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  • Writer's pictureArchuleta A. Chisolm

It's More Than Black-on-Black Crime

I could not watch.

I did not have the strength to watch another Black man be murdered, and for those images to stay present with me. I knew that I didn’t want to subject myself, yet again, to the torture and trauma of another Black man dehumanized. I also knew that watching the video would not honor Tyre Nichols in any way, nor would it give solace to his family.

Nothing has changed. But things just progressively get worse. Walking, running, playing, sleeping, driving. We’re begging for breath. We’re crying out for mothers. Yet still, nothing has changed. And it shouldn’t require a video for anyone to believe or understand that police brutality is a frightening epidemic in this country.

It's chilling looking at the faces of the five Black police officers who violently killed Tyre Nichols. They have been charged with second degree murder, along with other charges. This came down so quickly; more quickly than we’ve seen before. It has many people wondering if this action would have been as swift if the officers were white. Based on history, we can safely say no. The prayer now is #JusticeforTyre.

The media is spinning this as ‘Black-on-Black crime’ which is something they never do when white men shoot up schools, movie theaters and shopping malls. Oftentimes when Black-on-Black crime is mentioned, it’s implying that Black people are more violent towards each other than any other race which we know is not true. No one ever says white-on-white crime when a white person kills a white person.

That’s because the phrase Black-on-Black crime was created (not by us) to tear down Black communities. Black-on-Black crime is literally just crime.

In December of 1970, a Black columnist in Chicago Warner Saunders wrote about getting invited to speak at a seminar on Black-on-Black crime. To prepare, he sought out the neighborhood hustler “Fast Willie” and asked him why he “robbed and beat up Black people who are brothers.” Willie’s response was the foundation of what we need to understand now:

“We go where the business is and where the man ain’t looking. Can you see me going up to Deerfield, Black as I am, trying to stick up? The man would be on me so fast I couldn’t get a chewing gum wrapper. Out here the man is too busy whooping them Panthers and giving tickets to mess with me. Any way, he don’t care if niggers get ripped off. But you can bet he’s watching his ‘thang’ back in his own ‘hood.’”

In other words, Willie committed crimes against his own people because of proximity, and more poignantly, that’s what police will let him get away with.

The foundation of policing is based on white supremacist violence. For people questioning how this can be racist if the police who killed Tyre Nichols are Black, understand that people who are being held down under the weight of oppression also can carry the load. Remember that several of the police officers who murdered Freddie Gray were Black. Anti-Blackness is shared across racial and ethnic backgrounds. Over 30 years ago, the late director John Singleton showed us this in the movie Boyz in the Hood.

Even before law enforcement existed, there were ‘slave patrols’ charged with establishing a system of fear to stop uprisings and to return enslaved people back to their owners. Sometimes enslaved people were given authority over other enslaved people. We would be remiss to assume that Black people can’t be prejudiced towards other Black people.

If you remember in 2020, President Biden stood ten toes down during his presidential campaign on a platform that advocated for increasing funding for police departments to diversify their ranks. The same thing happened in 1967 when President Johnson set out to increase the number of Black police officers in order to solve racism in policing.

Also in 1967, a report was released exposing anti-Black biases. It found that a significant number of Black police officers who worked in predominantly Black precincts were prejudiced against Black people. In other words, just because you increase the percentage of Black police officers doesn’t mean it’s an effective policing solution.

At some point, in an oppressive system, the oppressed are required to participate on some level. It provides a false validity to oppression.

Typically, Black-on-Black crime is used to be argumentative. Telling Black people to simply stop killing each other won’t accomplish anything. Black-on-Black crime is also used as denial to the people being concerned about police brutality. However, we must realize that ending violent crime in Black communities and protesting police brutality can coexist.

It is discouraging to see people subscribe to the Black-on-Black crime narrative, especially Black people. We need to sit with how this language is used as just another disruptive tactic to make us turn against each other. Both police brutality and Black-on-Black crime are the results of white supremacy and systematic racism. We have to dig deeper into the root of the problem and continue to dismantle these beasts that are killing us.


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