August 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

EDITORIAL QUICK HITS: THEIRS

Other writers, on black on black crime, Congress and race relations

What if there was a better way to choose who to send to Congress? (MLADEN ANTONOV / AFP/Getty Images)

The "black on black crime" canard

Steve Chapman in Reason : The shooting of Michael Brown and its turbulent aftermath have renewed an old question: Why does the black community raise a ruckus when a white person kills a black person, which is rare, but not when a black person kills a black person, which is far less rare?

It's a complaint perennially lodged by conservative commentators. Jason Riley, an African-American editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, criticized the Rev. Al Sharpton's appearance in Ferguson, Missouri. "The problem is not cops shooting blacks but blacks shooting each other," he asserted. Yet "so-called black leaders are much more interested in making excuses for this behavior than they are in denouncing it unequivocally."

"What about black-on-black violence?" demanded Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, who is white. "Where is Al Sharpton on that? Where is the president on that?"

Funny you should ask. Sharpton made a publicized trip to Chicago in November to focus attention on the city's chronic violence. Last year, Michelle Obama attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old black honor student who was shot, allegedly by a black gang member.

The first lady later returned to Chicago to converse with students at a school that is nearly 100 percent African-American. "In choosing Harper High School for the visit, the White House noted that 29 current or former students there had been shot in the last year, eight of them fatally," reported the Chicago Tribune.

Doesn't sound like they've been ignoring or excusing this sort of violence. Plenty of black leaders and organizations in Chicago and elsewhere spend a lot of time and energy trying to prevent crime in their communities. There are rallies, conferences, prayer vigils and gun turn-in days.

Have Riley and MacCallum and other critics publicized those events and programs? If not, why not? If so, why do they now act as though they don't exist?

Their charges have more than a whiff of condescension—implying that most blacks are unable to discern the greatest ills afflicting them. But black leaders can walk and chew gum at the same time.

A better way to choose House members

Katrina vanden Huevel in The Washington Post : In the original conception of our Constitution, the House of Representatives was to be the branch of government that best reflected the will of the people. House members cannot serve without being elected — vacancies are not filled by appointees — and they must face the voters every two years. Notably, the House holds pride of place as the first branch of government to be described in the Constitution. The framers move directly from “We the People” to the House, underlining the notion that, for our Constitution (and our government) to function, representatives must be accountable to the people.

The most-discussed culprit for the abysmal nature of House elections is gerrymandering. Every decade, states redraw congressional districts. Given the sophistication of today’s technology, the growing partisan divide among voters and the relatively low-profile nature of the process, those in charge of mapping have the means, motive and opportunity to use redistricting to help their friends and hurt their enemies. Republicans in states such as Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia did just that. President Barack Obama carried all those states in 2008, but today, Republicans hold a 68-31 edge in those states’ House seats.

But while gerrymandering matters, we must think more broadly. The core problem turns out to be districting, not redistricting. Congress’s 1967 law that mandates use of single-member districts for House elections has institutionalized the practice of shoehorning voters into boxes that restrict choices and distort representation. That is, districts are drawn in ways that lead to results predetermined by the powers that be. But today, there’s a growing call, from members of Congress including James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to institutions such as the The Washington Post editorial board, to consider allowing voters to define their own representation in multi-seat district elections.

The right way to dialogue on race

Charles Blow in The New York Times : A true racial dialogue is not intra-racial but interracial. It is not one-directional but multidirectional. Data must be presented. Experiences must be explored. Histories and systems must be laid bare.

We must acknowledge how each of us is, in myriad ways, materially and spiritually affected by a society in which bias has been widely documented to exist and in which individuals also acknowledge that it exists.

Take the results of a CBS News poll released in July. While three-fourths of respondents believe, rightly, that progress has been made to get rid of racial discrimination, most Americans acknowledge that discrimination against blacks still exists today.

It may come as little surprise that 88 percent of blacks gauged that level of discrimination as “a lot” or “some” as opposed to “only a little” or “none at all,” but 65 percent of whites agree the level of discrimination against blacks rises to “a lot” or “some.”

Yet when asked whether whites or blacks have a better chance of getting ahead today, 63 percent of whites and 43 percent of blacks said that the chances were equal. (By comparison, 28 percent of whites and 46 percent of blacks said whites had a better chance of getting ahead, and only 5 percent of whites and 4 percent of black said blacks had a better chance.)

We have to stop here and really process what we are saying: that even though we acknowledge the existence of discrimination, we still expect those who are the focus of it to succeed, or “get ahead,” at the same rate as those who aren’t. In effect, we are expecting black people to simply shoulder the extra burden that society puts on their shoulders — oppression — while others are free to rise, or even fall, without such a burden — privilege.