James H. Buford
We Must Deal with Black on Black Crime
While attending the memorial services for the late Patrice Thimes I paused for a moment to reflect upon the consequences of tolerating crime in our communities. Black on black crime is a skeleton that hangs in the collective closets of most African Americans. Amidst cries of racism, social and economic discrimination, we as African Americans cannot deny the prevalence of black on black crime in our urban centers. Although racial discrimination does play a large part in the troubles of the lives of disadvantaged African Americans there are other causes of crime to be considered such as joblessness, inadequate education, substance abuse and ignorance. The bottom line of this matter was that three teenaged African American men participated in a gunfight that ended the life of a 39-year-old African American mother. It would be different if this was an isolated case, but it is not.
According to a 2010 Study by RTI International, youth involvement in lethal violence (murder and manslaughter) and nonlethal violence (robbery and aggravated assault) has been increasing in recent years. In 2008, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. made an estimated 2.11 million arrests of persons younger than 18. Although African American teens comprise only 16% of the juvenile population, they represent 52% of the arrests for violent crimes. The juvenile murder arrest rate in 2008 was 3.8 arrests per 100,000 youths aged 10-17, a 17% increase over 2004 (Juvenile Justice Bulletin, 2009). In addition to being offenders, youths are often the victims of violence with 656,000 physical assault injuries and 14,532 juveniles under 18 being murdered in 2008. The causes for youth violence are many: concentrated poverty from living in structurally disadvantaged neighborhoods; lack of role mentors and role models; drug market activity; increased availability of firearms; gang presence and activity.
Although the crime rates are slowly decreasing in St. Louis, it remains a problem when friends, family members and loved ones are murdered in cold blood. No statistic takes away the pain one feels due to grief. As you may already know police, prosecutors, churches and community agencies are working diligently to solve this crisis but there is one major group that is missing. This group is the silent majority of residents who should be angry that their neighborhoods are being overtaken by thugs and who are willing to call the police when things look suspicious. It is imperative that residents take the initiative to protect themselves by talking to the police about crimes that happen in their neighborhoods. The â€˜no snitchingâ€™ code has wrecked havoc on our society and our communities because it allows criminals to go free. Many are afraid that those they testify against will retaliate but there are many discreet ways of speaking with officers about community issues. Crimestoppers is a hotline which was set up to allow residents to give information to police in a confidential way. Ms. Thimesâ€™ assailants were apprehended quickly because witnesses cooperated with the police. Concerned citizens play a major role in helping communities to become crime-free zones.
There are many strategies that can be done to curb youth violence. However, they all require that community, educational, families and individual leaders work together to support at-risk youth living in high-crime, impoverished areas. There are many coalitions forming to address violence in our city. The Urban Leagueâ€™s Public Safety Advisory Council, St. Louis City Department of Healthâ€™s STRYE Program, St. Louis Cares, Better Family Life, The Ethics Project and St. Johnâ€™s United Church of Christ are among the community organizations hosting programs to address youth violence. Residents interested in organizing to make their communities safer should join the Federation of Block Units. I encourage everyone to get involved in these initiatives to address this important issue. Until the community as whole decides to get angry about teen violence, this city and eventually the entire metropolitan region will continue to suffer the consequences of tolerating the vicious cycle of poverty and crime.