Confronting Unpleasantries

Picture a person with a temperature reading of 105 degrees. You tell him something is terribly wrong and he'd better do something about it. He and his loved ones respond saying the thermometer's no good; the doctors are lying; or, it's all a conspiracy. Such a person is either not very smart or lacks the courage to confront reality. Another possibility is that shame about his condition might lead him to deny reality.

This scenario came to mind as a panelist on "Inside Story," a popular show that airs weekly in Philadelphia. The issue was alleged racial profiling by New Jersey State Troopers who make disproportionate car stops of black drivers in their quest to catch drug-traffickers. I suggested that one might explain, not necessarily justify, racial profiling by the fact that since blacks commit most of the crime in America, stopping young black drivers had a higher payoff in terms of catching a criminal. I stressed that if you're a law-abiding black person, that higher payoff does nothing to reduce the humiliation, insult and inconvenience.

This observation didn't sit well with one panel member who became quite agitated with my statement that blacks commit most of the crime in America; he claimed it wasn't true. But here are percentages of black arrests for selected crimes in 1995, found in Crime in the United States, 1995: Uniform Crime Reports: murder & non-negligent manslaughter (54.4), forcible rape (42.4), robbery (59.5), aggravated assault (38.4), burglary (31.0), vehicle theft (38.3), fraud (34.7), receiving stolen property (39.4), weapons violations (38.8) and drug violations (36.9). The fact that blacks constituted 54 percent of the arrests for murder and non-negligent manslaughter, for example, doesn't mean that whites constituted the other 46 percent; there are other racial groups. For a race of people, there's nothing flattering about these numbers. But one thing for sure, denying them or intimidating those who point them out won't solve the problem.

Who bears the cost of black crime? A 1996 survey found that 52 percent of blacks and 31 percent of whites were afraid to walk alone at night in their neighborhoods. A 1992 Gallup/Newsweek poll found that 91 percent of blacks felt that crime topped the list of problems in their neighborhoods. Survey after survey find that blacks live in constant fear in their own neighborhoods. The fear is well founded - one-half the murder victims are black and the leading cause of death for young black males is homicide.

Jesse Jackson commented, in a racial profiling way, "There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery - then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved." Another painful twist is that during the 1940s, my cousin and I shined shoes after school. The shortest route back home took us through a white neighborhood. Frequently, we'd be set upon and chased. Most of the time we could outrun the white boys to the safety of our black neighborhood. Today, the run might be the other way - safety in a white neighborhood.

What's to be done? Part of the solution is the recognition that black people cannot depend solely on politicians and the police for safe streets. There's enough black men with military experience to form armed street patrols. Criminals are cowards and you can bet that if they knew armed, law-abiding citizens were around, they'd have a different tune. Even with unarmed patrols, such as the Black Muslims occasionally conduct, have been enough to send a message to criminals.

It's black people, not white people, who must develop a zero-tolerance for crime.

Walter E. Williams
April 30, 1999
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