Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Social Media and Racial Violence

Two weeks ago I got pretty involved in a social-media exchange after a neighbor was killed by a stray bullet.  What really upset me, and caused me to start contacting Facebook and the local media about their comments policies, was a post from a pseudonymous stranger from Alabama on a local TV station’s comment section, for which that station uses Facebook.

I found the comment to be racist and misogynistic, and so I reported it.   The TV station agreed with me and blocked the user.  Facebook didn’t agree, and suggested that I contact the other Facebook user directly.   So I did.

I was surprised by the response, in which the poster seemed to apologize:  ”I went to remove the comment, but it said page not found... I apologize, Ron. That was an extremely horrible comment. I really am full of hate and anger and I need to figure out a much more constructive way to let that go than be a jerk on news articles I come across. I really am sincerely sorry... my bad.”

So I followed up:  

“Thanks for responding.   After Facebook declined to remove the comment, and after I PM'd you, WTHR-13 in Indianapolis removed the comment.  But I appreciate you acknowledging my emails.   I realize your message to me might be sarcastic, but I will take you at your word.   Thank you for the apology.   Why do you feel you are full of hate and anger?”

He came back with a lengthy response, which I didn’t agree with, but I did respect his candor. 

“No, it wasn't sarcastic... I think I am so angry because there really is a disproportionately larger amount of black perpetrated crime and in particular, black-on-white violence in not just the US, but globally. I am frustrated that the media and our government largely covers this up and portrays a false narrative that blacks and whites can live together in harmony. I believe whites that buy into this deception put their lives in danger... your neighbor being a prime example.

“My comments were juvenile, hateful and stupid and I apologize for them... they did nothing constructive and where a product of my frustration because I've sadly seen this type of story over and over and over again, check out a site called --- they log on the black-on-white crime that goes ignored by the main stream media.

“Anyway. you may disagree with my train of thought, but I appreciate your concern. I also thank you for calling me out on my infantile and rude comment. I sometimes forget that behind all these news stories are actual, real people whose lives matter and have loved ones that cared about them.”

I’ve drafted the following as another response; but rather than send it to him directly, I'll send him a link to this blog.

So, thanks again for responding and being so candid with me.  I’ve been thinking a lot about our exchange.   I did go to the website you suggested, and at least I can say that I’m glad to see that it is full of links to actual local news sources. 

Here’s my take on this issue of interracial crime.  I think between following the crimes themselves, and the trials, it’s easy to fill a page with a dozen new stories a day.   But in terms of the real size of the problem, I rely not on the media but on the statistics published by the FBI, here:

Focusing just on murders, the number of murders in the US has been slowly dwindling for a few decades, down to about 15,000 in 2012 from 20,000 twenty years earlier.  One thing that hasn’t been changing much is who is getting killed by whom.

Most people get murdered by people they know.  Most black people are killed by black people (about 93% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks, year after year).  Most white and Hispanic people are killed by white and Hispanic people (about 84%, year after year). 

In 2012, black people represented 47% of murder victims, almost all of whom were murdered by black people.  White and Hispanic people represented 48% of murder victims, 84% of whom were murdered by other whites or Hispanics.   (American Indians, Asians, and other ethnicities make up the rest).

Blacks make up only 13% of the 330 million people in America – about 45 million people.  So the fact that they are 47% of the 15,000 murder victims is a serious problem.  And the fact that other blacks commit most of those 7200 murders is a serious problem.   I’m not sure that we can separate those numbers from the issues of poverty and of unequal policing and sentencing – I don’t think that using those numbers to say that “it’s a black problem” really gets at all the issues.

But here’s the bigger issue in my mind.  In addition to the 7200 (out of 45 million) black people who are murdered each year, about 7300 white and Hispanic people (out of 275 million) are murdered each year – 6300 of them by other whites and Hispanics.   So, yes, there appear to be 1000 white and Hispanic victims of interracial murder every year.   Three a day.   Fill a website up with links to stories about them and it looks like an epidemic.

But another way to look at those numbers is that only 1000 of the 15,000 murders in America each year are black-on-white crime.   Your chances, as a white American, of being the victim of a black-on-white murder are 1000 in 275,000,000, or 3.6 in a million.   On the other hand, the 45 million black people suffer from a “mere” 500 interracial murders – so their chances of dying in an interracial murder are actually, at 500 in 45,000,000, or 11 in a million, far greater. 

(And, at the risk of making even more people mad, no, these numbers don’t include police shootings, unless they are prosecuted as murders, which they rarely are.)

And even that’s not the real issue.  Every death is a tragedy and every murder is an outrage, and when they happen by the hundreds or thousands that’s an atrocity.   But I’m more concerned about the 15,000 murders of all kinds, most of them intra-racial; most of them within families; most of them within poor families.   I’m more concerned about the 10,000 accidental deaths from firearms, almost all of them children, almost all of them within families.  

These happen twenty-five times more often than black-on-white crime, and they happen because we as a society have become armed to the teeth against threats that are so rare that they are almost imaginary.


I don’t expect my arguments to change the mind of my new internet acquaintance.  His arguments certainly didn’t change mine.

I am glad that I took some action and maybe, together with this person with whom I vehemently disagree, ratcheted down the rhetoric in a couple of places.

I want my local news outlets to stop letting anonymous posters use their comments sections.   But in the meantime, I don't think its enough for us to shrug our shoulders.

I think we all say things on the internet we wouldn’t say on the street or in the lobby of our children’s school.   I know we all tolerate such things on the internet; or at least look the other way.  Perhaps we shouldn’t look the other way.