"Meanwhile, while I drive through North Philly to visit my son, I continue to feel both profoundly sad and a blind desire to escape. Though I wonder: Am I allowed to say even that?”
|Crime has always been a black problem in Philadelphia -- even in the 1890s when the city was 3-4 percent black|
For the second night in a row, the editor of Philadelphia Magazine and the author of its "Being White in Philly" cover story willingly endured a barrage of criticism and some harsh accusations about the controversial piece.
Round Two delivered more punishment for editor Tom McGrath and writer Robert Huber as they faced the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists at a meeting Tuesday at the offices of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and philly.com.
A vice president of the association accused both men of being racists. They were subjected to mockery from some of the questioners and threatened with a boycott of the magazine's advertisers.
As they did Monday at the National Constitution Center, McGrath and Huber responded politely to questions and criticisms. Their answers often did not satisfy the audience.
Some speakers accused the magazine of long-standing racial insensitivity while others demanded that it hire more minorities.
McGrath said more diversity on the editorial staff, which is all-white, "would bring a richer experience to the magazine."
He was asked about a commentary piece published Sunday in The Inquirer written by Adrienne Simpson, an event planner who is the only full-time black employee at the magazine. In the article, she called the cover story a "lopsided, conflagrant editorial - that teetered on the brink of fear mongering."
Moreover, in the case of the Negro there were special causes for the prevalence of crime: he had lately been freed from serfdom, he was the object of stinging oppression and ridicule, and paths of an advancement open to many were closed to him. Consequently the class of the shiftless, aimless, idle, discouraged and disappointed was proportionately larger.
In the city of Philadelphia the increasing number of bold and daring crimes committed by Negroes in the last ten years had focused the attention of the city on this subject. There is a widespread feeling that something is wrong with a race that is responsible for so much crime, and that strong remedies are called for. One has but to visit the corridors of the public buildings, when the courts are in session, to realize the part played in law-breaking by the Negro population. The various slum centres of the colored criminal population have lately been the objects of much philanthropic effort, and the work there has aroused discussion. Judges on the bench have discussed the matter. Indeed, to the minds many, this is the real Negro problem. (p. 241)
It seems plain in the first place that the 4 percent of the population of Philadelphia having Negro blood furnished from 1885 to 1889, 14 percent of the serious crimes, and from 1890 to 1895, 22 ½ percent. (p. 249)
It cannot be denied that the main results of the development of the Philadelphia Negro since the war have on whole disappointed his well-wishers. They do not pretend that he has not made great advance in certain lines, or even that in general he is not better off today than formerly. They do not even profess to know just what his condition today is, and yet there is a widespread feeling that more might reasonably have been expected in the line of social and moral development than apparently has been accomplished. Not only do they feel that there is a lack of positive results, but the relative advance compared with the period just before the war is slow, if not an actual retrogression; an abnormal and growing amount of crime and poverty can justly be charged to the Negro; he is not a large taxpayer, holds no conspicuous place in the business world or the world letters, and even as a working man seems to be losing ground. And this local problem is after all but a small manifestation of the larger and similar Negro problems throughout the land. (p. 43, chapter titled Influx of the Freedmen, 1870-1896)
Dubois’s examination of public documents in Philadelphia revealed little consistent concern for black crime until after slavery was abolished in Pennsylvania in 1780. He interpreted such lack of concern to be some indication of a relatively low rate of black crime before 1780. After 1780, freed blacks came to Philadelphia in relatively large numbers from elsewhere in Pennsylvania and other states. This influx of migrants was accompanied by a rise in the city’s crime rate. By 1809 black churches united in an effort to suppress criminal activity. The efforts met with little success, largely due to the effects of a series of race riots and the disenfranchisement of blacks by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1837. The later was initiated largely out of the increasing fear of blacks among whites after the Nat Turner rebellion.
DuBois reports that these changes in black-white relations led to the increasingly disproportionate representation of blacks among persons sentenced to the state penitentiary between 1830 and 1850. The level of racial in rates of imprisonment and arrest declined after 1850, but showed a return to earlier levels around 1895.
DuBois’s study of black life in Philadelphia provided the first insight into the plight of what is now labeled the black urban underclass… DuBois and his associates saw little need to question the accuracy of data showcasing the overrepresentation of blacks among those arrested and sentenced for crime. They recognized that racial discrimination played a role in the administration of justice during this period, but their concern was with the etiology of criminal conduct rather than bias. After analyzing national imprisonment data, DuBois and associates say:
It seems fair to conclude that Negroes in the United Sates, forming about 1/8 of the population were responsible in 1890 for nearly 1/5 of the crime.
Commenting on city crime rates, Monroe N. Work notes:
It is recognized that the crime rate of Negroes is greater than that of whites. In 1900 the rate of Negro arrests and commitments was from one and a half to ten time greater than that of whites. The peculiar conditions of the Negro, past and present, tend to keep his crime rate high.DuBois and others saw their task to be that of providing social explanations for the comparatively high rate of black crime. For DuBois the overinvolvement of Philadelphia blacks in crime was a natural product of not of their genetic makeup but of the degradation and social disruption caused by slavery:
From his earliest advent the Negro, as was natural, has figured largely in the criminal annals of Philadelphia… Crime is a phenomenon of organized social life, and is the open rebellion of an individual against his social environment. Naturally then, if men are suddenly transported from one environment to another, the result is lack of harmony with the new conditions; lack of harmony with the new physical surroundings leading to disease and death or modification of physique; lack of harmony with social surrounding leading to crime. (p. 13-15)
Should his writings be reviewed by the Human Rights Commission of Philadelphia?