By Michael Kaufman
Why is it that no one seems to be addressing the serious national problem of white-on-white crime? Did you know that 85 percent of all homicides of white people in the United States are committed by other white people? Or that most victims of white pedophile clergymen are white children? Speaking of child molesters, weren’t all of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s victims white youths? And when it comes to gun violence, nobody can shoot white schoolchildren, teachers, moviegoers, celebrities, or elected officials better than a white guy. And let’s not forget the Unabomber, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy (white guys all).
In our region alone reports of white on white crime appear regularly in the media, although never identified as such. Recent headlines include “Two men plead guilty to elder abuse,” “Kayak murder case could begin in October,” and “RABBI CHARGED IN KJ MURDER PLOT.” So far I haven’t heard anyone say that the “white community needs to have a conversation” about the problem.
On the other hand I have heard many white people decry “black-on-black” crime when talking about shootings in black neighborhoods in cities such as Chicago and Detroit. Last week I heard a white talk-radio host in New York say the black community in Chicago needs to have a conversation about the black on black shootings in that city.
“Suddenly everyone is having a ‘conversation,’” wrote the late great journalist Alexander Cockburn in 2008. “The word has come of age. I see it bowing and scraping on the opinion pages and TV talk shows three or four times a day.” In the above example it is obvious the talk-radio host has no personal contact with anyone who actually lives in a low-income, inner city neighborhood beset by a host of problems including street crime and gun violence.
The rhetorical call for a conversation was part of a longer rant that began with a criticism of Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who has chosen to kneel when the National Anthem is played prior to a game. Kaepernick says it is his way of drawing attention to the ongoing mistreatment of people of color in the United States and an expression of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. According to the talk-show host, Kaepernick is being disrespectful to veterans: “My father is a veteran and maybe that’s why I feel so patriotic … I know there are still some problems with regard to race in this country. I get that, but …” And that’s when the call came for the black community to have a conversation.
Do the people who say these things realize how obnoxious and patronizing they are? Do they not know that people talk to one another about conditions in their neighborhoods? Ironically, the neighborhoods in question are the same low-income areas once inhabited by Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants who faced similar conditions.
The Purple Gang in 1920s Detroit, for example (composed entirely of Jews), has been described as “the most efficiently organized gang of killers in the United States.” According to the Detroit police it killed more people than Al Capone’s mob in Chicago. Most of its victims were other Jews. Members of the Purple Gang grew up in an east side neighborhood described by historian Robert Rockaway as “one of the least desirable areas of Detroit in which to live.” The district was “more crowded, had higher rents, and higher disease and death rates than other parts of the city,” wrote Rockaway. An article published in the Jewish American, Detroit’s Anglo-Jewish weekly newspaper, deplored the prevalence of “tenement houses that are actually unfit to live in: old, decrepit, polluted and infected hovels, where human beings endeavor to exist and where a young generation is reared.”
“The members of the Purple Gang were bred in this environment,” said R0ckaway. The gang extorted protection money from cleaning and drying businesses, almost all of which were owned by Jews. Those who didn’t pay were subjected to fires, dynamiting, stink bombs, thefts, beatings and kidnappings, and at least two were murdered in cold blood. Would it have been any different if a Gentile on the radio told the Jews in Detroit that they should have a conversation?
Michael can be reached at Michael@zestoforange.com.