Oscar Grant III, Adolph Grimes III and the Outmoded Outrage Debate
At The Daily Beast, Stanley Crouch writes that "the left" isn't outraged by black on black crime but police brutality instead. Over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates is outraged at the outrage from those who think that blacks aren't sufficiently outraged by black on black crime. Writes Coates:
"I spent most of last year following Bill Cosby around to standing room only rallies in Detroit, Birmingham and Baltimore, talking to people who were pissed off by a variety of social maladies. Number one amongst them all -- the murder rate among black men."[More...]
Coates is right: there is plenty of outrage in the black community over the murder rate among young black men. Here in New Orleans, for example, one of the most prominent anti-violence voices is a black cop turned pastor named John Rapahel. And Crouch's rant about "the left" is remarkably free of evidence: who on the left, exactly, despises law enforcement and is silent on black on black crime? Crouch doesn't say.
But I think that both Coates and Crouch fall into the same "outrage" trap. When discussing murder rates, police brutality or any other criminal justice issue debating the level of outrage among the black community or "the left"--whatever that means--just isn't very helpful. It's also endlessly debatable: how do we quantify outrage?
Instead of accusing one another of being insufficiently outraged, let's explore what's really going on in communities with high murder rates and the often rampant law enforcement misconduct that accompanies such violence. Here in New Orleans, we kicked off the New Year with three killings on New Year's Day alone. One of those killed was Adolph Grimes III,a 22 year old father who was shot 14 times by the NOPD after he allegedly opened fire on the cops. Grimes' family disputes the NOPD's characterization of the shooting--12 of the 14 shots hit Grimes in the back--and the FBI is investigating the incident.
The New Year's Day carnage is, sadly, typical in New Orleans: our murder rateis about 64 killings per 100,000 people, far higher than even violent cities like Baltimore and Detroit. What makes New Orleans so dangerous? We've got poor public education, poor public health, few social services, high levels of poverty, etc--but I'd also argue that our profoundly dysfunctional criminal justice system plays a huge role in allowing violence to fester. Consider the following: in 2007, when New Orleans' murder rate was well over 80 killings per 100,000 population, a mere 2% of arrests by the NOPD were for violent offenses according to the Metropolitan Crime Commission. Most of the arrests made by the NOPD that year were for misdemeanor drug offenses; indeed, Orleans Parish has one of the highest rates of admission to prison for drug offenses in the entire country. So, in New Orleans, you've got a much better chance of being arrested for selling a bag of weed than getting nabbed for murder. The streets are very aware of this. If you've got a beef with someone, there's no deterrence--other than your own conscience--from blowing them away.
Unfortunately, New Orleans is not alone in its drug war dysfunction: as The Wire's David Simon wrote in a great Time Magazine piece last year: "In cities where police agencies commit the most resources to arresting their way out of their drug problems, the arrest rates for violent crime — murder, rape, aggravated assault — have declined."
It's no surprise, then, that the cops who shot Adolph Grimes III were part of an NOPD narcotics task force. So when we talk about Adolph Grimes III, or Oscar Grant III let's talk not talk about who is or isn't outraged by police brutality or violence on the streets. Instead, let's talk about how the drug war actually works to destabilize cities like Oakland and New Orleans, let's talk about how our staggering incarceration rates have created a vast and seemingly permanent criminal underclass, and let's alwaystalk about how rising economic inequality has impacted the black community. As economist Marcellus Andrews eloquently put it: “The end of the American segregation system a half century ago put black people onto the blue-collar road to the middle class just when the on-ramp shut down."
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