A few years ago, I asked this question of every black person I knew: Is the blue-on-black violence really as bad as the media make it out to be? Or is CNN just inflating its ratings by blowing isolated incidents out of proportion?

To a person, the answer was, “No, it’s not as bad as it looks; it’s worse – worse than you can imagine.” Each recounted appalling vignettes of threats, belittlement and harassment more apropos to 1874 Mississippi than yesterday in, say, New York.

Many of my correspondents perch higher up the ladder than me: Their slacks are crisp, blouses starched, hair coiffed, shoes shined, bills paid. Yet only in fear do these solid citizens leave their homes. And the fear isn’t inspired by gangs or thugs; it’s inspired by the very people deputized to protect them from gangs and thugs: the cops.

Each thanked me for asking: I was the first white person to do so. That was a knife in the heart, because I’d known some of these folks since grade school. Even during the racial eruptions of the 1960s, with our old Chicago neighborhood in flames, it never occurred to me to ask.

I thought reading James Baldwin, listening to Dick Gregory and quoting Malcolm X would tell me everything I needed to know. It didn’t. Moreover, I knew it. Perhaps such willful insouciance is biological, an inverse function of melanin levels. Probably untrue, but it sure seems that way sometimes, doesn’t it?

Keith Vallencourt


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