Crime Is a Symptom of Injustice.

AuthorWhitney, Jake
PositionA Peculiar Indifference: The Neglected Toll of Violence on Black America - Book review

A Peculiar Indifference: The Neglected Toll of Violence on Black America

By Elliott Currie Metropolitan Books, 288 pages Publication date: September 15,2020

Shortly after Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 23, the national discussion turned once again to police brutality--and the right, once again, tried to justify it.

Variations of "Blake was a criminal!" "He was resisting arrest!" and "More whites are killed by police!" peppered social media. But it was that old standby "When are we going to talk about Black-on-Black crime?" that provoked the most discussion in my own feed.

Tropes like these resound after every high-profile police shooting of an unarmed Black person. The implication with the last one is that if Black lives truly mattered, wed be more concerned with the violence Black people inflict on each other than with police killings. But Elliott Curries new book, A Peculiar Indifference: The Neglected Toll of Violence on Black America, unpacks the thinly veiled racism behind this well-worn conservative talking point by examining the causes and history of violence within Black neighborhoods.

Currie argues that Americans do indeed pay too little attention to the violence ravaging cities like Chicago. The way conservatives frame the issue, however, stops the discussion in its tracks by playing on stereotypes of Black people--Black men, in particular--as criminals while suggesting that we downplay these terrible police shootings.

Currie, a criminologist and professor at the University of California, Irvine, draws on a century's worth of research--from W.E.B. Du Bois's work at the turn of the century to recent university studies--to make his case that the violence engulfing some Black communities is not, in fact, a "community failure," but rather "a symptom of social injustice." The book is data-driven, nearly to a fault: the narrative slows at times from the statistical onslaught. But for an issue as contentious as this, the research needs to speak for itself, and Currie allows it to do that.

Following emancipation, Currie writes, Black people were still viewed as "something less than American." As the Great Migration led African Americans to Northern cities, the burgeoning communities were increasingly disregarded by whites. Black schools, for example, received scant resources; courts were unduly punitive toward Black defendants; and Black neighborhoods were either...

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