A Peculiar Indifference: The Neglected Toll of Violence on Black America

A Peculiar Indifference: The Neglected Toll of Violence on Black America

by Elliott Currie


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From Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie comes a devastating exploration of the extreme levels of violence afflicting Black communities, and a blueprint for addressing the crisis

About 170,000 Black Americans have died in homicides just since the year 2000. Violence takes more years of life from Black men than cancer, stroke, and diabetes combined; a young Black man in the United States has a fifteen times greater chance of dying from violence than his white counterpart. Even Black women suffer violent death at a higher rate than white men, despite homicide’s usual gender patterns. Yet while the country has been rightly outraged by the recent spate of police killings of Black Americans, the shocking amount of “everyday” violence that plagues African American communities receives far less attention, and has nearly disappeared as a target of public policy.

As acclaimed criminologist Elliott Currie makes clear, this pervasive violence is a direct result of the continuing social and economic marginalization of many Black communities in America. Those conditions help perpetuate a level of preventable trauma and needless suffering that has no counterpart anywhere in the developed world. Compelling and accessible, drawing on a rich array of both classic and contemporary research, A Peculiar Indifference describes the dimensions and consequences of this enduring emergency, explains its causes, and offers an urgent plea for long-overdue social action to end it.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Criminologist Currie (The Roots of Danger) laments the lack of attention paid to disproportionately high rates of violent death and injury among African Americans in this disturbing evidence-based account. Though cities including Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and St. Louis have seen their Black inhabitants killed at levels “otherwise seen only in the most violent countries in the developing world” over the past 50 years, Currie writes, police shootings of African Americans have generated far greater public awareness and outrage than this “ongoing emergency of everyday interpersonal violence.” In his view, both types of conflict result from decades of underinvestment in Black communities, and he marshals a wealth of evidence from the fields of public health, sociology, and psychology to support his claims. The historical range of sources runs from W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1899 sociological study The Philadelphia Negro to University of Maryland criminologist Joseph Richardson’s recent interviews with juvenile offenders convicted of violent crimes. Though sincere and persuasive in his efforts to document and explain the challenges faced by urban Black Americans, Currie’s suggestions for reform, including stricter gun control and a rethinking of incarceration, are well-worn. Still, this is an informative and well-intentioned overview of an ongoing crisis in America. (Sept.)

Library Journal


Drawing heavily on more than a century's worth of research and statistical documentation, Pulitzer Prize finalist Currie (criminology, law, and society, Univ. of California, Irvine; Crime and Punishment in America) lays out the dimensions and impacts of violence on Black communities, surveys key researchers' explanations for this violence, and proposes a series of national remedies. Currie keeps his focus on the systemic basis for Black oppression in the United States, describing a "scheme of both formal and informal domination deliberately designed to cement a rigid structure of privilege" for white Americans, with the enforcement of this scheme "the ever-present threat of both private and state violence," and proposing systemic remedies to deal with this systemic oppression. Unfortunately, Currie does not address how policymakers might be convinced to implement his remedies, nor does he interrogate the deep racial hatred that underlies white Americans' "peculiar indifference" toward Black suffering, and that sustains and nurtures that suffering. VERDICT Recommend to readers interested in statistics and research on the extent and impacts of violence in Black communities. Supplement with work by James Baldwin or Frank Wilderson III to understand the basis and support for systemic racism.—Monica Howell, Northwestern Health Sciences Univ. Lib., Bloomington, MN

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2020-06-20
A deep exploration of why Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by violence and what can be done about it.

There’s more intentional violence in the U.S. than in any other advanced industrial nation. Of that violence, African Americans are victimized disproportionate to their share of the population. This is true across age and gender; among the poor and middle classes; in the street and inside homes. Fatal or nonfatal violence, committed with guns, knives, or fists, the story remains the same, and solutions to this problem are within reach. Criminologist Currie documents our “national failure” to take action and address the root causes of the violence in Black communities. The result of this systemic failure is a “public health crisis of devastating proportions.” Currie painstakingly outlines the dimensions of the problem and examines how violence not only affects the victims, but also negatively impacts the physical and mental well-being of the larger community, putting them at an extreme social and economic disadvantage, which fuels the cycle of violence. “Ending the plague of violence” requires a fundamental change in the social and economic conditions within impacted communities. The author preemptively defends against victim-blaming discourse about “black-on-black crime” by acknowledging the anxiety around discussing these issues for fear of playing into stereotypes about Black people and crime, stressing that “the racial disparity in violence is not a symptom of community failure: it is a symptom of social injustice. And though that injustice is long-standing, it is also both preventable and reversible.” These communities have been rendered more vulnerable due to “enduring discrimination,” extreme poverty, and external indifference. Meticulously researched and densely packed with stats and studies, Currie’s book paints a heartbreaking picture, but it also makes an urgent case for bold measures to turn the tide in Black communities.

A damning examination of violence in Black America and a call for intervention that is long overdue.

From the Publisher

A smart, timely, deeply disturbing and essential book by a veteran scholar and leading expert on the criminal legal system... Currie’s book is the first comprehensive study to present a meta-analysis of peer-reviewed research – a study of studies – showing how anti-Black racism in the form of state and private violence upholds ‘an essentially exploitative and discriminatory social order.’... This is not a Black crisis but a national emergency.”
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The New York Times Book Review

“Jaw-dropping... The most powerful takeaway from A Peculiar Indifference is that to prove once and for all that Black lives matter, Americans must stop ignoring the violence devastating Black communities.”
The Progressive

“A damning examination of violence in black America and a call for intervention that is long overdue... Meticulously researched and densely packed with stats and studies, Currie’s book paints a heartbreaking picture, but it also makes an urgent case for bold measures to turn the tide in black communities.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"An infuriatingly necessary read . . . What Currie's numbers show is a crisis with no signs of abating. Especially as long as the country turns a blind eye to it."

“For too many Americans, reports of lethal violence in black communities evoke momentary concern but then are quickly dismissed as incidents that occur in ‘those neighborhoods.’ Elliott Currie boldly confronts this peculiar indifference, conveying tragic stories of unjust suffering and stunning statistics about the high cost of living in fear. Most important, he debunks any excuses for inaction, presenting ambitious but practical ways to make black lives matter. A distinguished scholar long concerned about crime and racial inequality, Currie has written a compelling book that reflects both his brilliant mind and compassionate heart. Simply put, A Peculiar Indifference is a contemporary classic.”
—Francis T. Cullen, past president of the American Society of Criminology

“Elliott Currie writes like James Baldwin and embraces the public morality of William Barber. A Peculiar Indifference brilliantly reminds America of the many economic, education, public health, and criminal justice reforms needed—and proven—to reduce violence, inequality, poverty, and racial injustice. It enjoins the citizenry to seize the day, reframe the public discourse, rewrite the social contract, and acknowledge that ‘normal’ is the problem.”
—Alan Curtis, president of the Eisenhower Foundation

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250769930
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 89,485
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Customer Reviews