Black on black crime: myth and reality in Facebook murder

Son of victim: Dad was stripped of dignity
Son of victim: Dad was stripped of dignity

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Story highlights

  • Areva Martin: Anyone with a scintilla of familiarity with African-American communities knows that we want killers arrested no matter what their race
  • It's simply about justice, she writes

Areva Martin is a CNN legal analyst, a civil rights attorney and managing partner of Martin & Martin LLP in Los Angeles. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Prowling the streets of Cleveland, 37-year-old Steve Stephens was on a mission that was utterly insane. "Found me somebody I'm going to kill, this guy right here, this old dude," he said as he stepped out of his vehicle. In the moments that followed, Stephens would ask 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. to say the name of a woman he knew, and when the former foundry worker failed to do so, he said, "She's the reason why this is about to happen to you." Then Stephens savagely shot him to death.

Areva Martin
Apparently proud of his work, Stephens posted a video of the shocking murder on Facebook, an action so sick and twisted that Cleveland's African-American community—battle-hardened by decades of violence -- erupted in anger and outrage. That outrage endures, even though Stephens ended his own life after a brief pursuit by police in Pennsylvania.
It was a feeling with which I was intimately familiar, having just attended the funeral of my 41-year-old cousin, Reggie, in St. Louis. A married father of two, Reggie was gunned down by another African-American in a senseless act of violence.
I spent the entire weekend not only consoling members of my own family, but also with a congregation of angry and heartbroken black mothers, many of whom had also lost their sons or other relatives and friends to gun violence. Like me, they wondered aloud what it would take to put a stop to the epidemic of black men killing other black men.
None of the men or women I spoke to over the weekend expressed any sympathy for my cousin's killer. Nor did they express any special understanding or desire for leniency for Steve Stephens because he was black. What they wanted was swift justice, for the accused killer to be quickly apprehended and brought to trial.
Anyone with a scintilla of familiarity with African-American communities knows that we want the killers who plague our communities arrested and jailed no matter what their race or color. Words never said by a black mother or father include: "I rest easier at night knowing my son was killed by another black man."
And yet, right-wing media and conservative politicians continue to perpetuate the myth that African-Americans only get upset when black suspects (often considered guilty thugs by these pundits) are shot by white police officers. I'm frequently asked on live TV why African-Americans don't show equal outrage with "black on black" crime? But this argument is as illogical as it is dishonest.
To begin with, black men who commit crimes go to jail at a higher rate than any other ethnic group. Since many people of color also serve on juries, logically it can't be true that African-Americans are uninterested in punishing other blacks who commit crimes.
Secondly, African-Americans are the victims of crime and police brutality; the two concerns are not mutually exclusive. Black people can be equally disgusted by senseless gun violence as well as white police officers who shoot unarmed black men in the back.
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Finally, the very notion that one race committing crimes against others of that same race is a phenomenon unique to the African-American community is, itself, a myth. While it is true that the overwhelming number of black people who are murdered in the United States are killed by other black people, it's also true, according to the FBI's 2014 Uniform Crime Reports, that about 82% of white American homicide victims were killed by other white people.
But has anyone heard Donald Trump or any other conservative politician talk about the horrific problem of "white on white" crime? What the statistics show is that people are most likely to be murdered by those who they live next to and know -- not that African-Americans are an outlier savage race with murderous impulses.
After capturing national attention, Steve Stephens shot himself rather than face justice. And nowhere will people be happier that he is off the streets than in the black community he terrorized.