The Black Lives Matter movement is in the national spotlight again this month, following the high-profile killings of two black men by police and the killings of police officers by black men in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
With the movement’s attention comes a familiar refrain: Why doesn’t Black Lives Matter focus on “Black-on-Black” crime?
It’s a question asked, in various forms, from Facebook to cable networks to comments on this site. The answer, one writer says, is Black Lives Matter isn’t solely focused on the loss of Black lives but also on a lack of justice.
“When a civilian has committed a violent crime, they’re generally arrested, tried and then convicted,” Franchesca Ramsey, a writer and activist who discusses race, explains in the MTV series Decoded (which you can watch here in full).
“Conversely, there’s a lot of evidence that it’s very rare to secure an indictment against a police officer for excessive force. And an indictment is just a trial; it isn’t even a conviction.”
“Black Lives Matter isn’t just about the loss of life, which is always terrible. It’s about the lack of consequences when black lives are taken at the hands of police.”
Police officers shot and killed nearly 1,000 people last year, according to a Washington Post database. Eighteen officers faced charges for such shootings that year.
While nearly twice as many white Americans were killed by on-duty officers than Blacks, the Post’s updated data showed, black Americans remained 2.5 times as likely to die at the hands of police when adjusting for population.
And when unarmed, the data showed that Black Americans were five times as likely to be fatally shot as white ones.
Black Americans do find violence within the Black community troubling: A YouGov poll from April shows a plurality of Black Americans think it’s a bigger problem than racial injustice, as Vox’s Victoria M. Massie notes.
“(The) survey underscores what the people in these communities have long argued — that police brutality and crime are not mutually exclusive concerns for African Americans,” she wrote.
Black Americans have launched anti-violence efforts in their communities (Ramsey mentions a PBS documentary about them, The Interruptors). But many in the Black Lives Matter movement have described “Black-on-Black” criticisms a diversion that ignores underlying issues like poverty.
“What we know is that gun violence absolutely presents tragedy every single day,” said Brittany Packnett, a prominent voice in the movement, on PBS NewsHour in December. “But if Black life really matters to people … who insist that Black-on-Black crime is the real issue, then pay attention to poverty.”
Poor white Americans experience violent crimes at rates virtually equal that of poor Black Americans, as Massie points out in a 2014 Department of Justice study. Black and white Americans kill members of their own races at similar rates, too.
According to 2014 FBI data, 90% of African-American homicides were committed by African Americans. Similarly, 82% of white American homicides were committed by white Americans—what we might, but don’t, call “white-on-white” crime.
*Originally posted on USA Today.