On August 23 2020, amid global Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the following meme appeared on Facebook with the claim that 85 percent of white people are killed by other white people — and yet, no one ever talks about “white on white crime”:
White text against a black background read:
85% of White people that are killed in America each year are murdered by other White people.
Yet we never hear the term White on White crime. “Black on Black crime” is a term that’s been coined specifically for Black people to create feelings of self hatred and disunity within our race.
It’s a tactic to divide and conquer.
No specific citation appeared on the graphic, or alongside it.
‘Black on Black Crime’ is a Controversial, Disputed Concept
On August 1 2020, ABC News published a long-form piece about the often-repeated phrase “black on black crime.” In that reporting, the network noted that critics “also make the claim that the idea of ‘Black-on-Black crime’ has been used as a political weapon by both Republicans and Democrats alike.” It included a passing mention of generalized statistics about crime:
While the first widespread use of the phrase “Black-on-Black crime” can be traced back to the 1970s, the notion that Black people have inherent, collective proclivities to commit crime against others, including other Black people, goes much further back than that, says historian and professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, Khalil Gibran Muhammad.
“The idea that Black people kill each other is exceptional or something that can only be fixed by Black people is deeply rooted in the white supremacist past,” Muhammad told ABC News.
The specific notion of “Black-on-Black crime” gained traction in a book published in 1896 titled, “The Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro,” according to the professor. The author, Frederick L. Hoffman, did not use the specific phrase in the book, but promoted “the basic idea that Black people have a special crime problem,” Muhammad added.
And as one of America’s leading statisticians at the time, Hoffman was one of the first to use crime statistics to support what he considered evidence of a Black crime problem.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2019 crime victimization statistics report shows those who commit violent acts tend to commit them against members of the same race as the offender.
Offenders were white in 62% of violent incidents committed against white victims, Black in 70% of incidents committed against Black victims and Hispanic in 45% of incidents committed against Hispanic victims, according to the BJS report.
Yet, Muhammad said, it’s only “Black-on-Black crime” that is put under the microscope and used as an excuse to create more aggressive policing polices and higher rates of incarceration of Black people.
“We certainly understand when someone makes a categorical claim about an entire group of people as a race of criminals, that that is in fact a racist idea,” Muhammad said.
Vast majority of most crimes are committed by a person of the same race as the victim, Bureau of Justice Statistics reports.
The Justice Department’s statistics-crunching arm just blew up a whole stack of white-supremacist myths about the nature of interracial crime and violence committed by minorities.
In a report released [in October 2017] titled Race and Hispanic Origin of Victims and Offenders, 2012-2015, the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found that a majority of most violent crimes are committed by people who are the same race as their victims. Indeed, the rate of white-on-white violent crime, it found, is about four times the rate of black-on-white crime.
White supremacists frequently like to manipulate crime statistics in order to claim that nonwhite minorities, particularly African-Americans, are far more crime-prone and the source of most violent crime against whites.
Are 85 Percent of White People Killed in America Each Year Murdered by Other White People?
In examining related claims, news organizations most frequently cited numbers from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
FBI statistics are released in a preliminary form each January for the year prior; detailed statistics typically follow in September or October. In 2020, preliminary 2019 statistics appeared in January 2020, but complete statistics had yet to be released as of August 24 2020.
In some of the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics data, crime rates are averaged across decades. It appeared that one such report [PDF], “Homicide trends in the United States (page 66),” was the source of the claim that 85 percent of white homicide victims are killed by other white people:
Although slightly less true now than before, most murders are intraracial
From 1976 to 2005 —
- 86% of white victims were killed by whites
- 94% of black victims were killed by blacks
“Intraracial” is defined as “[within] a single race (group of people); of or by members of the same race.”
The specific “85 percent of white homicide victims were killed by a white offender” statistic appeared in a 1999 DOJ press release, covering a slightly shorter period than the one addressed in the BJS study quoted above:
From 1976 through 1997, 85 percent of white murder victims were killed by whites and 94 percent of black victims were killed by blacks.
In July 2020, PolitiFact examined a similar claim, this made on the talk show The View. The story noted that when averaged over time, different reports included the statistic of roughly 85 percent cited in the meme:
Experts previously told us homicides typically involve people who know each other, and people often marry, date, befriend and live with people of the same race.
An ABC spokesperson said Hostin was talking specifically about homicides and citing data from a 2011 Justice Department report summarizing homicide trends from 1980 to 2008 — a report that, while slightly outdated, we’ve referenced in several fact-checks related to race and crime.
The report found that between 1980 and 2008, 84% of white homicide victims were killed by other white people, and 93% of Black victims were killed by other Black people. An earlier report analyzing homicides between 1976 and 2005 had identified similar patterns.
In 2013, PolitiFact cited the same rough figure for the number of white offenders and white homicide victims. Typically, in many examinations of similar claims, fact-checkers and news outlets referenced data averaged over several years. The most recent year for which the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics were available as of August 24 2020 was 2018. The relevant table (six) counted a total of 3,315 white victims of homicide. Of those victims, 2,677 were killed by another white person — roughly 80.7 percent.
In 2017, the rate was nearly identical; 3,567 white victims and 2,861 white offenders, a rate of 80.2 percent. In 2016, 3,499 white people were murdered, 2,854 by white offenders — 81.5 percent. And in 2015, 3,167 white homicide victims and 2,574 white offenders were counted, at a rate of 81.3 percent.
A viral statistics meme on Facebook asserted that 85 percent of white people were killed by other people, and opined a disparity existed in discussing “black on black crime” in light of that fairly constant percentage. Numerous reports averaging statistics over the course of decades found that particular ratio — 85 percent — to be fairly consistent when numbers over years and decades were averaged. Between 2015 and 2018, the latter being the year for which most recent statistics were available, the number dipped to between 80 and 82 percent. However, it remains broadly true that at least four out of every five white murder victims were killed by other white people.