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"Young black men" is not a metaphor for violence

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“Young black man” has become such an entrenched metaphor for being violently dangerous and endangered that even progressives who deplore the unwarranted fear of young black men contribute to it in puzzling and dismaying ways.

Many times, liberal politicians and interest groups from the White House on down have misrepresented young black men as violent, and today’s young black men as particularly so, and liberal commentators have let them get away with it. Statistical bigotry, scapegoating, and outright deceptions are routine in depictions of young African Americans – and not just by conservatives.

In a particularly strange case, vocal critics of visceral, racist fears – ones that create a climate in which police can kill black men and face no accountability – prominently included MSNBC commentators Christopher Hayes, Trymaine Lee, and Craig Melvin.

Yet, Hayes, Lee, and Melvin, viewing an unruly crowd that gathered in Ferguson the night the St. Louis grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who shot Brown to death, immediately assumed the crowd consisted of local “teenagers” (“14- and 15-year-olds,” Melvin declared) who “poured out of housing projects” to create an “ugly situation” of “troublemaking,” including arson, looting, and violence.

How they determined the ages and residences of a crowd Hayes estimated at 200 to 400 in the dark was never elucidated, but the characteristics of those arrested dramatically contradicted their impressions. Of the 124 arrested for arson, looting, and violence, the youngest was 17 (none were 14 or 15) and the oldest was 66; just 22 were under age 20. More telling, just 12 were from Ferguson, and perhaps an equal number from surrounding towns.

These were not Ferguson residents “burning their own cities”, as Fox News continuously blared, but the kinds of out-of-area opportunists that show up at any disaster. More arrested rioters were from Illinois than from Ferguson.

The disturbing question is why racially sensitive MSNBC’s and other progressive commentators, witnessing a disorderly crowd, saw the perpetrators as “housing project… 14- and 15-year-olds” and local “disaffected youth” when they were nothing of the sort, reinforcing right-wing myths of savage black teenagers mindlessly destroying their own town.

Remember that commentators posthumously awarded Eric Garner, age 43, the status of a “young black man” after the unarmed sidewalk cigarette seller was killed by New York City police officers and became the latest case in which a local grand jury (as in the Ferguson police killing of unarmed 18 year-old Michael Brown) refused to charge any crime.

In a general reality that speaks volumes, progressives uniformly fail to point out that today’s young black men are the least violent, least homicidal (in both arrest and fatality), and least criminal of any generation in the 60 years for which statistics are available. Citing these stunningly encouraging facts in no way detracts from angrily protesting injustices that still prevail. Yet, these seem a taboo topic.

Progressive and social justice advocates cannot influence Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, but we can redress the baffling insistence by many on the liberal/left who – whether pushing their own self-interest, invoking faulty generational nostalgia, or flattering aging egos – exploit young black men today as metaphors for violence.

Keywords: media, Mike Males, race, racial disparities

Posted in Blog, Social Justice

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