What is rarely discussed are baseline rates of criminal offending by whites versus blacks.
Black Lives Matter is a loose coalition of groups in the US. It formed after the high profile shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 at the hands of the vigilante George Zimmerman. The Black Lives Matter movement became nationally known for its street demonstrations after police killings of two blacks in 2014: Michael Brown in St. Louis and Eric Garner in New York City.
Black Lives Matter says that it promotes non-violent civil disobedience to protest police brutality and racially-motivated violence against blacks. The public persona of the organization is a movement to preserve black lives.
If this is the case, we should expect that the organization would home in on the greatest threats to black lives. But this is not the case.
What are the gravest threats to black lives in the US today?
The single most important thing Black Lives Matter could do to protect black lives would be to convince black women not to have abortions.
The number of black abortions in the US is stunning. In 1973, the US Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade made abortion widely and legally available. Since then, over 19 million black babies have been aborted.1
This year the Wall Street Journal reported that, “In New York City, thousands more black babies are aborted each year than [are] born alive.” 2
According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, of all groups in the US, black women have the highest ratio of abortions: 27.1 per 1000 among black women, compared to 10 per 1,000 for white women.3 That is, black women are almost three times as likely as white women to have an abortion.
There has been a lot of polemic on this issue. Liberal publications attribute the high rate of abortions among black women to societal racism, discrimination in employment, poverty, lack of economic opportunity and mass incarceration of fathers.4 Conservative social critics point to failures in individual ethics, such as the unwillingness of black men to use contraceptives and to assume responsibility for the children they create. Others cite the destructive effect of public welfare policies on the integrity of the black family, especially the incentive for black fathers to abandon their families.
Abortions are so prevalent among black mothers that they have had a significant impact in reducing the size of the black population relative to other groups. This has led some observers to claim that abortions are a deliberate attempt by a racist society to reduce the black population.
Abortion has had a devastating effect on black lives. So why isn’t Black Lives Matter dissuading black women from having abortions?
Black on Black Violence
Seven year old Natalia Wallace loved drawing pictures and coloring them. She was playing on the sidewalk in front of her Chicago home when three armed men got out of a car and began firing at a party being held by a group of residents. They fired twenty times, even though many children were in attendance at the party.
It was a stray bullet that killed Natalia.
Natalia’s father told reporters that seeing his daughter on a table with a gunshot wound to her forehead changed his life.
These killings are so horrific that a naïve observer would be forgiven if he thought they were rare. They are not. Every week similar murders take place in black urban neighborhoods across the country.
The last Fourth of July weekend in Chicago was no exception. In that one weekend, 87 people were shot, 17 fatally. 5
Predictably, politicians decry these murders and declare, “This can’t go on.” But nothing changes.
According to a 2015 report by the Harvard Kennedy School,
Between 1980 and 2008, blacks were disproportionately represented as both homicide victims and offenders…….. The homicide victimization rate for blacks (27.8 per 100,000) was six times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per 100,000)…… Blacks accounted for slightly more than 51 percent of all gun homicide victims between 1980 and 2008, despite representing only about 13 percent of the U.S. population. The homicide offending rate for blacks (34.4 per 100,000) was almost eight times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per 100,000)………
The vast majority of homicides are intraracial, with 84 percent of white victims killed by whites and 93 percent of black victims killed by blacks. 6
In 2016 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that homicide was the fourth leading cause of death among non-Hispanic black males. But for non-Hispanic black males younger than 45, homicide was the leading cause of death. 7
Violent attacks have taken the lives of tens of thousands of black children and adults. They have at times turned minority residential areas into war zones. They have shattered the lives of countless law-abiding black citizens.
So why has Black Lives Matter all but ignored black on black violence?
Are Police Shootings and Killings Racially Motivated?
Black advocates and a liberal press have used selective reporting to propagate the myth that racially-motivated police attacks against blacks are a leading threat to black lives. As Heather MacDonald convincingly argued in her book, The War on Cops, white police are no more likely than black police to shoot or kill black suspects.8 This rules out a racial motive in police actions. This finding is consistent in cities across the country, as reflected in police records and other sources of data.
It is true, as shown in a recent Washington Post news story, that black Americans are shot by police at a disproportionate rate. They are killed by police at a rate more than twice as high as white Americans.9
However, what is rarely discussed in these figures are baseline rates of criminal offending by whites versus blacks. Blacks have rates of offending that are several times higher than those of whites. In order to determine if racial prejudice motivates police shootings and killings, they should be adjusted for differential crime rates—-something that is almost never done.
Are police really targeting offenders for their race? Or do they end up shooting more black offenders because there are more of them?
News reports in the mainstream media add to the confusion. Reporters promote a narrative of police misconduct and black victimhood. For example, instances of whites killed by the police are not reported or downplayed, while killings of blacks are prominently featured. This distortion helps neither blacks nor whites, and it divides the nation.
Worse yet, this focus on racial disparities distracts from the task of preventing the killing of blacks. When stopped by the police, do some perpetrators engage in behaviors that escalate the interaction? Is it possible to teach citizens of all races how to react in a police stop in such a way as to prevent the situation from escalating? That would be a useful task for Black Lives Matter but the group has shown no interest. Instead they promote race resentment and a false narrative.
Blacks have higher rates of poor health conditions than whites. These include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Death rates for the black population [are] higher than those for the white population for 8 of the 15 leadings causes of death.” 10
Although the black-white gap in life expectancy has narrowed in recent years, it is still substantial. For example, according to a 2014 report, “…white men with 16 or more years of schooling can expect to live an average of 14 years longer than black men with fewer than 12 years of education.”11
As in the case of abortion, so-called progressive advocates attribute this disparity to factors beyond the control of the people affected by these health conditions. These advocates claim that blacks suffer from worse health because of institutional racism, diminished access to health care, under-funded social services, and location of minority communities in polluted areas.
Polemicists on the right focus instead on voluntary factors such as poor diet, high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and intra-community violence.
The truth is somewhere between the polemicists on the right and left. Still, black community advocates and their liberal supporters have not put enough emphasis on responsible health behaviors and individual agency in promoting good health. Modifying individual health behaviors is the quickest and most certain route to diminishing black-white disparities in health outcomes, even in the face of societal oppression.
But Black Lives Matter and other black advocacy groups are mum on the issue of personal responsibility.
Perhaps polemicists on the left don’t realize that modifying personal behavior does not preclude attention to racism and other societal barriers to equality. By promoting a victimization narrative, groups like Black Lives Matter harm the very people they say they want to help.
Black Lives Matter could preserve black lives if they educated black people about ways to prevent health problems and encouraged them with specific suggestions for doing this.
Does Black Lives Matter Really Care About Black Lives?
I imagine that Black Lives Matter activists and supporters do care. But they promote a false narrative of victimization, treat black people like powerless victims and fail to address preventable causes of harm.
If Black Lives Matter continues on this path it will fail in its mission to save black lives.
- Blackman, W. Abortion: The Overlooked Tragedy for Black Americans. Arizona Capital Times, February 25, 2020.
- Riley, J.L. Let’s Talk about the Black Abortion rate. Wall Street Journal. July 10, 2018.
- Eligon, J. When ‘Black Lives Matter’ is Invoked in the Abortion Debate. New York Times. July 6, 2019.
- D’Onofrio, J. & Wall, C. 87 Shot, 17 Fatally, in Chicago July 4th Weekend Violence, Police Say. ABC 7 News. July 6, 2020.
- Braga, A.A. & Brunson, R.K. The Police and Public Discourse on “Black-on-Black” Violence: New Perspectives in Policing, Harvard Kennedy School, May 2015
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leading Causes of Death-Males-Non-Hispanic Black-United States, 2016.
- MacDonald, H. The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe. Encounter Books: NY, NY, 2016.
- Fatal Force: 999 People have Been Shot and Killed by Police in the Past Year. Washington Post. Updated July 23, 2020.
- Friedman, L.F. This Chart Showing the Gap between Black and White Life Expectancy Should Be a National Embarrassment. Business Insider. January 9, 2014.