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Community Voices: Trayvon tragedy shows need for deracializing violence

Edward Wyckoff Williams | 4/18/2012, 7:33 a.m.

When it comes to America’s racial past and present, lies and snake oil are sold in many colors.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, conservatives in media have sought to deflect from the racism and racial profiling that precipitated his untimely death by referencing the broader social malaise of supposed “black-on-black violence.”

On a recent episode of “This Week” on ABC, Washington Post Columnist George Will said that despite the Martin tragedy, “150 black men are killed every week in this country,” and “about 94 percent of them by other black men.”

Will parroted arguments made by many conservatives, his intended point being that black-on-black crime remains the real problem our nation should address. The half-truth he spoke went curiously unchallenged by the panel – including former White House adviser Van Jones – largely because the meta-narrative of black-on-black violence is widely accepted in journalistic and political circles.

Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News host and one-man propaganda machine, recently interviewed Columbia University Professor Marc Lamont Hill to discuss similar claims from Wall Street Journal Contributor Shelby Steele, who wrote in “The Exploitation of Trayvon Martin” that “black teenagers are afraid of other black teenagers, not whites.” O’Reilly vehemently defended Steele’s premise that the Martin case is an anomaly.

“Blacks today are nine times more likely to be killed by other blacks than by whites,” Steele wrote. He went on to attack the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for “exploiting” Martin’s death in an effort to promote a “liberal” agenda — a point that O’Reilly was all too happy to expound.

Steele’s perspective, though myopic and misguided, remains pervasive and embedded in the broader social consciousness. This red-herring approach is not new. But in the face of Martin’s death, these obstructive tactics require an equal and opposite response.

What Will, Steele and O’Reilly failed to mention is the exacting truth that white Americans are just as likely to be killed by other whites. According to Justice Department statistics, 84 percent of white people killed every year are killed by other whites.

In fact, all races share similar ratios. Yet there’s no outrage or racialized debate about white-on-white violence. Instead, the myth and associated fear of black-on-black crime is sold as a legitimate, mainstream descriptive and becomes American status quo.

The truth? As the largest racial group, whites commit the majority of crimes in America. In particular, whites are responsible for the vast majority of violent crimes. With respect to aggravated assault, whites lead blacks 2-1 in arrests; in forcible-rape cases, whites lead all racial and ethnic groups by more than 2-1. And in larceny theft, whites lead blacks, again, more than 2-1.

Given this mathematical truth, would anyone encourage African Americans to begin shooting suspicious white males in their neighborhoods for fear that they’ll be raped, assaulted or murdered? Perhaps George Zimmerman’s defenders should answer that question. If African Americans were to act as irrationally as Zimmerman did, would any rationale suffice to avoid arrest?

And why is no consideration given to the fact that Martin, and millions of black boys and girls like him, harbor a reasonably founded fear of whites but are hardly ever provided the deference and dignity that victimhood affords?