by Darrell Winfrey
Quite a number of years ago, I read a monograph by Jared Taylor entitled, “The Color of Crime”. It utilized some raw FBI crime data while ignoring certain statistics within that data in order make some really broad and disturbing assertions about the criminality of black people. While some of the data presented was accurate, interpretations of the data were misleading and just plain wrong. There was also serious confusion between causation and correlation. I originally dismissed it as a document written by a fringe organization, until I noticed that statements (written and spoken) made by public figures like William Bennett and Pat Buchanan mirrored some of that misleading information. A few more mainstream publications and websites also parroted it.
I started to write and publish an essay rebutting this document, but there were already a few out there discrediting many of its assertions. I also had a lot going on in my life and could not devote so much time and effort to such a task. It was only in recent years that I decided to resume the task and to publish it as a series of essays. This version won’t focus so much on Mr. Taylor’s publication, although a new revision of “The Color of Crime” has been published, spewing even more flawed statistical interpretations that are now making their rounds on the interwebs and being repeated by a certain politician. A significant amount of focus will definitely be on the current political climate and the relationship between the black community and local law enforcement. These issues have been around for a very, very long time, and people are starting to realize that police brutality and the refusal of black citizens in high crime neighborhoods to cooperate with police are actually symptoms of a much larger set of complex issues.
There are many people on the front lines dealing with the issues in our communities. Some are concerned citizens, some are community organizers, some are in law enforcement, and some hold local public office. Many of those people have dedicated their lives to fixing what seems unfixable despite the lack of resources to do so. Some of these people are truly heroes but their stories rarely rise above the cacophony that we recognize as the 24 hour news cycle. What does happen to get the most attention are the stories that pit one group against another, even if those groups are really working toward the same goals using strikingly different approaches.
A few weeks ago, the great philosopher Kevin Durant made a statement at a press conference regarding his so-called controversial decision to switch teams. He said, “We live in this super hero comic book world where either you’re a villain or a super hero if you’re in this position.” He might be viewed as a villain in one narrative, but I’m sure the at-risk kids who participate in his foundation see things differently. Friends of mine already know that I have been critical of the entertainment industry for heavily relying on this dichotomy to tell stories, even true stories. Of course, I don’t think anarchy would ensue if we were to enter a sports arena and find ourselves sitting on the “villains” side instead of “visitors”. Society is not going to collapse if Hollywood plops out a hundred more plodding mega-hits that pretty much tell the same story with different characters. These are not serious problems, but there is a problem when this concept is hastily applied to real life events.
Some news networks, especially the ones that boast the highest ratings, saw the dollar signs associated with this hero verses villain motif in the film industry. They decided to apply it to stories about real people. The problem is that many conflicts involving actual people don’t fit this mold so easily. In most cases there are two or more opposing sides who happen to have different agendas. How boring. Like sports, you can choose which side you are on, but it doesn’t mean that the other side is villainous. That’s where the comparison ends because sports is just another form of entertainment where lives are rarely at stake. Real life conflicts should rarely be reduced to hero vs villain, especially when people can be killed. This kind of world view also ensures that one side will never enter into a healthy dialog with the other side after the smoke clears. Most truly evil acts usually involve individuals or extreme groups at the fringe of some movement or organization. Even after committing some of the most horrific acts of violence, they believe they are 100% justified in their actions and anyone who opposes them are the villains.
Fortunately, there are people out there who do engage in actual journalism. Although they may not get the ratings, they take on complex issues with a certain level of professionalism. There are also think tanks which have researched and analyzed urban crime extensively over the years. The only problem is that some of these think tanks receive funding from organizations that have a strong political bias. They might have an agenda that results in far less reliability than local journalists who tend to interact more directly with the people of the community. The journalists can more effectively report on the relationships between the many issues in local government, public policy, law enforcement, and personal responsibility. They should continue highlighting some of the successful actions by the people in these communities, so that other struggling communities could use these as a blueprint.
Unfortunately, when a few of these local stories reach a national audience, they tend to be drowned out by the more sensational stories like Rihanna’s Wardrobe Malfunction. Did you just Google that? This is not entirely the fault of the media because the viewers access whatever news they choose to read or watch. Although I disagree with assigning hero and villain labels in real life situations, the news media might be on to something. Maybe this is what is needed in order to keep people focused on serious issues. This is the most focused we have been on policing the black community since the Rodney King beating and LA riots. Hold that thought. Now reality sets in. After 25 years, the relationship between police and those same communities have not improved much. If anything, they have worsened. More people have lost their lives. Instigating a deeper divide between factions attracts attention, but it doesn’t actually solve anything. Where does this leave us? The answer to that is very complicated.