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The Trayvon Martin Killing and the Myth of Black-on-Black Crime

The Trayvon Martin Killing and the Myth of Black-on-Black Crime

Last week, in Chicago, 16-year-old Darryl Green was found dead in the yard of an abandoned home. He was killed, relatives reported, because he refused to join a gang. Unlike most tragedies, however—which remain local news—this one caught the attention of conservative activist Ben Shapiro, an editor for Breitbart News. Using the hashtag “#justicefordarryl,” Shaprio tweeted and publicized the details of Green’s murder. But this wasn’t a call for help and assistance for Green’s family, rather, it was his response to wide outrage over Saturday’s decision in the case of George Zimmerman, where a Florida jury judged him “not guilty” of second-degree murder or manslaughter in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Shapiro, echoing many other conservatives, is angry over the perceived politicization of the Zimmerman trial, and believes that activists have ”injected” race into the discussion, as if there’s nothing racial already within the criminal-justice system. Indeed, he echoes many conservatives when he complains that media attention had everything to do with Zimmerman’s race. If he were black, the argument goes, no one would care. And so, Shapiro found the sad story of Darryl Green, and promoted it as an example of the “black-on-black” crime that, he believes, goes ignored. Or, as he tweets, “49% of murder victims are black men. 93% of those are killed by other blacks. Media don’t care. Obama doesn’t care. #JusticeForDarryl.”

The idea that “black-on-black” crime is the real story in Martin’s killing isn’t a novel one. In addition to Shapiro, you’ll hear the argument from conservative African-American activists like Crystal White, as well as people outside the media, like Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara, who said that his client “never would have been charged with a crime” if he were black.

(It’s worth noting, here, that Zimmerman wasn’t charged with a crime. At least, not at first. It took six weeks of protest and pressure for Sanford police to revisit the killing and bring charges against him. Indeed, in the beginning, Martin’s cause had less to do with the identity of the shooter and everything to do with the appalling disinterest of the local police department.)

But there’s a huge problem with attempt to shift the conversation: There’s no suchthing as “black-on-black” crime. Yes, from 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders, but that racial exclusivity was also true for white victims of violent crime—86 percent were killed by white offenders. Indeed, for the large majority of crimes, you’ll find that victims and offenders share a racial identity, or have some prior relationship to each other.

What Shapiro and others miss about crime, in general, is that it’s driven byopportunism and proximity; If African-Americans are more likely to be robbed, or injured, or killed by other African-Americans, it’s because they tend to live in the same neighborhoods as each other. Residential statistics bear this out (PDF); blacks are still more likely to live near each other or other minority groups than they are to whites. And of course, the reverse holds as well—whites are much more likely to live near other whites than they are to minorities and African-Americans in particular.

Nor are African-Americans especially criminal. If they were, you would still see high rates of crime among blacks, even as the nation sees a historic decline in criminal offenses. Instead, crime rates among African-Americans, and black youth in particular, have taken a sharp drop. In Washington, D.C., for example, fewer than 10 percent of black youth are in a gang, have sold drugs, have carried a gun, or have stolen more than $100 in goods.

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