The media narrative has painted what happened at Ferguson as a problem of law enforcement in the micro—society in the macro—but, as this excellent article from Catholic World Report shows, that is hardly the case.
“We have heard enough of liberty and the rights of man; it is high time to hear something of the duties of men and the rights of authority.” — Orestes Brownson
The term of the week, as the fires burn in Ferguson, is “racial tension.” A quick Google news search for that term, coupled with “Ferguson”, turns up nearly 10,000 results. Having now read far too many stories about what has transpired in Ferguson over the past few days, I have concluded that while the term “racial tensions” is not without some meaning—however vague—it is quite often more of a rhetorical crutch than a helpful tool for understanding what has (and has not) happened in Missouri and throughout the country.
A CNA piece, “What the Church can do about the powder keg of US racial tensions”, for instance, gives extended time to the thoughts of Dr. Norm White, a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at St. Louis University. The article states:
Dr. White pointed to two major problems as the source of the uproar in Ferguson: inequality and a law enforcement system where young African-American males feel targeted and are ready to lash out in response.
To combat local crime and gang problems in the early 1990s, he explained, authorities in the area turned to the “broken window” model of policing every minor infraction in order to stop the bigger problems of gang violence.
Without questioning the possiblity or reality of inequality and dubious law enforcement, I am more interested in the questions not asked of Dr. White: “Why was there so much local crime and ‘gang problems’ and ‘gang violence’?” What were/are the causes? Why is the rate of property crime in Ferguson about twice (or more) the national average? And does the fact that roughly two-thirds (14,297, as of 2010) of Ferguson’s 21,203 citizens are African-American have anything to do with anything?
Unfortunately, those questions are likely to be deemed racist, because looking into the deeper roots of violence, gang activity, and related matters must, necessarily, involve looking at the state of the family in predominantly black communities. But doing so, as Jason L. Riley of the Wall Street Journal points out in his November 25th op-ed, “The Other Ferguson Tragedy”, doesn’t feed and support the usual “anti-police narrative that harms the black poor in the name of helping them.” Riley writes:
According to the FBI, homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men, who are 10 times more likely than their white counterparts to be murdered. And while you’d never know it watching MSNBC, the police are not to blame. Blacks are just 13% of the population but responsible for a majority of all murders in the U.S., and more than 90% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks. Liberals like to point out that most whites are killed by other whites, too. That’s true but beside the point given that the white crime rate is so much lower than the black rate.
Blacks commit violent crimes at 7 to 10 times the rate that whites do. The fact that their victims tend to be of the same race suggests that young black men in the ghetto live in danger of being shot by each other, not cops. Nor is this a function of “over-policing” certain neighborhoods to juice black arrest rates. Research has long shown that the rate at which blacks are arrested is nearly identical to the rate at which crime victims identify blacks as their assailants. The police are in these communities because that’s where the emergency calls originate, and they spend much of their time trying to stop residents of the same race from harming one another.
I covered much of the same ground in a July 15, 2013 CWR post about the media furor over the trial of George Zimmerman, writing, “The real issue here is not racism, since most violent crime is intraracial. No, it is actually the culture of death, which is rooted (so to speak) in the collapse of families, the corresponding rise in gangs, the obliteration of basic familial and social responsibilities, and a growing subculture that is, it can be fairly said, barbaric and violent in nature.” And:
What’s really going on, however, is a spiritual and social collapse that has been spiraling out of control for decades, a collapse that is hardly unique to black communities, but for various reasons has revealed itself most dramatically within those communities. Other communities, of course, aren’t far behind or, perhaps, are just as bad off, but are able to hide it better through sleight-of-affluent-hand tricks and endless talk about government programs that will rebuild this, revitalize that, redirect that group, reeducate this group, and so forth.
Retrieved November 27, 2014 from http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/3540/men_without_roots_turn_into_looters_men_without_purpose_turn_into_predators.aspx