American as Cherry Pie

“Violence is as American as cherry pie.” H. Rap Brown said that back in 1967, when he was 23. It is as true today as it was then. Perhaps if he’d been older, he might have learned that violence—the state-sanctioned variety in particular—is as old as civilization. In this post, however, I’d like to talk about the violence here at home, both the kind we are taught to abhor and the kind we are taught to ignore.

We, at least those of us who aren’t officers in the National Rifle Association, are appalled by mass shootings. We are appalled by “hate crimes,” especially when they are committed by lone individuals who collect guns and Nazi paraphernalia. But that overlooks the vast majority of violent actions inspired by animus against people of a different race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. This week I’d like to focus on race-based hate crimes.

Some recent FBI statistics, comparing reports from 2016 and 2017 (2018 figures are not yet available):­

Reported hate crimes                          2016                2017                increase

Total                                                    6,121               7,175                 17%
Based on race                                      3,489               4,131                 18%
            Against Blacks                        1,739               2,013                 16%
            Against Latinos                          344                  427                 24%
            Anti Asian                                  113                  131                 16%
            Anti White                                 720                  741                   3%

These figures are based on incidents reported to the FBI. But what constitutes a hate crime? Only 12 states require police cadets to learn how to identify hate crimes in, and few provide training after officers leave the academy. Per the Washington Post (11/14/2018), a “federal training program that used to send experts…to teach police how to respond to hate crimes was abandoned during the Obama administration because local authorities wanted to concentrate more on Islamist violent extremism rather than white supremacist violence.”

Many nationally known events that you and I would clearly consider a hate crime aren’t counted in the FBI reports, because local police didn’t report them as such. One notable example is the murder of Heather Heyer by a white supremacist in Charlottesville during that demonstration where our Racist-in-Chief said there were “fine people on both sides.”

What about murders by law enforcement? A study carried out by the U. of Washington and Cornell U. found that police officers commit 8% of all homicides of adult males in the U.S., or about 2.8 homicides per day. The risk of being killed by police is 3.2 to 3.5 times higher for black men than white, between 1.4 and 1.7 times higher for Latino men. These can only be best estimates, because the study also reported that police kill twice as many people as reported in official statistics.

In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates points out that black people in America live in a constant state of fear, knowing that their bodies are always at risk of destruction. H. Rap Brown, whom I quoted above, is serving a life sentence for killing a deputy sheriff. I don’t have statistics for the number of police officers doing time for killing minority men or women, but I bet I could count them on the fingers of one hand. And nobody is even keeping count of the beatings and other forms of abuse meted out by cops to members of racial minorities. From slavery days through the KKK through Jim Crow to mass incarceration and murder by cop, what we see here is a form of hate crime. It is domestic terrorism. Next week I’ll take a look at hate crimes based on religion, and on sex.

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