Black on Black, Redefined

LEROY MOBLEY

December 09, 1992|By LEROY MOBLEY

Aplethora recent of articles laments the atrocity of black-on-black crime. This condemnation almost always refers to street felonies and drug-related offenses. This narrow definition of black-on-black crime has caused much finger-pointing at the criminals by middle- and upper-class blacks. It is time for less finger-pointing and a more inclusive definition of black-on-black crime.

The report of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives regarding the number of blacks aged 18 to 35 enmeshed in Baltimore's criminal-justice system made it painfully clear that there are more culprits in the black-on-black crime syndrome than heretofore considered. And they are not limited to the drug-dealers and users portrayed on the local TV news.

The report stated that in 1991 there were 60,715 black men between the ages of 18-35 in Baltimore, and 35,025 of them were under criminal-justice supervision. Herbert Hoelter, director and co-founder of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, said: ''The war on drugs has been racially biased and its casualties have been young black males. African American men have been made the enemy.''

If the enforcement of the law and the administration of criminal justice in Baltimore were totally in the hands of white Americans, this report would have occasioned thunderous shouts of racism.

This, however, is not the case, for in this city a significant percentage of blacks are in decision making positions at every level of the criminal-justice system. The mayor is black; the state's attorney is black; the police commissioner is black, and the head of the Department of Corrections is black.

Veteran of the NAACP and other civil-rights activists will recall that they once thought getting blacks into decision-making positions would make a difference. The fact of the matter is, it hasn't.

Since blacks are in decision-making positions in law enforcement and the criminal-justice system, they are up-front eyewitnesses to this systematic destruction of young black Americans. They have to know that resources in the cities are geared toward arrests and incarceration, and in the suburbs toward treatment and rehabilitation. They have to know that more blacks inhabit the inner city, and more whites the suburbs.

I submit that when black leaders in law enforcement and criminal justice know what is going on and fail to use their power to correct the situation, this too, is black-on-black crime.

When black law-enforcement leaders know that it is only black communities that are crawling with police cars (marked and unmarked), surveillance helicopters and airplanes, unmarked surveillance vans with high-tech monitoring devices (closed-circuit TV, transmitters, receivers, motion sensors, etc.) and do nothing about it, this, too, is black on black crime.

When black law-enforcement leaders tacitly support a hands-off policy for certain predominantly white communities, and an anything-goes policy for predominantly black communities, this, too, is black-on-black crime.

Finally, when there is a conspicuous absence of moral outrage and righteous indignation by black law-enforcement leaders on the findings in the aforementioned report, this, too, is black-on-black crime.

Having counseled black law-enforcement persons in state and federal correctional systems around the nation, I am well aware that the foregoing situations are not endemic to Baltimore.

I believe that black people in general and black law-enforcement leaders in particular who want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem would do well to adopt the attitude expressed by California Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Washington Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr.

Ms. Waters writes in Jet magazine: ''I am sick and tired of nice black people. Be polite, but speak your mind. Get angry and let these people know it. You do have power.''

Chief Fullwood: ''I'm tired of seeing black children locked up every five minutes. And it's not making any significant impact. . . .''

To all of which I say amen and amen.

Leroy Mobley is national director of the NAACP Prison Program.

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