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If blacks can criticize whites, then whites should be able to say the inner city “needs to get its act together.”
That was the bottom line of “Being White in Philly,” a controversial article written by Robert Huber and published in Philadelphia Magazine.
What followed was predictable. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the article was a “sin” and an “incitement to extreme reaction.” The mayor called upon the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission to “rebuke” the magazine and Huber.
But not long ago, Nutter was calling for a “national conversation” about racial issues: “Black on black crime is not an isolated problem. It affects every member of every community. This is a national problem with national implications, and there needs to be a national conversation.”
Huber told WND that he assumed that when the mayor said “conversation” he meant the ordinary meaning.
“We need to learn to talk to each other honestly, without fear,” Huber said. “That would be a big step toward solving some problems.
Believing that the mayor was welcoming an actual conversation, Huber contributed his article, “Being White in Philly.”
Huber and some of the people he interviewed were critical of the crime and social disorganization in the city. Several spoke honestly about the racial aspect of crime and other social problems (See a condensed summary of their statements). On the basis of personal experience, some interviewees spoke about break-ins, assaults, robbery and other antisocial acts.
But what are the actual circumstances of crime in Philadelphia?
Over the last two decades, the city has lost 32 percent of its white population, or 263,254 people. During that time, crime was a major concern.
In the late 1990s, blacks were 43 percent of Philadelphia’s population and 76 percent of the alleged murderers (see chart below). Whites were 52 percent of the population but just 5 percent of alleged murderers.
The chart comes from a report titled “Murder Is No Mystery: An Analysis of Philadelphia Homicide, 1996-1999,” which was released in 2001 and provocatively asked:
If this went on in your own neighborhood, would you stay? Would you go out at night? Would you consider leaving the neighborhood, or even the city, if you could? Of course you would.
A quarter of a million whites did indeed leave.
As for race and crime in Philadelphia, most murders in the city were intraracial, black-on-black crimes. Of black murder victims, 95 percent were killed by other blacks. However, the report pointed to a major, noteworthy exception: “Caucasians and Asian Americans, on the other hand, were both more likely to be murdered by an individual of another race.”
Such disparities are rarely mentioned in the national conversation about race but would tend to validate the concerns expressed in Huber’s piece.
A WND review of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Murder Analysis for 2007-2010 and Murder/Shooting Analysis 2012 reveals startling demographic data that affirm the crime trends found a decade earlier in the “Murder Is No Mystery” report.
Between 2007 and 2012, there were 1,987 murders (an average of 331 murders per year) in Philadelphia. Of those victims, 80 percent were black; 11.2 percent were Hispanic; 6.9 percent were white; and 1.7 percent were Asian.
Only 64 percent of these crimes had known offenders (1,290 of 1,987), with 81 percent of known offenders being black; 7.2 percent white; 10.2 percent Hispanic; and 1.2 percent Asian.
Because of the “no snitchin'” culture, “defendants charged with murder, rape, robbery and serious assaults were walking free on all charges in nearly two-thirds of all cases” in the city, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. In 2009, Philadelphia had the lowest felony conviction rate of all large cities in America. Soon after taking office, Nutter put in 250 video cameras across the city, in part to compensate for witnesses’ refusal to cooperate with investigations.
According to a WND review of the 2012 Philadelphia Police Murder/Shooting Analysis, of known offenders in 1,083 shootings in the city between 2011 and 2012, 88 percent were by blacks (956). Hispanics represented 102 of the shooting offenders (9 percent), while whites made up 2 percent of offenders in shootings (22) in Philadelphia during that same period.
Current trends nothing new
Historically, racial disparities in crime are not simply products of the 1960s. In 1950, Philadelphia was predominantly white, with blacks comprising roughly 20 percent of the population. Even then, disproportionate levels of criminal offending existed. “Patterns in Criminal Homicide,” written by renowned criminologist Marvin Wolfgang, was hailed as the most thorough study of homicide at the time. Wolfgang studied every homicide in Philadelphia between 1948 and 1952, and concluded that many were caused by trivial insults and petty arguments (162).
Wolfgang showed that the white murder rate in Philadelphia between 1948 and 1952 was 1.8 per 100,000 people, while the black rate was 25.6, or 14 times the white rate. By the mid-1970s, the white murder rate increased to 2.8 per 100,000. The black murder rate, meanwhile, increased to 64.2, 23 times the white rate.
Many of the voices in Huber’s piece can be seen as expressing long-standing concerns, rooted in the statistical reality of crime.
A public opinion survey offers another way of looking at Huber’s piece. A Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard poll asked young black men between the ages of 18 and 29 what they thought was the biggest problem facing young black men. Twenty-nine percent chose “Young black men not taking their education seriously enough.”
Another 16 percent said “Not being responsible fathers,” while another 12 percent said “Becoming involved in crime.” Only 5 percent of the young black men polled said “Racial discrimination” was the biggest problem. Notably, 64 percent believe that the problems facing black men are more a result of … what black men have failed to do for themselves.”
Only 18 percent chose “What white people have done to blacks.”
If those opinions are so prominent in the black community, then perhaps it should not be controversial when whites express similar sentiments or observations, Huber’s piece proposed.
Nutter himself has had to address a subset of the black population involved in violent flash mobs. In an emotional speech, he said of those involved, “You’ve damaged yourself, you’ve damaged another person, you’ve damaged your peers and, quite honestly, you’ve damaged your own race.”
But in response to Huber’s article, the mayor “expressly suggested that the speech in the article was unprotected, and therefore punishable outright,” observed leading First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh.
The mayor’s official condemnation letter claimed that the article presents “negative stereotypes” of blacks. Nutter did not quote any “negative stereotypes” in the article, nor did he provide any examples of “negative stereotypes” on the part of anyone interviewed in the article.
Nutter simply said the article arose from Huber’s “misguided perception of African-Americans … as an ethnic group that, in its entirety, is lazy, shiftless, irresponsible, and largely criminal.”
The mayor didn’t quote any part of the article to support that description. On its face, the article does not appear to contain any claim by Huber that the black population “in its entirety” has any given characteristic, or words to that effect.
In fact, critics contend the mayor stereotyped the article. Philadelphia Magazine’s editor, who describes himself as “center-left,” told WND that the mayor’s description is a “gross distortion of the piece.”
The mayor described the article as a collection of perspectives from “15 white people who have used isolated negative experiences to draw perverse generalizations that the author then ascribes to the belief system of Philadelphia’s entire white population.”
However, four of those interviewed did not describe any “negative experiences” related to race. Nutter did not offer any quotations to indicate that Huber actually “ascribes” any of the supposed generalizations “to the belief system of Philadelphia’s entire white population.”
Three of those interviewed made what could arguably be defined as generalizations, but whether their remarks are each “perverse generalizations” is subject to dispute.
In one case, a Russian woman named Anna said blacks use discrimination “as an excuse,” describing blacks in her neighborhood as “not doing anything except sitting on porches smoking pot.” She complained about unwelcome compliments and cat calls.
Also, an 87-year-old named John said that Southern blacks moved north with a “chip on their shoulder.” (John used a racial epithet, which Huber denounced as “ugly.”) He also said that he had “no problems with blacks” as a group and spoke fondly about black neighbors.
Finally, an unnamed Panamanian woman said she believed there is a “moral poverty” among inner-city blacks.
But such comments recall the Bill Cosby remarks about certain segments of the black community. Cosby said that in part of the black community, “parenting is not going on,” they “can’t speak English” and are having “five or six different children – same woman, eight, 10 different husbands or whatever.”
“These people are fighting hard to be ignorant,” Cosby said. “We cannot blame white people.”
Additional reporting by Michael Thompson