Thursday, June 4, 2009
Devaluing a Black Life: The Murder of Marquis LeBlanc will appear in Earl Ofari Hutchinson's nationally syndicated column on Friday, June 5.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Pomona is a quiet bedroom city near Los Angeles. Blacks make up less than 10 percent of the city’s population. Latinos make up more than 60 percent of the population. There are no blacks on the city council and all the top police officials are white. Still, city officials generally pride themselves that the city is a relative haven of racial peace. Yet on the night of April 18th the city’s quiet and illusion of racial harmony was rudely jolted. Neighbors watched in horror as at least a dozen young men and women chased down on foot and then beat, kicked, stabbed and shot Marquis LeBlanc, an 18 year old African-American to death. Another dozen or so persons watched the attack and did not help LeBlanc or call police. Eyewitnesses identified the assailants as Latinos, some with suspected gang affiliations.
Though the police station was nearby, police did not arrive at the murder scene for nearly a half hour after the call went out.
Police did not immediately contact LeBlanc’s parents, or ID him. They misidentified LeBlanc’s mother, Jessica Corde, on the coroner’s report. Corde claims police did not make a single call to the family to update them on the investigation, and rebuffed her many inquiries about it.
Days after the killing police claimed they found a gun that was LeBlanc’s. There were also hints that he was a gang member. Police officials have been tight lipped about the case and say that release of information will compromise the investigation. The Le Blanc murder remains unsolved.
LeBlanc’s family minces no words. To them it is a case of a police department that cares little about the murder of a young black. The family’s charge that the Pomona police are insensitive to the murder of LeBlanc is hardly new. Countless groups have marched, picketed and screamed loudly that police do little to catch killers in serial murder cases, the murders of homeless persons and of young black males. The common thread is that the victims are poor, poorly educated, young, black, often female with criminal records, and with few known family members. In times past crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. The implicit message was that black lives were expendable. Many studies still confirm that the punishment blacks receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black. The clearance rate for murders in some poor, black neighborhoods is far less than for murders in middle-class neighborhoods.
Police officials vehemently deny that they are any less diligent when it comes to nabbing the killers of blacks than the killers of whites. They blame the higher rate of unsolved murders of blacks on higher case loads, tight budgets, limited personnel, and the refusal of witnesses to provide information. But it’s the unsolved murders of blacks that fuel the perception that police take the loss of black lives less seriously than that of whites.
The blanket indictment of police for laxity in black homicides is unfair and a slap at the officers who put in long grueling, hours trying to crack murder cases in poor minority neighborhoods. There’s also the reality that more killings do occur in big city poor neighborhoods than in the suburbs. In 2007, the Violence Policy Center reported that black murders had hit epidemic proportions in some big cities.
The Bureau of Justice in a 2008 report on homicides found that the black murder rate is much higher than that of whites, or even Latinos. It's the leading cause of death among black males age 16 to 34. Black on black murders has fueled the nation's murder stats for a number of years. And only in the rarest of instances has it attracted more than passing mention in the national press. In Chicago, community activists, frustrated over the inability of authorities to stem the rash of murders of primary school age children, have appealed to President Obama to step in with an emergency program to help curtail the violence.
Despite the higher number black murders than of whites, tight police resources, and the hard work that many officers put in to solve black homicides, it takes only one real or perceived case of police laxity when the victim is black to stir suspicion of police racial insensitivity. Pomona for now is tragically that case.
Corde continues to plead with authorities to intensify their investigation into her son’s murder. She has appealed to the press, civil rights and victims of violence groups to prod the department to do more to catch the killers of her son. While her pleas have largely fallen on deaf ears, she is undeterred, “I’m not going to stop until the murderers are brought to justice.” That’s a message that no police official should have to be told or hear from a grieving mother no matter what the color of her murdered son.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com