“Why Don’t They Protest Black-on-Black Crime”: Why Eric Garner Must be the Last Straw

DSC02085As I was writing this post today, the media announced that the New York grand jury failed to indict an officer who killed Eric Garner. Never mind the video evidence coupled with a medical report that stated quite emphatically the death was a homicide, caused by a chokehold, the grand jury didn’t find sufficient evidence to prosecute the officer. Once again, a giant spotlight is placed on the racial divide within our country, a divide always seen by the minorities who suffer from such a divide, but one ignored by those who benefit.

In all the arguing, I’ve watched many white people try to say that racism isn’t that bad, that the system works most of the time, that black people are just complaining. Of course, there are a multitude of innocent young black men who would beg to differ that the system works. Some white people choose to respond back, “Fine, we’ll grant that the system doesn’t work, but why don’t you protest black-on-black crime? Where’s your outrage over the 95% of black people killed by other black people?

The implied message is basically, “The problem is with the race, not the system.” It seems that no matter what we argue in terms of helping the black community, we’re met with, “Let the statistics speak for themselves. Now, from the view of statistics it’s quite hard to argue that black-on-black crime isn’t an issue. Statistically, even if we remove death by police, growing up a black man comes with an inherently higher risk than growing up a white man.

What are we to make of this? Shall we continue to lay hold of the popular question, “Why don’t black people protest black-on-black crime?” Of course, while it’s a popular question to ask, it  has no basis. There are numerous protests ever year over the violence within poor black communities. There have been multiple articles, multiple programs, and multiple attempts to lower the crime rate within poor black communities. Yet, the problem persists. It leaves us with one of two explanations: Either there’s a problem with the system or there’s a problem with the race. If the problem is with the race, then we have to embrace some pretty unsavory conclusions. The first being there’s no scientific explanation between white people and black people (other than the color of the skin), thus we’re coming to the conclusion without a shred of evidence. Likewise, we must accept that the KKK and white supremacists aren’t necessarily wrong, just that we disagree with their methods. Essentially, if we conclude the problem of black-on-black crime isn’t systemic and is rather a problem with the race, then we must embrace an ideology that puts one race ahead of another.

I would hope few people would be willing to embrace such a view, especially since it lacks evidence, logic, compassion, or a Christian view. If, then, the problem is not the race, then it must be the system. Which raises a very important question; Why don’t white people protest black-on-black crime? More to the point, why don’t we protest a system that breeds poverty and violence? Why do we look upon it as “their” problem, with apathy, when it’s a problem that impacts us all? If we truly believe that human life holds intrinsic value then the loss of any life should matter to us, but even more so when the system has failed and worked to create an environment in which poverty and violence breed. Where, then, are the white protests against a system that creates such an environment? Why aren’t white people protesting the crime that exists because the system is broken?

None of this absolves criminals of their own responsibility, mind you. If a young man is in a gang and is killed by a rival gang member, then both made their choice. Even in environments geared towards producing violence, people are still responsible for their choices, but sometimes the system can influence the decisions they make. Consider the following:

We take a person and place him in a room that has a huge assortment of foods. However, there’s a giant wall separating him from the food. Likewise, there’s apples on his side of the room, but we’ve told him not to eat the apples. Now, he can get over the wall, but he has to overcome barbed wire, electric wiring, and a very narrow gap at the very top.

It doesn’t take long to realize that at a certain point, given enough people, some people are going to make it across the wall. Some will overcome the odds and get through. More, however, will give up and eat the apples. Some simply will lack the proper means to get over the wall and be forced to eat the apples. While it’s still their choice to eat the apples, the system is geared in such a way to prevent them from having better choices.

Likewise, when you take a group of people – regardless of race – and put them in an environment where there are little to no jobs, little to no education, police brutality, and rampant violence, can we be shocked if they succumb to the environment and make poor choices? Yes, we can say, “Well they should clean it up,” but how can they when the system for a number of years has worked to prevent any clean up from occurring? Up until the 70s and even 80s bias ran rampant within city officials, creating policies that negatively impacted black communities. Sadly, while these mentalities aren’t as open today, they do exist.

What do we do with a system that allows police to kill black people without any recourse to justice? A medical examiner stated that the chokehold killed Mr. Garner, labeled it a homicide, and there’s a video of the entire indicent; but that still wasn’t enough to grant justice. That is a broken system. That a man can walk in Walmart holding a toy gun and get gunned down by police without a warning while the police walk away freely is proof we live in a broken system. That a DA can make a half-assed attempt at a Grand Jury in Missouri, that he can essentially toss the case and not make an effort is proof we live in a broken system. That black men and women must worry every single time a police car pulls up behind them, even though they’ve done nothing wrong, is proof we live in a broken system. Why aren’t white people more upset, more willing to protest, more willing to change the system for their brothers and sisters? 

Like it or not, for now white people make up the majority of Americans. When predominately white movements mobilize, politicians take notice. Consider the Tea Party, composed predominately of white people, which for better or for worse made a massive impact on politics in 2008-2009. Its counterpart Occupy Wall St, while not as impactful, still remained in the news and on the minds of people. The fact is that if white people stood up and protested and marched against the abuses of the system and called for actual change, it would go a long way towards helping black communities from escaping a broken system, thus allowing them to fix their community problems. And it’s not that white people need to save black people, or that black people need a great white hope, but instead that there is a system in place – put in place long ago by white people – that needs massive reform. That reform can only come if all people stand together against the system itself.

All the while, some might say, “Why should I care?” We become Cain while multiple Abels are put to the sword, are gunned down, are choked to death. We ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper,” to which God declares their blood cries out to him. Do we love our neighbors, or do we put conditions on that love depending on proximity and color of that neighbor? We must seek to love our neighbors, and love is an action. We must seek and push for reform.

Yes, it’s easy to say that the ultimate solution is Jesus, but what does that mean? The ultimate solution to cancer is Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop seeking a cure. The ultimate solution to sin is Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop seeking forgiveness. The ultimate solution to a headache is Jesus, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take Tylenol. The ultimate solution to a broken, racist, and corrupt system is Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek reform.

We ought to stop asking why black people don’t protest black-on-black crime (they do) and instead get upset about it ourselves. We should be upset about a system that causes it and perpetuates it. We should be upset about a system that functions to deny justice. To love your neighbor, you must hate when injustice is done to him.

I think it’s only appropriate to conclude with a passage from G.K. Chesteron on injustice, found in his All Things Considered:

In order that men should resist injustice, something more is necessary than that they should think injustice unpleasant. They must think injustice absurd; above all, they must think it startling. They must retain the violence of a virgin astonishment.

That is the explanation of the singular fact which must have struck many people in the relations of philosophy and reform. It is the fact (I mean) that optimists are more practical reformers than pessimists.

Superficially, one would imagine that the railer would be the reformer; that the man who thought that everything was wrong would be the man to put everything right. In historical practice the thing is quite the other way; curiously enough, it is the man who likes things as they are who really makes them better…

Everywhere the man who alters things begins by liking things. And the real explanation of this success of the optimistic reformer, of this failure of the pessimistic reformer, is, after all, an explanation of sufficient simplicity. It is because the optimist can look at wrong not only with indignation, but with a startled indignation.

When the pessimist looks at any infamy, it is to him, after all, only a repetition of the infamy of existence. The Court of Chancery is indefensible–like mankind. The Inquisition is abominable–like the universe. But the optimist sees injustice as something discordant and unexpected, and it stings him into action. The pessimist can be enraged at wrong; but only the optimist can be surprised at it.

3 thoughts on ““Why Don’t They Protest Black-on-Black Crime”: Why Eric Garner Must be the Last Straw

  1. “It leaves us with one of two explanations: Either there’s a problem with the system or there’s a problem with the race.”

    Could I ask where ‘culture’ fits into this dichotomy? Culture is not inherent in race, but members of the same race often join together under the same cultural umbrella. If there were a race of green-skinned people, the majority of which embraced a religion that said that on the fifth day of every month they must bury one of their members alive and dance jubilantly on his or her grave, it wouldn’t be racist to say that there’s a problem with their culture, nor would it necessarily make sense to say that a more powerful race oppressed them into doing such things. I’m not saying your conclusions here are wrong, just that I don’t understand why this facet of the problem has been left out of your equation.

    1. Because regardless of culture, black people tend to face an uphill battle. Likewise, even the cultural argument doesnt work because the culture was and is shaped by the system, so it would be irrelevant to bring up.

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