Kevin West’s murder was the 260th homicide this year in Baltimore—a city in which virtually all of the murder victims and those arrested for murder are black. On the same day that he was gunned down, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched down Fifth Avenue in New York to protest the Nov. 25 killing of another black man. Sean Bell was felled by a hail of police gunfire moments after he and two friends left his bachelor party early on the morning of the day he was to have been married.
Just why the cops fired on the unarmed men is unclear. Bell’s death drew the scorn of civil rights leaders and black activists, many of whom took part in the march. West’s killing has generated no such attention.
As troubling as it is that Bell’s life might have been cut short by the unlawful actions of some rogue cops, it bothers me more that most of this nation’s black murder victims are killed by other blacks. And despite this chilling fact, nowhere have tens of thousands of people taken to the streets recently to protest this carnage. Not in New York, or Baltimore, or Atlanta, or Detroit, or Chicago. Nowhere.
Of the country’s 14,860 homicide victims in 2005, 7,125 were black, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. And of the 3,289 cases that year in which a single black was killed by a single assailant, the FBI says, 91% of the killers were black.
Let me put this another way: The number of blacks killed in 2005 in this one homicide category alone approaches the total of all the blacks lynched in this country from 1882 to 1968, according to records maintained by Tuskegee University.
So why aren’t black leaders taking up this fight? Why do so many turn out to decry the death of one black man at the hands of some cops, but no mass rallies take on the deaths of thousands of blacks who are slaughtered by other blacks?
“I think it’s because we know it’s our fault, and we’re constantly looking for someone else to blame,” says Baltimore City Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm, who, like me, grew up in Cherry Hill, a poor black neighborhood on the city’s south side.
Hamm says most black leaders are afraid to address this issue, afraid to confront the apathy, fear and indifference that allow many poor black neighborhoods to become killing fields.
But whatever the reason, it’s time for black leaders—activists, preachers, educators, politicians, business and community leaders— to say enough is enough.
It’s time for them to be as aggressive, and as demanding, in combating the black murder rate as they are in fighting for an increase in minimum wage or an expansion in health care.
The ripple effects of black-on-black killings have turned many inner city neighborhoods into urban wastelands, chased businesses from those communities, fueled a growth in other crimes and sapped the resources of local governments.
As mad as black folks have a right to be over the killing of Sean Bell, we ought to be angry over the failure of black leaders to be equally outraged over the murder of Kevin West—and the thousands of blacks who are killed each year by other blacks.