Your work suggests that elites, on both left and right, have fundamentally misread black views on crime and policing, and our political debates reflect that misreading. In your view, what do both sides get wrong?
Yes, elites on both the left and right tend to believe that the average African-American is a militant who hates the police. Conservatives frequently admonish African-Americans for ignoring so-called “black-on-black crime,” and liberals respond that the term is a racist trope deployed to divert attention away from state violence. Both claims fundamentally miss the indigenous construction of “crime” within black communities.
In 1979, Ebony, for years a mainstay in black discourse, published a special issue called “Black on Black Crime: the Cause, the Consequences, the Cures.” In the lead editorial, publisher John H. Johnson wrote that “It is our belief, and it is the basic premise of this issue, that Black on Black crime has reached a critical level that threatens our existence as a people. It is a threat to our youths, to our women, to our senior citizens, to our institutions, to our values.” He continued: “And although we are not responsible for the external factors that systematically create breeding grounds for social disorder, we cannot avoid the internal responsibility of doing everything we can to solve a problem that is rending the fabric of our lives.” Then he lists “clear and dangerous” “facts,” the first being: “Homicide is a major cause of death among young Black males, and most of these murder victims are killed, not by racists or members of the Ku Klux Klan, but by other young Black males.”
Read 40 years later, Johnson’s powerful essay and that whole special issue of Ebony make a sharp contrast with today’s elite discussions on the left and right, which completely miss the internal contours of the debate over crime and punishment that black communities have been having for decades.