The most violent cities in the U.S. today are run by blacks
By JASON L. RILEY
George Zimmerman’s acquittal of murder charges in a Florida court has been followed by predictable calls for America to have a “national conversation” about this or that aspect of the case. President Obama wants to talk about gun control. Civil-rights leaders want to talk about racial profiling. Others want to discuss how the American criminal justice system supposedly targets black men.
All of which is fine. Just don’t expect these conversations to be especially illuminating or honest. Liberals in general, and the black left in particular, like the idea of talking about racial problems, but in practice they typically ignore the most relevant aspects of any such discussion.
Any candid debate on race and criminality in this country would have to start with the fact that blacks commit an astoundingly disproportionate number of crimes. African-Americans constitute about 13% of the population, yet between 1976 and 2005 blacks committed more than half of all murders in the U.S. The black arrest rate for most offenses—including robbery, aggravated assault and property crimes—is typically two to three times their representation in the population. The U.S. criminal-justice system, which currently is headed by one black man (Attorney General Eric Holder) who reports to another (President Obama), is a reflection of this reality, not its cause.
“High rates of black violence in the late twentieth century are a matter of historical fact, not bigoted imagination,” wrote the late Harvard Law professor William Stuntz in “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice.” “The trends reached their peak not in the land of Jim Crow but in the more civilized North, and not in the age of segregation but in the decades that saw the rise of civil rights for African Americans—and of African American control of city governments.”
The left wants to blame these outcomes on racial animus and “the system,” but blacks have long been part of running that system. Black crime and incarceration rates spiked in the 1970s and ’80s in cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia, under black mayors and black police chiefs. Some of the most violent cities in the U.S. today are run by blacks.
500 other demonstrators during a rally and march in support of Trayvon Martin in Birmingham, Ala., on July 15.
The jury’s only job in the Zimmerman trial was to determine whether the defendant broke the law when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year in a gated community near Orlando, Fla. In cases of self-defense, it doesn’t matter who initiated the confrontation; whether Mr. Zimmerman singled out Martin because he was a black youngster in a neighborhood where there had been a series of burglaries by black youngsters; or whether Mr. Zimmerman disregarded what the police dispatcher told him before he got out of his car. Nor does it matter that Martin was unarmed and minding his own business when Mr. Zimmerman approached.
All that really mattered in that courtroom is whether Mr. Zimmerman reasonably believed that his life was in danger when he pulled the trigger. Critics of the verdict might not like the statutes that allowed for this outcome, but the proper response would not have been for the jury to ignore them and convict.
Did the perception of black criminality play a role in Martin’s death? We may never know for certain, but we do know that those negative perceptions of young black men are rooted in hard data on who commits crimes. We also know that young black men will not change how they are perceived until they change how they behave.
The homicide rate claiming black victims today is seven times that of whites, and the George Zimmermans of the world are not the reason. Some 90% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks.
So let’s have our discussions, even if the only one that really needs to occur is within the black community. Civil-rights leaders today choose to keep the focus on white racism instead of personal responsibility, but their predecessors knew better.
“Do you know that Negroes are 10 percent of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of its crimes? We’ve got to face that. And we’ve got to do something about our moral standards,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told a congregation in 1961. “We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”
Mr. Riley is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.
A version of this article appeared July 16, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Race, Politics and the Zimmerman Trial.
JASON L. RILEY is a member of the editorial board at the Wall Street Journal, where he has worked since 1994. He appears regularly on the Journal Editorial Report on Fox News. He has also appeared on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Hannity and Colmes and ABC’s World News Tonight.
‘Please Stop Helping Us’ and ‘Shame’
By Orlando Patterson
One of the few things conservatives and liberals agree on about the ’60s is that it was a decade of radical change in the nation’s politics, ethnoracial and gender relations, popular culture and international policies. For liberals, the decade marked the nation’s greatest transition toward a new era of personal, socioeconomic and political liberation and inclusion, especially for blacks, initiated by the courts, the civil and voting rights acts and the Great Society programs. To most conservatives, the period, with few exceptions, was a terrible turn for the worse. And for African-American conservatives like Jason L. Riley and Shelby Steele, beyond the ending of formal discrimination in voting, education and civil rights, the era was for black Americans an unmitigated disaster, the consequences of which persist to this day.
These men are intellectual kindred; indeed, Riley dedicates “Please Stop Helping Us” to Steele and Thomas Sowell. Both claim that liberal policies to help black Americans have not just failed, but have become the main reason for nearly all their problems: unemployment, low income, family disorganization, violence, incarceration, the educational gap. Both attribute the scourge of liberal policies to white guilt; both condemn affirmative action for doing great harm to blacks and whites; both claim that blacks have been encouraged to develop a crippling mentality of victimhood and entitlement and an abandonment of the American creed of individualism and personal responsibility, leading to a culture of dependency. Both, therefore, insist that the best thing that whites, and the American government, could do for black Americans is to leave them alone to solve their own problems, and that the best strategy for black Americans is to assume “total responsibility for their future” through personal and collective transformation.
These are boilerplate conservative themes. But the books differ markedly in the ways these themes are explored, in their styles of presentation, the depth of their arguments and the degree to which the familiar is given renewed urgency. Riley, an editorial board member of The Wall Street Journal, begins by questioning whether political power has been necessary for African-American advancement. Eager to slight the achievements of President Obama, he declares, with unfortunate timing, that his economic policies are a failure, and in another dig, that “having a black man in the Oval Office is less important than having one in the home,” a curious thought from a successful black man whose father, though having left home when Riley was a small child, nonetheless conscientiously managed to parent him. A thoroughly misinformed chapter on culture not only trots out the usual inaccuracies about hip-hop’s influence but, failing to recognize the diversity of African-American cultures, proceeds to libel the entire group with the assertion that “black culture today not only condones delinquency and thuggery but celebrates it.” On one page he applauds his parents’ decision to move the family from a predominantly black neighborhood plagued by crime and what his father called the “knuckleheads” and “thugs” to a predominantly white one, yet on another page he flays government policies that attempt to move poorly housed blacks to white suburban communities. And so on.
Steele’s spirited polemic, “Shame,” casts post-’60s America in a Manichaean “great divide” of “two political cultures forever locked in a ‘Cold War’ within a single society.” One of these is liberal America, driven by shame and guilt about the nation’s past sins — slavery, racism, sexism, imperialism, Vietnam — to make amends through “a moral manipulation that exaggerates inequality and unfairness in American life in order to justify overreaching public policies and programs”; its “enforcement arm” is political correctness. On the other side are the conservative guardians of “the principles and the disciplines of freedom,” rooted in “ ‘classic’ Jeffersonian liberalism” that is subject to “every sort of test of truth and effectiveness.”
Steele, the Robert J. and Marion E. Oster senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, delivers this message in an ardent, readable style. The book is really an intellectual autobiography that pivots around a poignant formative moment in Steele’s late teens. A talented swimmer and captain of his high school’s varsity team, Steele returned the fall of his senior year to learn that the entire team had been invited over the previous summer to the lakeside home of the esteemed coach’s mother for three weeks of great fun. He had not been invited because he was black and the coach’s mother was a racist. Steele’s account of the coach’s and his white teammates’ increasingly dishonest attempts to explain why they had found nothing wrong with his absence, and his own personal transformation as well as the moral sense he made of it — his avoidance of self-pity, his unyielding, emancipative decision to quit the team, the dignified tranquillity that overcame him heading home afterward — are all forcefully and persuasively rendered.
What follows is a skillful interweaving of his movement from ’60s radical to Reaganite conservative with moments of disenchantment and discovery in his life — big Afro and black identity, a demystifying visit to Africa, the rediscovery of America, where “the Good is not the gift of public policy but rather of character . . . what follows from moral responsibility — both personal and collective.”
Steele’s repeated claim that all government policies have been unalloyed failures and the cause of current black problems is now so demonstrably false that one need not waste time discussing them. Given his working-class background, Steele ought to know that the problem of the black poor, besides their unconscionably low wages, is not their failure to assume personal responsibility — which in their very American way they do, almost to a fault — but the very imprudent choices they tend to make, especially in their youth. However, this essay is not social science and, in all fairness, must be judged in Steele’s own rhetorical terms.
His guiding light is freedom. Yet he seems either unable to grasp or is ignorant of the long Western tradition of freedom going back to classical Athens that conceives of it not solely as personal autonomy, but also as something that complements personal empowerment and capability with a participative engagement in the collective power of the demos, the kind of active citizenship endorsed by the founding fathers. A free, virtuous republic, in John Adams’s words, requires “positive passion for the public good, the public interest.”
Steele also shares the chronic contradiction of American conservatism regarding the past. On the one hand, the past is cherished for its heritage of all that is desirable — the Constitution, freedom, personal responsibility, the work ethic, American exceptionalism and all that. On the other hand, it is dismissed as trivial (get over it and pull up your socks!) when it comes to its bruising legacy of slavery, racism, Appalachian impoverishment, patriarchy, homophobia and periodic surges of excessive greed and inequality.
At the same time, it has to be said that too much dissociative shame and a surfeit of dependence may incapacitate. If it is true that progressive public policies are essential for the improvement of disadvantaged groups, especially the least fortunate, as the histories of Europe’s, Australia’s and East Asia’s welfare states all clearly demonstrate, as does America’s earlier affirmative action for whites, it is equally the case that those to whom such policies are directed must, at some point, both accept personal responsibility and courageously make transformative choices for themselves and their future — including assimilation, “even if that felt like self-betrayal.” To this second truth Steele, for all his flawed denial of the first, speaks with passion, eloquence and unremitting honesty.
PLEASE STOP HELPING US
How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed
By Jason L. Riley
205 pp. Encounter Books. $23.99.
How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country
By Shelby Steele
198 pp. Basic Books. $25.99.
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