Afro-Americans have long committed violent crime at much higher rates than other ethnic groups. With the election of our first black president in 2008, many predicted this would end, as seeing a face like their own in the Oval Office would lead young Afros to lay down their arms and pick up a schoolbook.
Was such a prediction reasonable?
We argue that it was not.
Culture, affirm conservatives, is what poisons the young Black mind. Welfare payments slacken it, lack of fathers stunts it, hip-hop perverts it. Could we erase the Great Society and the sexual revolution, young Afro-Americans would revert back to the industrious strivers they once were.
The children represented by the Brown vs. Board of Education suit, Topeka Kansas, 1951: Vicky, Donald, Linda, James, Nancy, Katherine.
Progressives, on the other hand, admit some nefarious effects of black culture but attribute them to the lingering pain of 250 years of slavery and one hundred years of segregation. Any day now, they insist, Afro-Americans will begin to behave just like everyone else.
The progressive view is relatively easy to dismiss, as black dysfunction has in fact increased as Jim Crow recedes further into the past.
And the conservative view? Seductive, but incorrect. As it happens, Afro-Americans are not only well-known today for their violent exploits, but were so known far back in history. Reading the police blotter from one hundred years ago can be a startlingly familiar experience. Then as now, Afros chose to act out aggressively in a variety of milieus.
On public transport
Portland, April 2012:
A 57-year-old man who asked a group of teenagers to quiet down on a MAX train was assaulted on Friday... When officers arrived, they learned the man had asked a large group of around 15 to 20 black male teenagers to keep it down. That apparently didn't sit well with the teenagers and some of them allegedly attacked the man.
"I prefer rubbing elbows with them [Negro factory laborers] to riding with the so-called respectable Negroes on the Preston Street and other cross-town lines. On the Preston street line in particular conditions have become so unbearable that the writer, who formerly used this line to reach his place of business, has been obliged to adopt a more circuitous route, which takes fully twice as long.
"On this line respectable white people and white women especially, are subjected to every species of affront and insult, which they cannot resent without risk of being drawn into a dispute, in which no decent person cares to be involved. The Negroes realize this and it emboldens them still further."
Letter to Baltimore Sun, Aug. 18 (1)
Roanoke, VA, 1910:
March 29. Drunken Negroes took charge of an excursion train between this city and Winston-Salem last night and as a consequence Sidney Wood of Winston-Salem is dead at Martinsville, and two-score other Negroes are more or less wounded. Knives, razors, and pistols played prominent parts in the melee. . .
Baltimore Sun, March 30 (1)
In large public crowds
Chicago, May 2011:
018 [downtown tourist district] was waaaaaay out of control tonight, [black] flash mobs and wilding all over the gold coast; from Rush St. to Water Tower wild packs of 50-60 deep would bum rush stores, steal, and flee. Also a couple strong arms thrown in for good measure, as well as a group of almost 100 on the lake front knocking people off of bikes, and beating people at random.
Seaford, DE, July 1909:
Negroes who live in and around Bridgeville attempted to take the town last night. . . . About 10 o'clock at night the Negroes began firing among themselves, and Bridgeville being without police protection, was at the mercy of their revolvers, which were being fired in rapid succession. The town seemed to be alive with brawling blacks, and several fights were started in different parts of the town. At the railroad station a large crowd collected and fired shots in every direction. At a colored church another crowd got together, firing desperately among themselves. The citizens being utterly helpless stayed in their houses behind locked doors."
Baltimore Weekly Herald, July 8 (1)
At religious and family gatherings
Memphis, April 2012:
Memphis police said an Easter egg hunt ended with a brawl between two families and a woman's arrest for taking a hammer to a man's head.
Police said the man argued with Annette Pearson, 43, Sunday because he thought she was giving the children too much help finding the grand prize golden egg containing $7, The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported Monday. ...The families broke into violence after the man slapped the woman twice and police said Pearson retrieved a claw hammer from her house and struck the man in the head, leaving a wound that required four staples.
Detroit, February 2012:
The grandmother of slain baby Delric Miller revealed during an interview on Charlie Langton’s Talk Radio 1270 morning show she suspects the 9-month-old was killed over a skirmish about seating at a baby shower. Miller was killed when someone fired an estimated 40 rounds from an AK-47 into his family’s home in Detroit last weekend.
“They went to the baby shower first of all, at the baby shower they were arguing about seating …They were there to celebrate life, and my grandson is dead today,” Wilkins said.
Smyrna, DE, August 1915:
As has been the case yearly for a dozen years there was a fatal shooting affray at the Negro [Christian] camp meeting at Friendship last night. Howard Hollis, a Negro of Clayton, Del., was shot in both legs during the fight. ... It is not known who shot Hollis as bullets were flying thick and fast during the melee."
Baltimore Sun, Aug. 10 (1)
Indeed, Negro camp meetings and bush meetings had become so numerous, occupied such a large part of the Negroes' time during summer, caused so much lawlessness among them ; and consequently so much expense to the whites, that the Maryland Legislature in 1916 passed a law evidently directed against them. (1)
In the street, accompanied by robbery
Sarasota, FL, March 2011:
University friends James Cooper, 25, and James Kouzaris, 25, had been enjoying a care-free vacation in the popular holiday resort of Sarasota when a drunken mistake brought them into the path of 16-year-old Shawn Tyson. ... Spotting them stumbling through the notorious estate known as The Courts, Tyson attempted to rob the pair, then shot them each through the heart when they claimed to have no money.
Samuel Buckner, a young colored man, was convicted of robbing George C. Goddard of a gold watch and chain and a pocketbook containing $3. He was sentenced to ten years in the Eastern Penitentiary. ... A few minutes past midnight of November 28 [Mr. Goddard] was returning to his home, No. 1220 Spruce street, after a visit. He placed his hand in his pocket, drew out his key and was about to mount the steps when a dark form appeared from Dean street, a small, poorly-lighted thoroughfare, next door but one to his home, and at the same instant he was struck a violent blow full in the face with a brick. He sank to the pavement unconscious. When he recovered his senses he was in the Pennsylvania Hospital. There was a long, deep cut on his right cheek, another across the forehead, both eyes were blackened and swollen, and his nose was also bruised. (2)
Against law enforcement officers
Staten Island, 2011:
Firefighters came to the rescue of two police officers outnumbered in Mariners Harbor today, in a scene so chaotic that New York’s Bravest employed a truck-mounted deluge gun -- a water cannon -- to fend off the marauding group of [black] teens.
By the time it was over, two officers were sent to Richmond University Medical Center, West Brighton, for treatment, and nine teens ended up under arrest, said Inspector John Denesopolis, the 120th Precinct's commanding officer.
Rube Warren, colored, thirty years, of Foulkrod and Cedar streets, was held in $1000 bonds, by Magistrate Eisenbrown, for an alleged aggravated assault and battery on Policeman Haug, of the Frankford station, during a dog fight about a month ago. The policeman attempted to stop the fight when Warren, it is charged, assisted by several companions, assaulted him, broke his club and took away his revolver. During the free fight that followed, in which other policemen took part, Warren escaped and went to Baltimore. ...he was arrested on Saturday night. (2)Gettysburg, PA, 1913
... The [colored] picnickers had a gay frolic. It is charged that fifty of them attacked a policeman, and one of them robbed Robert King of Hunterstown of $35. There were about 7240 excursionists. Gettysburg has made a protest.
Cambridge (Md.) Record, Sept. 12 (1)
As members of the military
North Carolina, Rhode Island, Maryland, 1969-72:
As early as July 1969 the Marines (who had previously enjoyed a highly praised record on race) made headlines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., when a mass affray launched by 30-50 black Marines ended fatally with a white corporal’s skull smashed in and 145 other white Marines in the sick bay.
That same year, at Newport, R.I., naval station, blacks killed a white petty officer, while in march 1971 the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., outside Washington, was beset by racial fighting so severe that the base enlisted men’s club had to be closed.
Houston, August 1917:
Negro soldiers of the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry had planned a riot of bloodshed among the white residents of Houston (Texas) August 23, two days before the deadly attack which cost the lives of 15 Houston citizens last month, according to the report of the Civilian board of inquiry which reported to the Houston City Council to-night. . . .
The committee says that the undisputed and convincing testimony of witnesses proves that the Negro soldiers went forth to slay the white population indiscriminately: that no Negro was hurt or molested by them, not one Negro house was fired into, and that the Negroes were warned beforehand ... to stay off the streets.
Baltimore Sun, Sept 12 (1)
On the part of women
St. Louis, 2012:
Five [black female] students directly involved in a violent fight that broke out on the St. Louis Community College at Meramec campus Monday have been expelled, effective immediately, STLCC announced in a statement released Thursday.
Three of the students were arrested on charges of assault and turned over to the Kirkwood Police Department. Two students sustained minor injuries during the fight. [see video at link]
Etta Jones, colored, aged twenty-one years, residing on Hirst street, above Fifth, was stabbed near her home last night, it is alleged, by Lottie Lee, also colored, of Second and Race streets. The other woman was taken to the Pennsylvania Hospital, where her injuries were found to consist of several cuts on the left shoulder and side, none of which are dangerous. Her assailant was arrested later by Policeman Dean and locked up in the Third and Union streets station house. The assault is said by the police to have been the outcome of an old grudge. (2)
Against white women, sexually
The U.S.A., 2005:
Today, September 14, the New Century Foundation releases The Color of Crime, our relentlessly factual study of race, crime, and the criminal justice system.... Every year [in the U.S.] there are about 15,000 black-on-white rapes but fewer than 900 white-on-black rapes. [An interracial rape is seventeen times more likely to be black-on-white than white-on-black.] There are more than 3,000 gang rapes of whites by blacks—but white-on-black gang rapes are so rare they do not even show up in the statistics.
The southern United States, 1904:
It is a fact, which no one will deny, that the crime of rape was substantially unknown during the period of slavery, and was hardly known during the first years of freedom: it is the fatal product of new conditions. Twenty-five years ago women in the South went unattended, with no more fear of attack than they have in New England. To-day, no woman in the South goes alone upon the highway out of sight of white men, except on necessity, and no man leaves his women alone in his house if he can help it. Over 500 white women and children have been assaulted in the South by Negroes within that time. (3)
North Carolina, 1910:
In a population about evenly divided in North Carolina was a family of unpretending intelligent people.
There was a school house only a mile and a half away, but they could not let their two daughters go to it. They could not let them stir away from home unprotected. They had to pay for their education at home, while at the same time they were being taxed for the education of the Negro children of the district. ' 'Do you think,' was asked a leading Negro educator, 'that those girls could safely have gone to school?'
'It would depend upon the district,' was the reply. 'In some districts the girls could have gone to school safely enough; in others, no.' This I think was a terrible admission. (4)
Withholding cooperation from the police
New York, February 2009:
They're 14 through 19 years old, and they told 60 Minutes the "stop snitchin'" code doesn't just apply to rappers... "Yes… It's a crime, remember, in our community, to snitch," says Tess. Most of these kids had witnessed at least one violent crime but had not helped the police identify the culprits. Victoria saw someone get shot a few years ago; she says she was scared to talk to the police then, and she wouldn't identify the shooter if the same thing happened today. Asked why, Victoria says, "Because that's the rules."
Bedford City, VA, January 1910:
John E. Goode, a Negro, blew off the top of his head at Bedford City this morning in preference to appearing as a witness against Thomas W. Preston, the Negro murderer of M. D. Custy, a saloon-keeper. . . . Goode was present when the murder was committed. A Negro family named Davis, relatives of Preston, are said to have threatened Goode's life, if he testified.
Baltimore Sun, Jan. 6 (1)
Iowa City, December 2010:
Minorities have received more than half the citations and warnings for juvenile curfew violations in Iowa City since the law was first enforced in March....Iowa City is more than 85 percent white.... 55 percent of the curfew citations and warnings have been issued to minorities. “That’s a little bit troubling because, obviously, 55 percent of our population is not minority,” [Councilman Wright] said. “I don’t know what that means.”
Mobile, AL, July 1909:
The police department of Mobile, Ala., has established a curfew law for Negroes. Commencing on the night of July 21, the law provides that all Negroes must be in bed at their homes by ten o'clock or be subject to arrest. Any caught wandering at large after that hour will be locked up. This action is taken because there is said to be an epidemic of hold-ups perpetrated by the Negroes. If such a law was enforced in Baltimore it would decrease the alley fights ninety-five percent.
[Baltimore] Methodist Protestant, July 28 (1)
Of course such phenomena are true not only anecdotally, but statistically:
PERCENTAGE OF NEGROES IN U.S. PRISON POPULATION: 1910 (5)
In Total Population Among Prisoners
Jan. 1, 1910) During Year)
United States 10.7 30.6 21.9
The South 29.8 70.1 58.9
South Atlantic 33.7 72.0 61.6
East South Central 31.5 73.1 63.6
West South Central 22.6 62.4 46.0
The North 1.8 13.1 9.6
New England 1.0 4.6 2.6
Middle Atlantic 2.2 12.8 9.4
East North Central 1.6 14.7 11.0
West North Central 2.1 20.8 14.4
The West 0.7 5.9 3.2
Mountain 0.8 7.8 4.4
Pacific 0.7 4.6 2.5
U.S. Penitentiaries – 31.3 24.6
* * *
Northwest Europeans and Sub-Saharan Africans having evolved in radically different environments, it should come as no surprise that they display different levels of organizational ability, future time orientation, and impulse control. So different, in fact, that the only two modern societies who've been home to large numbers of these groups (South Africa and the U.S.A.) came independently to the same conclusion--that apartheid was the only feasible method of co-existence.
But segregation has now been abolished in both places, putting aside centuries of tradition. The experiment is young--barely 50 years in the latter, 20 in the former--and what can one say for the results thus far? Our forebears, even the most progressive, feared peaceful co-existence between these two groups was impossible:
'You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.'
Abraham Lincoln addressed the above to a black audience in August 1862, attempting to promote the repatriation of America's freedmen to West Africa. In the years since, many have decried his words as racist, but few have been able to present solid evidence that he was wrong. The question is a pressing one, as the U.S.'s slowing economy means the White Flight merry-go-round will sooner or later hit a bump, and Euro-Americans fleeing Afro dysfunction by legal means will find it harder and harder to do so.
The question 'If one racial group in a country is far more disposed to violent criminality than another, how should the law react?' was once answered, 'Segregation.' (de jure or de facto) It is today answered, 'Disperse the former amongst the latter and hope for the best.'
Is there a possible middle way between the two? As 21st century America continues its slow gutting of the middle class with all that implies for affordable family formation, this question is one that will demand a policy answer.
(1) Collins, Winfield H., The Truth About Lynching and the Negro in the South, New York: Neale Publishing Co., 1918.
(2) DuBois, W. E.B. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1899.
(3) Page, Thomas Nelson. The Negro: The Southerner's Problem. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1904.
(4) Archer, William. Through Afro-America, An English Reading of the Race Problem. London, Chapman&Hall, 1910.
(5) Reuter, E.B. The American Race Problem: A Study of the Negro. Ed. Seba Eldridge. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1927.