The D.C.-based blogging community has been quite upset over the shooting of Brian Beutler. I don't know Brian, but obviously my heart goes out to anyone who gets shot three times and has to have major surgery. I've been hanging with a couple of political bloggers here at Aspen who work out of D.C., and all of them sound absolutely terrified of crime in Washington. This has really shocked the hell out of me--I lived in D.C. in the early to late 90s, when crime was a lot worse. Given the subsequent drop-off, the idea that D.C. could feel like Murderland is mind-boggling to me.
I was just reading this entry from Ezra Klien where he notes that fully half of his friends have been mugged. That is just a shocking number to me. I got to thinking back on my days in the District, and I couldn't even think of more than three or four people who I knew that had been mugged. As I reflected more on it, I came to a very uncomfortable--if obvious conclusion--if you're a mugger in D.C., a young, white, bookish blogger probably looks like the perfect mark.
For most of my tenure in D.C., I was going to Howard University. This was before the advent of gentrification, and it was generally thought that Howard students, themselves, were easy marks. But me and most my friends knew that to be a simplification. It's true that if you walked through, say, Clifton Terrace star-gazing, if you're roaming the streets acting like it can't happen (as us ancient hip-hop heads say), you were very likely to get stuck. But as anyone whose spent some time in the city knows, if you moved through the streets with purpose, if you kept the ice-grill on and looked like you were all business, if you kept that sixth sense of yours buzzing, the chances of you actually falling prey were pretty low. I may have had one encounter my whole time in D.C. You may attribuite that to me being 6'4, but the same was true of virtually all of my friends because they tended to be, like me, kids who didn't have a thuggish bone in their bodies but were still intimately acquainted with, as Dre would say, the Strength of Street Knowledge.
In reading all of these blog postings about crime in the District, I am beginning to understand--to some extent--the fear that white folks must have of black crime, as something different than the fear that black folks have. I live in Harlem, still a relatively unsafe section of New York, but having lived in Harlems all my life, I acutally feel almost as safe there as I do here in Aspen. I know that violent crime most often happens in situations in which people know each other, or in situations in which someone looks like a target. I tend to not hang with criminals, and I do what I can to not make myself a target.
But how would I feel if I knew my skin color alone made me an easy mark for the most degenerate elements of a community? Heh, probably the exact same way I'd feel driving through the small towns of Texas. That's not entirely fair--random street crime is still more common than hate crime. What I'm driving at is this: For the first time in my life, I have some sense of what the white guy who is ignorant of all things about black people is thinking when he drives through certain parts of town and rolls up his window. Because his very whiteness makes him an easy mark, he has to fear things in a way that I never do.
UPDATE: This post is an attempt to see the world from another perspective, one radically different from the vantage point I developed living in black communities all my life. It excuses nothing and indicts nothing, mostly because that's the last thing we need when we're trying to initiate some dialouge. I hope folks who are reading this can see that, and can do a little more than simply use this as an oppurtunity to advance what they already think. That goes for the belief that urban black kids are, in general, monsters and the belief that people who subscribe to a lesser grade of that idea are talking from Mars. I'm not asking you to agree with me. But lets just try to look across the tracks a bit. The motivating belief of this blog is that those folks, over there, are human, and if we believe that, they'll give us that same consideration. That goes for race, ideology, religion, whatever...