Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) offered some now-infamous analysis of the situation in Ferguson, Mo., on "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "White police officers wouldn't be" in black neighborhoods, killing black men, "if you weren’t killing each other."
This wasn't Giuliani's only point, but it was the one that spurred most online reaction. Giuliani also reiterated a version of a statistic that has been common in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown earlier this year. "I find it very disappointing," he said, "that we are not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks are killed by other blacks." He insisted to another member of the panel, Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, that "I would like to see the attention paid to that that you are paying to this."
There's a complexity to this that goes deeper than Giuliani's comments, but, with an imminent decision anticipated from a grand jury that is considering whether to indict officer Darren Wilson in the Brown shooting, it's worth addressing his points outside of that context. After all, Giuliani is not the first person to deflect critique of the events in Ferguson by citing similar statistics.
Ninety-three percent of black homicide victims are killed by other black people. That figure is from the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2010. The corollary is that 84 percent of whites were killed by whites -- a lower number, but one that has fluctuated over time.
Why is this the case? Because homicides usually involve people who know each other. Between 1980 and 2008, 78.1 percent of homicides were committed by people who knew the victim, as a family member, friend, or other acquaintance. Because people's social networks (and, obviously, families) tend to reflect their ethnicity, this should not be a surprise.
Protesters should, therefore, protest black-on-black crime. Giuliani's insistence that Dyson should focus on black-on-black crime evoked a perhaps predictable response from Dyson: "I do protest it."
The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates has written repeatedly about the "politics of changing the subject," noting that such protests and activity are common. "It is not 'black on black crime' that is background noise in America," Coates wrote in August, "but the pleas of black people."
Both Coates and Dyson point out that there's a distinct difference between a homicide involving two people in a community and a killing by a police officer. "Those people go to jail," Dyson said of black-on-black crime, unlike many instances in which a white police officer kills a black man. A report from ProPublica last month noted that white police officers are far more likely to kill black men than white men -- 21 times as likely, in fact.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics makes clear that killings by police officers are far less likely to result in criminal charges. There's a good reason for this: Police officers have the right to use deadly force to protect themselves and others. But it also means that deaths like the one in Cleveland over the weekend, in which a 12-year-old black boy was shot while holding a toy gun and later died, are far less likely to result in any sort of censure.
"It is the reason for the heavy police presence in those neighborhoods." Now for the broader context.
Giuliani is often credited with creating the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program, in which police were given the authority to search people with vague justification. When a judge made the department release data on the stops beginning in 2002, a pattern quickly emerged: The vast majority of stops involved people of color, nearly all of whom were found to have not violated any law.
Giuliani's arguments on Sunday echo the arguments of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), who bore the brunt of the outrage for the stop-and-frisk program during his three terms. Even as he was preparing to leave office in 2013, Bloomberg insisted that too many white people were being stopped by the police relative to crime rates. (The New Yorker had a good look at how the policy negatively affected those who were stopped.)
By the time Bill de Blasio (D) took over as mayor this year, the practice had been curtailed significantly. (In 2011, at its peak, 685,000 people were stopped. In the first half of this year, 27,500 were.) In 2014, homicide is down 6 percent, rape is down 4.3 percent and robbery is down 14.4 percent. The claim from defenders of stop-and-frisk, including Giuliani and Bloomberg, was that it was responsible for the city's drop in crime -- a drop that began before Giuliani and continues to this day.
Instead, stop-and-frisk was largely a reflection of the attitudes that Giuliani displayed on "Meet the Press" -- that the black community is out of control and needs police (including white ones) to keep order. "Why don't you cut [the homicide rate] down so that so many white police officers don't have to be in black areas?" Giuliani asked, ignoring that his controversial program ramped up after the homicide rate had begun to drop.
That statement prompted Coates to note the telling use of the word "you."
Second "why you cut it down" is expressly racist. Groups those killed and those who kill. And implicitly argues blacks are beyond the state.
— Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) November 24, 2014
If "you" weren't killing one another, Giuliani said to a Georgetown professor, cops wouldn't be needed.
Once the grand jury decision on Wilson is released, we can expect to hear more arguments like Giuliani's, which often serve as an attempt to blunt the outrage over something that everyone should agree should never have happened. But an enormous amount of the nation's racial history and tension is tied up in our reactions to the shooting of Brown and similar shootings, so even agreeing to that becomes tricky. And the result is lots of fingers pointing in the wrong direction.