WATCH: Is ‘Black-on-Black’ Crime Really an Issue in Stopping Violence? Jim Brown, Ras Baraka, and Ray Lewis Tackle This and Other Questions at Public Safety Summit

Former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis, center (REUTERS/Richard Clement)
Former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis, center (REUTERS/Richard Clement)

It seems that people will continue riding the “black-on-black crime” train, and the wheels may never fall off of it. But if we can’t get rid of the tortured phrase, the least we can do is bring some clarity to why it’s used. That’s what legendary NFL Hall of Famer/movie star/social activist Jim Brown tried to do Wednesday during the Redefining Public Safety Summit in Newark, which was set up to address violence in marginalized communities. Brown told reporters at the event:

Either you have compassion for your community or you don’t. It’s not ‘black-on-black’ crime. It’s really people killing other people. I would hope you would not center your response around ‘black-on black.’

Brown said this while flanked by Ras Baraka, the Newark mayor who apparently surprised The New York Times by actually being an effective public servant, and former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis. Despite Brown’s comments, he participated in a panel discussion with Lewis and Baraka at the summit entitled “The Real Root Causes of the National Epidemic of Gangs/Black-on-Black Violence.”

The fact that Brown repudiated the named premise of the panel testifies to both how troubling and how ingrained this term is in the American lexicon. He had to further break the term down on the All in With Chris Hayes, where he and Baraka spoke on a segment entitled “What About Black-On-Black Crime?” Responding to Hayes’ question about the term, Brown said, “It isn’t that the people are black, it’s that there are certain people living in certain conditions, and if you don’t change those conditions, the people are not going to change.”

Those conditions needing change, as Brown explained to Hayes, are, that “If the jobs are not there, and you don’t emphasize the education, and the fathers are not there, and those of us like myself and the mayor don’t substitute, then what are the kids supposed to do?”

Baraka twice mentioned an “unresolved trauma” among black communities in his responses to Hayes’ questions about violence. It was a vague reference that he explained to some extent as “a cycle of violence initiated by poverty and five decades of unemployment.” You could tell, though, that there was more to this “unresolved trauma” diagnosis that Mayor Baraka couldn’t go into, but that perhaps a pre-elected official Baraka could.

That’s no shade— all politicians have to temper their personal discourse around third-rail issues. This perhaps goes especially for black politicians (or else certain Key and Peele sketches wouldn’t be so funny, and so enjoyably endorsed by President Obama).

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