Giuliani's black-on-black crime comments: What he got wrong

While the public awaits a decision from the Missouri grand jury that is considering whether to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown, debate over the incident has offered a glimpse into the divergent ways Americans view the shooting.

John Minchillo/AP/File
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in New York, in May.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's now-infamous comments about the fatal shooting of Ferguson, Mo. teenager Michael Brown, have opened the floodgates in an already tense debate over race, crime, and policing, sharpening the stark divide in how Americans view the controversial incident.

"White police officers wouldn't be there if you weren't killing each other," Giuliani told Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, who is black, on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday, triggering a heated argument – and immediate backlash on social media.

“Ninety-three percent of blacks are killed by other blacks,” the former mayor also said. “I would like to see the attention paid to that that you are paying to this.”

“First of all, most black people who commit crimes against other black people go to jail,” Dyson responded. “Number two, they are not sworn by the police department as an agent of the state to uphold the law. So in both cases, that’s a false equivalency that the mayor has drawn, which has exacerbated tensions that are deeply imbedded in American culture.”

Dyson added, "Black people who kill black people go to jail. White people who are policemen who kill black people do not go to jail.”

On a Monday morning appearance on Fox and Friends, Giuliani defended his comments. “The danger to a black child in America is not a white police officer. That’s going to happen less than one percent of the time," he said. "The danger to a black child – if it was my child – the danger is another black."

“Blacks are basically killing other blacks, and these people are spending millions and millions of dollars demonstrating. They have every right to do it. Why don’t they spend an equal amount of time trying to figure out that horrendous crime problem that exists?”

While the public awaits a closely anticipated decision from the grand jury that is considering whether to indict officer Darren Wilson in the Brown shooting, debate over the controversial incident has offered a glimpse into the starkly divergent ways Americans view the shooting.

The fiery exchange between Giuliani and Dyson represents those starkly different views, and it's worth taking a closer look at some of the observations made in that now-infamous conversation.

First, Giuliani's comment that "Ninety-three percent of blacks are killed by other blacks."

It is an indisputable fact.

Some 93 percent of black victims were murdered by someone of the same race, according to data from the Justice Department that examined crime statistics between 1980 and 2008.

What Giuliani didn't say is that most crime is intra-racial. That is, white people are more likely to kill white people, and black people are more likely to kill black people. The same data shows that nearly 84 percent of whites were also killed by other whites.

Why? The answer is actually fairly simple. "[H]omicides usually involve people who know each other," explains the Washington Post. "Between 1980 and 2008, 78.1 percent of homicides were committed by people who knew the victim, as a family member, friend, or other acquaintance. Because people's social networks (and, obviously, families) tend to reflect their ethnicity, this should not be a surprise." 

Another point not mentioned in the "Meet the Press" exchange: Since 2003, the number of black-on-black murders has fallen by 21.6 percent, according to FBI statistics. In fact, the overall black murder rate in the past decade has fallen faster than the overall white murder rate, although it still remains significantly higher, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As for Dyson's claim that "most black people who commit crimes against other black people go to jail," Hot Air disagrees, calling it a "patently ridiculous assertion."

"In Chicago last year, out of more than 500 largely gang-related murders, police managed to obtain a conviction in only 132 of them," it reported. "The story isn’t much different in Giuliani’s old stomping grounds in the Big Apple and Los Angeles is much the same."

The statement that sparked the most outrage was Giuliani's claim that "white police officers wouldn't be there if you weren't killing each other."

It turns out that white police officers overwhelmingly dominate police forces in most cities, according to a Washington Post analysis. Only three out of 53 police officers are black in Ferguson, where two out of three citizens are black, reports the Post.

The racial disparity doesn't end there. White police officers are far more likely to kill black men than white men. In fact, young black men are 21 times more likely than their white counterparts to be killed by police, according to data from Pro Publica published last month.

And killings by police officers are far less likely to result in criminal charges. "There's a good reason for this," reports the Washington Post. "Police officers have the right to use deadly force to protect themselves and others."

But perhaps the most controversial word in Giuliani's remarks was the use of the word 'you' when he said "white police officers wouldn't be there if you weren't killing each other."

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates tweeted her thoughts on the use of the word.

And in an article that called that word "the most revealing moment in the entire exchange," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookman said, "When Giuliani looked at Michael Eric Dyson in that moment, he didn’t see a 56-year-old author and professor at Georgetown University with a Phd in religion from Princeton University and a long record of social involvement, including work with urban kids trying to show them a better way. He didn’t see the individual. Giuliani instead saw Dyson as a “you”, as one of “you people killing each other.”

As for the vastly different light in which Giuliani and Dyson - as well as a plurality of Americans - view the Ferguson shooting, one simple statistic may explain the fraught debate over race and crime in America.

According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted nationwide in August, after the controversial shooting, some 80 percent of blacks said that Brown's death raised important questions about race, while about half of whites said race was getting too much attention.

These numbers help explain why the shooting inspires "such passionate and irreconcilably different opinions on both sides."

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