targeted Blacks, how could Mr. Clinton use Black-on-Black Crime™ as a scapegoat once again?

Let’s make it clear so we can avoid this conversation again. (And that’s right, talking to you too, Ray Lewis and your barrels-filled-with-guns and 25-year sentencing solution).

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The “super predators” that plague Black neighborhoods aren’t the gangbangers or even the gang leaders, they are the ones who funneled drugs into impoverished communities that had been discouraged from having the sort of racial pride, collective responsibility and self-determination that may have stopped the crack epidemic before it even began. Presidents Nixon and Regan were “super predators.” If we want to keep it real, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, author of an eponymous report spoke to a mythological inherent deficiency in the Black family that was used to suggest that civil rights legislation couldn’t help African Americans, may be described as a “super predator.”

This is not to suggest that Black people are blameless perpetual adolescents who are to be excused from any individual accountability for the crimes that have taken place on our streets—especially not those who chose to involve themselves with the sale of hard drugs and violence when they had other options—but that the problems that are unique to our communities are far too complicated to be painted or dismissed with the broad brush that is Black-on-Black Crime™.

Mr. Clinton has offered a tepid defense for his words—“I rather vigorously defended my wife, as I am wont to do”—and stopped short of apologizing. Time will tell how much of a toll, if any, this may take on her campaign. The former president has suggested that the clash could be a teachable moment for those who don’t know how to listen to people with varying opinions; I most certainly agree. Here’s to hoping that he, and anyone else clinging on to the Black-on-Black superpredator myth will be among them.


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