Politics & Policy

Violence and Family Breakdown

The biggest society-wide disorder is illegitimacy, not racism.

When he was first sworn in as Attorney General, Eric Holder made one of the more obtuse comments in political history. When it comes to issues of race, Holder declared, “We are a nation of cowards. . . . we, as average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.” Really? It seems to me that we talk endlessly, and usually unproductively, about race. We love nothing better in America than a good racial angle. The Trayvon Martin case pushes all the buttons. Black provocateurs like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton get to strut their stuff. The liberal media get to distort and cheerlead for one side. Conservatives get to indulge their disdain for the race hustlers, and everyone’s blood pressure rises.

We are now engaged in another fruitless shouting match about whether young black men are being hunted on the streets of America, and whether “stand your ground” laws are dangerous. But as the estimable Ann Coulter has pointed out, Florida’s “stand your ground” law was irrelevant to the Martin case. Whichever version of that night’s events you believe: a) that Zimmerman followed and shot Martin in cold blood; or b) that Zimmerman shot Martin in the midst of a fight; the law, which does not require a person who fears for his life to retreat before using deadly force, is not implicated.

#ad#While some carry placards demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, and others counter that thousands of young blacks are killed every year by other blacks without provoking anything like this sort of outrage, the larger issue is lost.

In fact, young black men are being hunted and killed in appalling numbers. But the violence and mayhem that disproportionately afflicts the African-American community is part of a society-wide disorder. It has a racial angle, but it’s not about race. That disorder is family breakdown, and no discussion of violence or murder or victimization is informed without reference to that overwhelming fact.

Why do African-Americans, 12.6 percent of the nation’s population, account for 50 percent of the murder victims? Because fatherlessness is most pervasive among blacks.

The illegitimacy rate among all Americans has been rising for decades. In 2012, we reached a grim milestone: The majority of births to women under the age of 30 are now outside of marriage. Among blacks, 72 percent of births are to unmarried women. And while some unmarried mothers go on to marry the fathers of their babies, it’s rare in the African-American community, where only 31 percent of couples are married (in 1960, it was 61 percent).

The result of this adult folly is chaos, misery, and often violent death for kids. Why do young males join gangs? Because without a father to guide and protect them, they seek physical protection from human predators as well as ratification of their masculinity from the gang. A counselor at a juvenile detention facility in California told the Patriot Post, “[If] you find a gang member who comes from a complete nuclear family, I’d like to meet him. . . . I don’t think that kid exists.” A full 85 percent of youths in prison come from fatherless homes, as do 80 percent of rapists, 71 percent of high-school drop-outs, and 63 percent of teen suicides.

#page#An analysis of studies of family structure published by the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy found that 90 percent of the change in the violent crime rate between 1973 and 1995 was traceable to the rise of illegitimate births. A large sample looking at students in 315 classrooms in eleven cities concluded that “The single most important variable [in ‘gang centrality’] is the family’s structure . . . the greater the number of parents in the household, the lower the reported gang centrality.”

#ad#The concentration of single-parent families can affect even those with two parents. A study of 4,671 8th graders in ten cities found that students who attended school with a large number of fatherless classmates were more likely to commit crimes even if they came from intact families themselves.

In The Atlantic Monthly, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote that the “relationship [between single-parent families and crime] is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime. This conclusion shows up time and again in the literature.”

President Obama offered that if he had a son, he would “look like Trayvon.” That’s not what matters. The much more important fact is that if Obama had a son, the boy would have married parents.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2012 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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