In 2010, Dr. John Rich, a renowned academic at Drexel and McCarthur “Genius” awardee told a group of reporters what anyone who has spent time in any American metropolis already knows; that the leading cause of death for black men ages 15 – 24 is homicide. Despite only making up 13% of the entire U.S. population, African Americans accounted for 45% of the 12,253 homicides committed in the U.S. in 2013. 2013 is not an anomaly either, in 2012 African Americans accounted for 50% of 12,765 homicides, and 49% of the 12,644 homicides in 2011. Couple those numbers with the unfortunate fact that most homicides are committed by perpetrators who look like their victims, and it becomes very apparent that there is an entire aspect of #BlackLivesMatters that we aren’t talking about, an essential part. There are entire groups of Black and Brown people that this movement isn’t reaching, and it is having deadly consequences.
Academics and activists alike will give you a litany of reasons why “Black on Black” crime is so persistent in urban areas like Detroit, Cincinnati, and Camden. Many of those reasons I agree with wholeheartedly. Systemic injustice, generational poverty, and inequitable education have all without a doubt contributed to the state of dystopia too many of our people currently live in. However, the time of rationalization has come and gone. With more than 5,000 African Americans being shot, stabbed, and killed on city streets every year, and places like Baltimore breaking decade-old homicide records with black and brown faces flooded in the obituaries as a result, we must re-prioritize as a movement.
Like many social justice campaigns before it, #BlackLivesMatter is slowly creeping into a movement of Black elites. Just as much as it’s actions are yielding real results, this movement is also unfortunately becoming one of semantics, a movement of Dubois’s “Talented Tenth”, and consequentially a movement that is becoming increasingly inaccessible to the Black folks who feel the worst iterations of the injustices we march and tweet about everyday. More importantly, this inaccessibility denies #BlackLivesMatter the ability to galvanize with thousands, maybe millions of more Black Americans.
I don’t think this growing divide is intentional, but I do think it is something that we have to become serious about resolving. While some of the greatest debates on Black life have happened on Twitter only about half of Black households reported using the internet in the last census compared to 76% of White Americans and 82% of Asian Americans. Even more troubling though, is that the January 2015 “Black Life Matters” conference which featured dozens of the high profile activists associated with the movement was held at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, a city that is nearly 70% white and a University where less than 1% of the undergraduate student body identifies as African American or Black. Those types of events ought to take place in communities and institutions of color where that sort of networking, nation-building, and positive energy is most and desperately needed. These statistics are not being used to indict the movement, rather only to acknowledge that as activists and freedom fighters we have to do a better job of reaching the masses of our people. We must ensure that we are connecting with those corners and communities that we often forget about when we go off to college, or when we “make it.”
While I am not saying that holding activist conferences in Black cities will help curb the carnage of Black lives in our urban streets, what I am saying is that the same sort of concentrated efforts we have put into other aspects of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we must put into reaching our most violent, poor, and undereducated neighborhoods because Black life is precious whether it is a Harvard Law Student or someone who had to adapt to unfortunate circumstances in Compton to survive. It is important to acknowledge the countless activists who are in these communities and have resolved to save Black life whether it’s from a gun being held by a racist white cop, or one being held by a misguided young man that looks like me. Truthfully though, we need more. We need more activists, preachers, and members of this movement to help us put an end to the immense blood shed that has taken so many away from us.
Everyday, dozens of Black men and women are being killed by other Black men and women and although the circumstances that have created these realities may not be our fault, the solvency must be. If not us, then who? More police? More prisons? As we march forward to continue challenging white supremacy and the social constructs that uphold it, it’s critical that we are actually preserving the black life that we are marching to protect. Too many Black women and men have died senselessly without ever having reached their full potential, and whether I’ve asked for it or not, their lives are my responsibility and they’re yours too.