Former Baltimore cop Peter Moskos understands the anger over Freddie Gray’s death, but he wishes there were a little more outrage over the deaths of men like Kareen George, Andre Hunt and Tierell Wilder.
The three men are among the 74 black people murdered this year — as of Sunday — in Baltimore, as listed on The Baltimore Sun’s homicide page. Their murders — and the vast majority of the city’s 83 overall homicides this year — have generated no protests, rioting or mass uproar, unlike the death of Gray, 25, who died last month of spinal injuries while in police custody.
So who killed those 74 people? In all likelihood, other black people. A 2010 Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows that most murders are intraracial: From 1980 to 2008, 93 percent of black homicide victims were killed by other blacks, while 84 percent of the white victims were killed by other whites.
What frustrates Mr. Moskos and others is that the lopsided focus on police-caused deaths has obscured a far deadlier threat to the black community, namely black-on-black homicide.
“I try to shout about this,” says Mr. Moskos, author of the 2009 book “Cop in the Hood,” “but no one seems to listen or care.”
Mr. Moskos cites a stunning statistic from his book: In Baltimore’s Eastern district, more than 10 percent of black men are murdered before the age of 35, according to his analysis of crime and census data from 2003 to 2006.
“The fact that 1 in 160 men are getting murdered every year out of that [15 to 34] age group — it’s unbelievable,” said Mr. Moskos, associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Few, if any, of those deaths received a fraction of the attention accorded the Gray case and other police-caused deaths. In Baltimore, there have been two people killed by police this year, which includes Gray, according to Sam Sinyangwe of the website Mapping Police Violence.
But it’s as if black lives only matter when they die at the hands of law enforcement, said Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
“Black lives matter, as all lives matter,” said Mr. Kirsanow in an email. “[In 2013], 6,261 blacks were murdered, approximately 93 percent by other blacks. Yet those killings produced no organized protests, no marches, no White House summits.”
“Did those black lives not matter?” asked Mr. Kirsanow.
Progressives bristle when the black homicide rate is raised in reaction to protests over the deaths of black men at the hands of police. It happened last year after the rioting that followed the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, when a number of critics asked why, as National Review columnist Deroy Murdock put it, “One can hear birds chirp while listening for public outcry over the deaths of black citizens killed by black perpetrators.”
Slate columnist Jamelle Bouie responded in a Dec. 1 column by citing demonstrations in eight cities over the last four years condemning violence in black communities.
“You may not have noticed black protests against crime and violence, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened,” Mr. Bouie said. “Black Americans — like everyone else — are concerned with what happens in their communities and, at a certain point, pundits who insist otherwise are either lying or willfully ignorant.”
Critics say the media is in part to blame for focusing on police-caused deaths while paying scant attention to the daily murders of black people.
“Black people have been trained by media, by Hollywood, by academia to believe that racism remains a huge problem in America, and ground zero is the way that police interact with black people,” said Larry Elder, a longtime conservative radio talk show host in Los Angeles.
As Mr. Elder sees it, decrying police killings is easy. Finding solutions to the black homicide problem is far more difficult.
“This is not anything we can talk about. It’s unpleasant. It’s not something that can be easily addressed,” said Mr. Elder. “It’s easier to scream about white racism than it is to deal with black-on-black crime.”
Mr. Sinyangwe calls the juxtaposition between black homicides and deaths at the hands of law enforcement an “apples and oranges comparison,” since police are “an institution of the state that, in many places, are using our tax dollars to target and kill us with impunity.”
“In 17 of the 100 largest cities, police kill black men at a higher rate than the U.S. murder rate,” said Mr. Sinyangwe. The U.S. homicide rate is 4.7 per 100,000 people, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2013.
“And since the police are an institution of the government, the government bears particular responsibility for making sure this institution is helping and not hurting our communities,” he said.
In 2014 Baltimore police killed six people, five of them black, according to Mapping Police Violence. That means 83 percent of the people killed by police were black in a city that is 63 percent black.
But that percentage fails to take into account the rate of violent crime by race. That same year, there were 211 murders in Baltimore. Of those, 189 of the victims were black, and 173 of those were black men, according to The Sun’s homicide page.
“I do understand why it’s worse to be killed by a cop than it is to be killed by a criminal,” Mr. Moskos said. “But there have been something like 11 homicides [in Baltimore] since Freddie Gray died. Even if cops were perfect and never made an error, OK, so Freddie Gray would be alive.”
President Obama recently reinforced the idea that police are the problem, saying that, since August, “We have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African-American, often poor, in ways that raise troubling questions.
“And it comes up, it seems like, once a week now. Or once every couple of weeks,” Mr. Obama said in remarks last month. “So I think it’s pretty understandable why the leaders of civil rights organizations — but, more importantly, moms and dads across the country — might start saying this is a crisis.”
That perception is widespread even though the percentage of black people killed by police has actually dropped dramatically over the last few decades, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The rate of police killings of African Americans has fallen by 70 percent over the last 40-50 years, but their risk remains much higher than that of Whites, Latinos, and Asians,” said the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, citing CDC figures, in an Aug. 26 analysis.
Among those acutely aware of the situation are cops, especially those who work in predominantly black inner-city neighborhoods, Mr. Moskos said.
“Cops tend to be a little less articulate and politically correct, and they dance around these subjects, but often police feel that they’re the only ones who do care about black lives,” Mr. Moskos said. “Cops know something’s wrong here. And then the second a police officer kills someone, everyone goes crazy, and you’re like, ‘But what about all these other people who died?’”
“You spend most of your working life basically trying to save black lives, and then everyone calls you a racist,” he said.
As Baltimore police have come under a microscope, so have the city’s myriad problems with poverty, unemployment and the exodus of the middle class. The poverty rate is nearly 25 percent, compared with 17 percent nationwide.
“Baltimore’s got 99 problems, and police brutality maybe is number six on the list,” Mr. Moskos said. “I do think it’s a matter of priorities and perspective.”