Media Blames Black Mayors for Rising Homicides

By Randy Shaw
Friday August 17, 2007

As federal budget priorities starve urban America, the outcome has been predictable: rising murder rates from Newark, New Jersey to Oakland, California, and virtually no low-income African-American or Latino neighborhood has been spared. Who is to blame for this problem? According to the media, it is the nation’s black mayors. From the New York Times castigating Mayor Booker in Newark to the San Francisco Chronicle’s absurd attack on Oakland’s Ron Dellums, the message is clear: black mayors, not the white elite in Washington D.C., are failing to serve the needs of minority communities. Where is our Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak out against such nonsense? 

Two recent murders have brought renewed attention to the rising violence in African-American communities. And in both cases, the media has exempted the federal government from responsibility, while blaming recently elected black mayors. 

In Oakland, the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey by individuals connected to Your Black Muslim Bakery led Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson to engage in another attack on Mayor Ron Dellums. According to Johnson, Bailey’s killing “signaled the abysmal failure of the city’s elected leaders to come up with a strategy to address the violence.” 

After unfairly criticizing Dellums’ handling of the garbage lockout—for which all sides praised him to the hilt—Johnson now claims Dellums lacks a strategy to reduce violence. Rarely has a journalist made such a demonstrably false and unfair statement. 

It is fair to say—and I do not make this statement lightly—that since Ron Dellums entered Congress in 1971, no federal elected official has fought harder, longer and more consistently to redirect federal spending toward the needs of low-income communities. 

Dellums was so committed to addressing the problems in poor communities that each year he created an alternative budget. A budget that took from the military and gave to jobs, schools, health care and other programs central to fighting the root causes of violence. 

If Ron Dellums’ alternative budget had been enacted in the 1970’s or 1980’s, America’s current prison population would be dramatically smaller. Nor would our low-income communities besieged by violence today. But the nation elected Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, both of whom sent a clear message to these communities not to expect any help. 

The Chronicle’s Johnson appears to have forgotten this history, as well as the fact that Ron Dellums has advanced an anti-violence strategy for forty years. He is the last person in the United States who should be blamed for the federal government’s refusal to fund this strategy. 

Dellums announced an anti-violence strategy in his January 2007 inaugural address as Oakland’s mayor. Seven months later, Johnson sees an “abysmal” lack of mayoral leadership for Dellums not to have bucked national trends and turned the city around. 

Dellums has been operating under former Mayor Jerry Brown’s budget. But Brown never took the kind of heat from the Chronicle that Dellums has already been subjected to. 

But Brown is white. And he got elected California attorney general despite Oakland’s murder rate. 

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is also white. San Francisco city has also seen a homicide wave in multiple neighborhoods. 

But neither Johnson nor any Chronicle columnist has blamed these murders on Newsom’s lack of leadership, nor should they. Newsom gets no blame despite being mayor for nearly four years, while Dellums is castigated after seven months. 

Of course, any Chronicle columnist attacking Newsom the way Johnson goes after Dellums would quickly be looking for a new job. The paper’s editors simply would not tolerate it. 

As for Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, his city witnessed an execution-style murder of three African-American college students, and the wounding of a fourth. This nightmarish squashing out of some of the best and brightest of the community’s youth horrified the city, and infuriated Mayor Booker. 

Allies of former longtime mayor Sharpe James—and the DVD, “Street Fight” about his 2002 mayoral campaign against Booker, is a must—understandably used the brutal killings to attack the new mayor. But even the usually pro-Booker New York Times argued in an Aug. 10 editorial that “when Mr. Booker took office 13 months ago there were high hopes—in Newark and nationally—that he would bring the city together and turn it around. The killings have dimmed those hopes and further divided the city.” 

So forget about Newark’s lack of a tax base, its rundown federally-funded public housing, and the lack of federal economic development investment in the city: it is up to Booker, not the President or Congress, to turn the situation around. 

And what should/can Booker do? According to the Times, “he owes it to everyone to renew his efforts to end the mayhem and crack down on the underlying problem of gang activity. Mr. Booker can start by going from neighborhood to neighborhood and asking ministers, community leaders, parents and others for their help and suggestions on what to do. 

Think Booker already has not done this, particularly during his mayoral campaigns in 2002 and 2006? 

Does the Times really believe that such action would have stopped a sociopath (since captured) from engaging in these senseless killings? 

Times columnist Bob Herbert has been among the most insightful and persistent voices on the rising violence especially plaguing black communities. Herbert has frequently predicted that the lack of federal investment in these communities would result in rising violence and gang activity. He also holds African-American parents and community leaders responsible for not doing more to instill anti-violence attitudes in youth. 

But Herbert has never been foolish enough to blame black mayors for the violence in their cities. He understands that mayors’ have no power to raise the billions of dollars necessary to solve the problems faced by their low-income constituents. 

Nor do mayors decide where federal dollars are spent (and if they did, as evidenced by the annual report of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, federal urban spending would be dramatically higher). 

Americans are delusional if they believe that the nation can spend billions on overseas invasions without paying a steep price at home. And holding local black mayors accountable for these priorities, while ignoring the true wrongdoers, is shameful. 


Randy Shaw is editor of BeyondChron.org, where this article first appeared.