Let’s speak frankly on race, crime

Whispering among ourselves just doesn’t cut it.  It is mainly within white-on-white and black-on-black conversations that we are likely to express our unvarnished opinions, fears, criticisms, and derisions.

Just like the old schoolyard charge of “she is talking behind your back”, when the discourse between races is something other than what we should be saying to each others’ faces, distrust is fostered.  We need to change this. 

I’ll go first…   (Editing note: I revised this week’s N&R column several times but apparently neglected to hit ‘save’ one last time before submitting my final draft to the paper.  Below is that draft.  The version that appears in print today is one generation previous.  Same idea, though…)

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The race of the criminal element among us shouldn’t matter, but it does.

When I have occasion to tell a white friend or acquaintance of some crime I have been involved with as a victim, I never mention the race of the perpetrator – on purpose. 

However, once I have finished my story, I anticipate the inevitable question. “Was it a black guy?” they’ll ask, sometimes sheepishly, sometimes not.  When my answer is, “No.”, I’ll get little response. 

When my answer is, “Yes”, the listener will likely respond with a shake of their head and a smirk as if to say, “It figures.” 

I’ll sometimes ask why that detail was important to their understanding of my story, and they’ll usually respond with something like, “Just wondering…”

But there is more to it than that, I believe.  The question seems to be an attempt to affirm white folks’ perception the black community.  And from this white guy, who makes valiant efforts toward colorblindness, I admit it is hard to dispel this perception among those of my race who are paying attention.

I read recent newspaper accounts of crime and punishment as closely as anyone and too often notice the preponderant skin color of the suspect, defendant, or inmate is something other than white.  But we have been socially conditioned to pretend not to notice, much less talk about, such matters. 

This needs changing. Perhaps it is.

Councilwoman Dr. Goldie Wells attended last Wednesday’s meeting of the Greensboro Parks & Recreation Commission, which I chair.  She said, in no uncertain terms, that if most of Greensboro’s crime problems are occurring within the black community, we should say so and get on with solving the problem.

Dr. Wells had just heard the commission discuss a grant being pursued jointly by our Police and Parks & Recreation Departments.  This grant, in excess of $400,000.00, is to identify kids who are “at risk” of heading the wrong way.  Once identified, attempts will be made to engage them into the many sports and other activities offered by Greensboro’s nationally acclaimed Parks & Recreation staff and facilities.  If awarded, this grant will provide service to on-the-brink youth at greatly reduced prices or free of charge.

We all need to be plain spoken about something: This money and similar programs are needed primarily in our poorer black neighborhoods because that is where the majority of our crime problems reside. 

There.  I said it.

It would do little good for Greensboro to focus such efforts toward our lily-white or leaning-toward-beige neighborhoods.  Same goes for the $500k that Police Chief Bellamy has requested received from our City Council to help stem violent crime in our city.  

Starmount doesn’t need it, College Hill doesn’t need it … those monies are desperately needed as an investment in neighborhoods with street addresses white folks might not know much about but are nonetheless experiencing a devastating and debilitating crime crisis.

Greensboro is famous for smugly talking around our problems when race is involved, but we need to finally and forever get over this affliction and speak frankly to one another.  To do otherwise is to bury our collective heads in sand that could ultimately swallow us whole.

Stating the problem plainly: Greensboro’s black community is hurting due to excessive crime.  The questions to ask are: What is Greensboro’s white community willing to do to help?  What will Greensboro’s black community do to help themselves? And, are we all finally willing to stop speaking past each other and get the thing done?

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15 Comments

  1. Posted December 19, 2007 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Well said. Thanks

  2. Brenda Bowers
    Posted December 19, 2007 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    David I was both gratified and very saddened to read your article today. Gratified because I have been with a broken heart seeing and finally acknowledging this trend for some time now and it helps to see that I am not alone anymore. Saddened because you of all people have finally like me been forced to say yes, this is happening. Something bad is happening with the Black race as a people. The largest group of this race are moving upwards into the middle class and above. Another group is degenerating into moral decay. Why? In spite of everything we have been trying to do WHY is it happening? Poverty is not the reason. Far more Blacks were poor and very much more sunken in deep poverty than any today three generations ago, and yet the crime and morality were not at these all time high levels. In 1960 illegitimacy and one parent families which we all know has a great deal to do with many problems Black Children are having was at 25%. Today it is at 77%.

    My blog yesterday was on crime and cops was a take off on Cara Michele’s. Some research showed that the last time the homicide rate was in the teens was in the 1980’s with the last White Police Chief. Then Wray was hired in the summer of 2003 and the homicide rate fell to 16 in 2004 only to begin climbing again in 2005 after Johnson took all of Wray’s powers away from him in the Fall. It has been in the 30+ range since. Why? Why? Why?

    And finally, why are Blacks willing to tolerate criminality in their elected leaders? Marian Berry was elected as Mayor of Washington DC while in jail for drug use and possession for God’s sake. While White politicians have been drummed out of the running for just the hint of possible drug use? Why are these criminals tolerated and elected? WHY? On the local level there is Skip Alston and Earl Jones. And at the State level the Black Caucus scholarship thing would have cause a scandal and investigations if it had been a White Caucus. Why?

    This was not the dream we all worked so hard for. And it hurts to see this happening. BB

  3. Brenda Bowers
    Posted December 19, 2007 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    David, I am sorry to have taken so much space on your site. I should have taken it home with me, but just got carried away. BB

  4. Posted December 19, 2007 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Brenda, why do you capitalize the words “black” and “white?”

  5. jw
    Posted December 19, 2007 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    (Comment note from the owner: To avoid confusion, the following comment is not from a regular commenter here who is also known as jw)

    mr. hoggard.. need i remind you that one of the most respected people in america,bill cosby, addressed these same issues(schools, parent-hood,crime etc.) and he was severly criticized by the black community. what chance do you or me have?

  6. bill
    Posted December 19, 2007 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    David,
    Good job. Hope you’re not labeled a racist for voicing the unspoken truth about our state of race relations.
    Bill

  7. Whirlie Alum
    Posted December 19, 2007 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I heard Roch was over at Oak Hill last night throwing down with the parents who were fighting. Roch kept yelling “it’s all whitey’s fault!” We needn’t look any further than what happened at Oak Hill as to why this crap has infiltrated all schools. Yet, the school board and all the other politicians and PC police won’t udder a contrary word when Denna Hayes, Skip Alston, Bruce Davis and Carolyn Coleman attribute the cause of everything bad that happens to a black person as the haves not giving enough

  8. Jim Rosenberg
    Posted December 19, 2007 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    David – Your first instinct was right. Make individual judgments based on individual behavior, not blanket judgments based on group memberships. The answer isn’t to examine the glitter on the generalizations more closely, but to stop making them in the first place. For instance, we’ve now had two racial firestorms over local government firings — one from each side of the racial divide: Willie Best and David Wray. Both have been the subject of endless analysis and it’s pretty clear all of the talk and openness are deepening the divide. Here’s a crazy idea: clarify and make public the standards and processes for evaluation and termination of highly compensated employees. There is still furor over the way David Wray was locked out of his office. Another nutty idea: publicly debate and correct the procedures which resulted in such a clunky misstep. There is all kinds of distrust over the “Investigations Gone Wild” vibe of the Wray era. Insane idea: develop and state publicly strict standards for disclosure and reporting of police investigative units. I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone. Right now, we don’t need more or better talk about race. We need the people in charge of these things to execute on the boring, nitty-gritty basics of their jobs, for Pete’s sake.

  9. Brenda Bowers
    Posted December 20, 2007 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Roch I capitalize Black and White because I am not talking about a color on the color chart, but two groups of people. I refuse to use the term African-American so I use Black. I also refuse to use Russian American when referring to myself just as my grandfather who was born and raised in Russia would have been offended if anyone had referred to him as a Russian American. He was an American from the day he got off the boat at Ellis Island and very proud of the fact.

    In fact, I believe as do many prominent Blacks that the term African American is also part of the problem between the races. It sets this group of people apart as if they do not belong to the mainstream, or are recent additions when actually most have ancestors going back to the early years of our country. They are in fact far more American than I am if ancestry and time in country is counted since my family only goes back to 1910 as Americans.

    Jim, I agree that if better job descriptions were available and then used to evaluate employees as well as to give reason for termination then that would be much better. However that does not seem to be the case. At least however in the Willie Best case reasons for termination were given and absolutely no one refuted these reasons. He did fail to do as the County Commissioners asked him to do in presenting alternative budgets, and he was indeed out golfing while the budget was being prepared with the assistance of his assistant rather than him. This case can not in any way be compared with David Wray who was railroaded and whose name and life were destroyed by two vengeful petty people while a good for nothing city council sat back and did noting but rubber stamp the people they were elected to supervise. We still have no idea what the truth of what happened is and it will probably require someone going to court to bring out the truth.

    If you believe the Black community has no problems then you only need to read some studies on what causes delinquency, gang membership and other anti-social behavior. Then take note of the fact that unwed motherhood and one parent families among the Blacks is around 77%. That is 77 Black babies out of every 100 who are headed for trouble caused from this condition in their lives. BB

  10. Jim Rosenberg
    Posted December 20, 2007 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Brenda – My parents taught me it was wrong to make judgments about entire groups of people, or even a whole person. They taught me everyone is the same, and to save my judgment for individual behaviors, starting with my own. I don’t have an opinion about “the Black community, and I think no one should.

  11. Posted December 20, 2007 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Of course I wouldn’t argue with your choosing to NOT call yourself a “Russian American.” That would be a bit presumpuous on my part. Nor would I refuse to call you a “Russian American” if that is what you preferred.

    Since you feel it is your right to refuse to refer to yourself in that way and expect everyone to respect that right, why is it you “refuse” to use a term that a group of people have chosen for themselves? It is true that some folks do not shoose to use the term “African American” but for those who do, why can’t you respect their choice as you expect others to respect yours?

  12. Posted December 20, 2007 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    David,

    When I type a comment longer than five lines, the comment section goes blank and I’m left typing blind. How do I fix that? I apologize for the typo above.

  13. Posted December 20, 2007 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I learned a lesson about this a number of years ago from good friend John Kernodle. (I was very happy to read the lovely comments about him in the paper recently. He deserves to be remembered well.) I was harrumphing about a local (quite prominent) woman who referred to herself by her husband’s name, “Mrs. John Doe.� I said, “Doesn’t she have her own name? What’s wrong with using her own name?� John patiently explained it to me in this way: “I think that it is up to each person to decide for themselves what they wish to be called. We need to respect that.� He was right, of course.

    I find it inappropriate to “refuse� to call someone what they wished to be called.

  14. Brenda Bowers
    Posted December 20, 2007 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    That name was not chosen by a group of people for themselves. It was chosen for them. bill Cosby is one prominent Black who refuses to be called African American. There are many, many others.

    Jim, you were taught as I was taught to judge individual people on their own merits. However groups and data on groups are indicators of the group profile. I am not judging individual Blacks, I am saying as a group their propensity/tolerance for having children out of wed lock and the fathers refusal to take responsibility for their children is a problem for the children and in the long run for society. These are facts. I am not pulling figures out of the air or making up the many studies that have been done. We all should be willing to use facts to guide our thinking and discussions concerning problems and if we don’t then we will continue to have the same problems. We have been hiding our heads in the sand and denying the facts in our quest for political politeness while the problem continues to fester. What good would having programs for children to try to keep them out of gangs be in northwest Greensboro when the gangs and gang membership is heaviest in the southeast? BB

  15. Jim Rosenberg
    Posted December 21, 2007 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    Brenda – One of us isn’t doing what we were taught.