At the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino—a union house—members of the NAACP last Saturday gathered for the local branch’s 70th annual banquet. It was a happy occasion, but there was also an undercurrent running through the crowd—anger over a newspaper column by local conservative lobbyist Randi Thompson.
The piece appeared on the Reno Gazette Journal website on Oct. 22 and then ran in print in the Oct. 25 Sunday edition. It read, in part:
“So this whole Black Lives Matter movement is really ticking me off, because it’s turning into a ’cops’ lives don’t matter’ sentiment. A black cop was shot and killed in New York, but where is the outrage for his ’black life’? It seems that black lives only matter when the ’black life’ is some kid thug, and the shooter is a white cop. If black lives matter, then where is the outrage over the black-on-black crime that happens every day in this country? … President Obama was quick to jump on the killing of Michael Brown as an example of a law enforcement mentality that targets blacks, yet he is silent about the daily killings of blacks by blacks in his hometown of Chicago.”
As it happened, Guardian Quest Inc. CEO Angie Taylor, a member of the Washoe County School Board, was one of the speakers at the dinner, and she mentioned Black Lives Matter favorably.
NAACP vice president Andrew Barbano urged attendees to send letters or post reader comments objecting to the Thompson column.
The following Monday morning, the Gazette Journal was notified to expect a competing essay. Meanwhile, the newspaper’s Facebook page was filling up with angry comments.
Among the reasons for anger by those attending the banquet was that it has been their experience that it is whites, not blacks, who ignore crime in black neighborhoods. Whites tend to discuss it mainly when it serves to divert attention from other issues—and no one was able to locate other newspapers columns by Thompson in which she discussed the issue. Black leaders, on the other hand, have long thrown attention on the matter and have also been in the forefront of those critical of other black leaders for downplaying the problem. In fact, some critics of supposed black apathy toward black-on-black crime cited some black leaders—though Rudolph Giuliani’s citation of Bill Cosby’s 2004 criticism of black parents for insensitivity to crime and morality may lack credibility in 2015.
In 1970, Andrew Brimmer—the only black member of the Federal Reserve Board—called on other black leaders to pay more attention to crime in black neighborhoods: “While the rising incidence of crime has been a source of embarrassment to many Negro leaders, far too many have remained ambivalent toward the problem—perhaps through fear of providing comfort to racists masquerading behind a mask of law and order.” But that did not keep him from pointing out that blacks “will need the vigorous support of the white community—and I am not fully confident that this will be forthcoming to the extent required.”
That same year, Urban League leader and D.C. City Councilmember Sterling Tucker said overlooking crime in black areas “is highly injurious, not only to society, but more particularly to the recipient of all this commiseration—the black man himself.”
In 1984, Urban League leader Rev. Ernest Ferrell of Florida said of a new crime prevention program for black neighborhoods, “We’re not going to tolerate crime in our neighborhoods any more.”
In 1988, Dr. Richard Williams, a Florida African American leader, said at a three-day community/police conference, “It’s like preventive maintenance—you can solve problems before they become problems. It brings about understanding between both officers and community residents.”
In 1997, black columnist Walter Williams wrote, “Crime is a major problem and lies at the heart of other major problems faced by blacks. High crime translates into low rates of businesses in black neighborhoods. … Crime drives upwardly mobile residents out, and the neighborhood loses stabilizing influences.”
Some say it goes back farther than that. South Carolina columnist Linda Darnell Williams traced such concerns to Harriet Tubman and early 20th century journalist Ida Wells-Barnett.
Thompson’s essay was less inflammatory than comments by other conservative leaders. For instance, where she wrote, “it’s turning into a ’cops’ lives don’t matter’ sentiment,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the BLM movement is “calling for the murder of police officers.”
Thompson said later that her criticism was principally directed to the White House, “not about the local attitude or the movement itself necessarily.”
Some criticism of the BLM movement is poorly informed or relies on stale information. For instance, Fox personality Martha MacCallum said on the air, “What about black-on-black violence? Where is Al Sharpton on that? Where is the president on that?”
That quote caught the eye of Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune, who wrote, “Funny you should ask. Sharpton made a publicized trip to Chicago in November to focus attention on the city’s chronic violence. Last year, Michelle Obama attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old black honor student who was shot, allegedly by a black gang member. The first lady later returned to Chicago to converse with students at a school that is nearly 100 percent African-American. ’In choosing Harper High School for the visit, the White House noted that 29 current or former students there had been shot in the last year, eight of them fatally,’ reported the Tribune. The president also came here, meeting with kids involved in a mentoring program for at-risk adolescent boys, bemoaning gun violence and telling a crowd on the South Side, ’Our streets will only be as safe as our schools are strong and our families are sound.’ ”
Moreover, crime rates among blacks have been falling dramatically for many years—homicide by half, other violent crimes by 60 percent. And there seems to be little recognition that it is not just black neighborhoods where most crime happens—it’s low income neighborhoods with residents of all colors. There may also be little understanding that, according to the Fatal Encounters database, one citizen is killed by police every eight hours.
Moreover, claims by some conservatives that criticism of the police has caused a “Ferguson effect”—an increase in crime caused by police afraid to do their jobs because of public scrutiny—has foundered because there is no evidence for it, as FBI director James Comey acknowledged last week. But there is some evidence that crime was rising before Ferguson. Comey also said, “Law enforcement can actually use hashtag Black Lives Matter to see the world through the eyes of people who are not in our line of work and see how they might perceive us,” Comey said. “And I believe that those members of the black community can use hashtag ’police lives matter’ to see the world through law enforcement eyes and see the heart of law enforcement.”
There was little of that kind of outreach. When we asked Thompson if any of her critics had asked to sit down with her to talk, she said no.
“I’d welcome it,” she said. “But until then it’s just my observations.”