St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington views black-on-black crime as a scourge ripping apart his community. Since racial breakdowns of crime statistics are hard to come by in Minnesota, Harrington has been forced to do a lot of digging.
He determined that in 2006, 70 percent of all aggravated assaults in St. Paul, the most violent crimes on the books, were committed against African-Americans. Given the proportion of blacks in the local population, Harrington was shocked.
“In the city where ten percent of the [population] is black, how can you have 70 percent of your victims of this particular crime, which is one of the most horrendous crimes you can do, how can that be so out of whack?” he asks.
As a first step toward controlling the problem, Harrington says you have to figure out who is in the suspect pool. When he divided the suspects by race, it gave him a snapshot of the degree to which black-on-black violence afflicts St. Paul.
“Just like 70 percent of my victims are black, 70 percent of my suspects are black,” he says.
Harrington says black-on-black crime is an outgrowth of two huge problems affecting Black America: the high rate of out-of-wedlock births and gangs.
There are generations of African-Americans who haven’t had two parents to show them the way. Harrington says their maturity has been stunted. As a result, he says, there’s an overabundance of young men who are un- or under-employed, who have criminal histories and who rely on chemicals to deal with psychological or emotional pain, and young women who are unequipped to be mothers, wives or even girlfriends.
“You put those two in combination and you get an explosion,” he says.
Every Thursday this summer, V.J. Smith, founder of the Minneapolis chapter of the anti-crime group Mad Dads, has been hitting the streets with his crew of volunteers. They’ve been stopping male passers-by and administering an oath in which the men promise they will never again commit acts of violence and will become “Menders of the Nest.”
Smith realizes that taking an oath may seem like only a gesture in the fight against violence, but he says for many people, their word means everything. Still, he says, it will take much more to rebuild the war zones too many black neighborhoods have become.
“Some individuals aren’t quite strong enough to make it through a traumatic situation,” he says. “They can’t look at somebody lying on the ground and watch blood come from them and then be able to go to school the next day and get all A’s. They can’t see somebody missing from the family that they love and, without getting any kind of help, still be a productive citizen.”
Smith says African-Americans need to figure out a way to turn black-on-black-crime into black-on-black love, and he says some people are working on that, but not enough. Smith says the black community will accept any help it can get to combat crime, but it has to do a much better job helping itself.
“When the Catholics had issues they started Catholic Charities,” he says. “When the Lutherans had issues they started Lutheran Social Services. When the blacks had issues, we started riots. So we need to do something different.”