Men without roots turn into looters; men without purpose turn into predators

All of the constant talk about "racial tensions" in Ferguson (and other communities) is distracting from the biggest elephant in the family room

A man walks past a burning building during rioting in Ferguson


A man walks past a burning building during rioting in Ferguson, Mo., Nov. 24 after a grand jury returned no indictment in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb. (CNS photo/Jim Young, Reuters)

“We have heard enough of liberty and the rights of man; it is high time to hear something of the duties of men and the rights of authority.” — Orestes Brownson

The term of the week, as the fires burn in Ferguson, is “racial tension.” A quick Google news search for that term, coupled with “Ferguson”, turns up nearly 10,000 results. Having now read far too many stories about what has transpired in Ferguson over the past few days, I have concluded that while the term “racial tensions” is not without some meaning—however vague—it is quite often more of a rhetorical crutch than a helpful tool for understanding what has (and has not) happened in Missouri and throughout the country.

A CNA piece, “What the Church can do about the powder keg of US racial tensions”, for instance, gives extended time to the thoughts of Dr. Norm White, a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at St. Louis University. The article states:

Dr. White pointed to two major problems as the source of the uproar in Ferguson: inequality and a law enforcement system where young African-American males feel targeted and are ready to lash out in response.

To combat local crime and gang problems in the early 1990s, he explained, authorities in the area turned to the “broken window” model of policing every minor infraction in order to stop the bigger problems of gang violence.

Without questioning the possiblity or reality of inequality and dubious law enforcement, I am more interested in the questions not asked of Dr. White: “Why was there so much local crime and ‘gang problems’ and ‘gang violence’?” What were/are the causes?  Why is the rate of property crime in Ferguson about twice (or more) the national average? And does the fact that roughly two-thirds (14,297, as of 2010) of Ferguson’s 21,203 citizens are African-American have anything to do with anything?

Unfortunately, those questions are likely to be deemed racist, because looking into the deeper roots of violence, gang activity, and related matters must, necessarily, involve looking at the state of the family in predominantly black communities. But doing so, as Jason L. Riley of the Wall Street Journal points out in his November 25th op-ed, “The Other Ferguson Tragedy”, doesn’t feed and support the usual “anti-police narrative that harms the black poor in the name of helping them.” Riley writes:

According to the FBI, homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men, who are 10 times more likely than their white counterparts to be murdered. And while you’d never know it watching MSNBC, the police are not to blame. Blacks are just 13% of the population but responsible for a majority of all murders in the U.S., and more than 90% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks. Liberals like to point out that most whites are killed by other whites, too. That’s true but beside the point given that the white crime rate is so much lower than the black rate.

Blacks commit violent crimes at 7 to 10 times the rate that whites do. The fact that their victims tend to be of the same race suggests that young black men in the ghetto live in danger of being shot by each other, not cops. Nor is this a function of “over-policing” certain neighborhoods to juice black arrest rates. Research has long shown that the rate at which blacks are arrested is nearly identical to the rate at which crime victims identify blacks as their assailants. The police are in these communities because that’s where the emergency calls originate, and they spend much of their time trying to stop residents of the same race from harming one another.

I covered much of the same ground in a July 15, 2013 CWR post about the media furor over the trial of George Zimmerman, writing, “The real issue here is not racism, since most violent crime is intraracial. No, it is actually the culture of death, which is rooted (so to speak) in the collapse of families, the corresponding rise in gangs, the obliteration of basic familial and social responsibilities, and a growing subculture that is, it can be fairly said, barbaric and violent in nature.” And:

What’s really going on, however, is a spiritual and social collapse that has been spiraling out of control for decades, a collapse that is hardly unique to black communities, but for various reasons has revealed itself most dramatically within those communities. Other communities, of course, aren’t far behind or, perhaps, are just as bad off, but are able to hide it better through sleight-of-affluent-hand tricks and endless talk about government programs that will rebuild this, revitalize that, redirect that group, reeducate this group, and so forth.

Dr. White, in the CNA report, touches on some of these realities, but apparently without really noticing them:

It’s a “middle-class community,” so any destitution there might not be noticeable right away to outsiders, he said. Nonetheless a significant portion of the population lives in poverty and the situation is grim for young men born into the cycle.

For example, White cited the high homeless rate among elementary school children in one after-school program. Children often call their mothers to see where they will sleep that night.

“They do this every day,” he said. “This is elementary school. 70 percent of the kids in that elementary school are functionally homeless. If we don’t get our hands around that, we don’t fix larger problems.”

The elephant in the room—or at least the biggest elephant in the herd—is the complete obliteration of the family core, which is quite evident in the statistics for out-of-wedlock births. NRO summarized this up in a post last October:

With little fanfare, the federal government has posted its annual compilation of birth data, including out-of-wedlock births. Here’s the bad news (essentially unchanged from last year): Preliminary data indicate that 40.7 percent of all 2012 births were out-of-wedlock, which is appalling, and there are vast differences among racial and ethnic groups. Among non-Hispanic blacks, the figure is highest, at 72.2 percent; for American Indians/Alaska Natives, it’s 66.9 percent; 53.5 percent for Hispanics; 29.4 percent for non-Hispanic whites; and a mere 17.1 percent for Asians/Pacific Islanders.

In other words, nearly 3 out of 4 black children are born into single parent families, which most often means families without a father present day in and day out. And, put simply, children without fathers get into much more trouble, go to prison far more often, struggle far more with depression and drug use, etc. As The Fatherless Generation site states:

A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency. Adolescents, particularly boys, in single-parent families were at higher risk of status, property and person delinquencies. Moreover, students attending schools with a high proportion of children of single parents are also at risk. A study of 13,986 women in prison showed that more than half grew up without their father. Forty-two percent grew up in a single-mother household and sixteen percent lived with neither parent…

… Fatherless boys and girls are: twice as likely to drop out of high school; twice as likely to end up in jail; four times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems. [US D.H.H.S. news release, March 26, 1999]

On and on and on it goes.

To his credit, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis touched, however briefly, on some of this in an October 10th letter:

We need to come together in prayer and dialogue to address the deeper underlying issues – family breakdown, racial profiling, quality education, abuses of authority, lack of gainful employment, fear of one another, mistrust of authority, black on black violence, and white flight.

Unfortunately, it seemingly takes for granted the dubious and convenient narrative of constant racial actions and intentions (white against black, of course), when the evidence says something quite different. As Riley notes:

Hence, the left posits that the Michael Brown shooting is the norm, even though the data show that it’s the exception. And if black criminal behavior is a response to white racism, how is it that black crime rates were lower in the 1940s and 1950s, when black poverty was higher, racial discrimination was rampant and legal, and the country was more than a half-century away from twice electing a black president?

As Riley notes, “Racial profiling and tensions between the police and poor black communities are real problems, but these are effects rather than causes, and they can’t be addressed without also addressing the extraordinarily high rates of black criminal behavior—yet such discussion remains taboo. Blacks who bring it up are sell-outs. Whites who mention it are racists.

The topic is complicated in many ways, but some things should be as plain as can be, including the fact that a health of a community, society, culture, and nation is rooted in the health and integrity of the family. St. John Paul II, in a homily given in Australia 28 years ago, stated:

As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live. With regard to the family, society urgently needs “to recover an awareness of the primacy of moral values, which are the values of the human person as such”, thus “recapturing the ultimate meaning of life and its fundamental values”.

Without an ultimate meaning and an understanding of fundamental values, men feed off their passions, turning to violence, pleasure, and cheap thrills—at the expense of others and of their own communities. Men without roots turn into looters; men without purpose turn into predators. Men without a true commitment to others, without a lived and experienced knowledge of self-giving love, will struggle to build what is good, virtuous, and worthy. They will dive into the darkness of drugs, lust, power, violence, and even murder.

Many of those who talk of “racial tension” and the need for more “dialogue” are good, sincere people who really want to do the right thing (as opposed to the race baiters and con men who use tragedy and animosity for their own ends). But those terms are not only vague, they lack substantive moral content. There needs to be an understanding of ultimate ends, common good, responsibility, and sacrificial love. Alas, the government has become for many the answer to the sort of ultimate questions every person harbors in his heart, but the government cannot provide the answer (and, in fact, the federal government in particular has, for many decades, done a lot of damage to families and communities). Yes, there is still racism, and there also will be. There is still injustice, and always will be in this life. What is necessary is less rhetoric about rights and more emphasis on responsibility—to family, to community, to country, to the Author of Life.

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.