NEW YORK – In the third installment of its investigative series “Life Cycles of Inequity,” Colorlines released today an unprecedented investigation into crime victims funds and how they under-serve those who are among those most likely to be victims of violent crime – young black men. “Criminals, Victims, and the Black Men Left Behind,” authored by Carla Murphy and reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, raises profound questions about who’s considered a “victim” – and what consequences society pays for that narrow definition.
The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) of 1984 established an $11 billion fund to support victims by providing services and compensation necessary in the aftermath of violent crime. This federal program is active in 50 states, and many states have their own programs as well. However, victims are often barred from receiving compensation because they are not deemed “innocent,” and local community groups often don’t know this money exists, leaving victims, their families, and communities shouldering the financial and psychological costs of crime.
“The biases that exist around black men lead people to think of them first and foremost as perpetrators,” said Kai Wright, Colorlines Editor-at-Large. “Law enforcement should not be the arbiter of who’s a victim.”
The investigation is set in Chicago, with its now infamous rate of gun violence, as a case study in the larger problem. In one of the hospitals Murphy looked at, 80% of gunshot victims returned home, still requiring a range of after-care services that they couldn’t afford and financial support as they recover and get back to work. Currently, the nation’s victim compensation programs reimburse under 3 percent of crime victims, and Illinois is one of the least generous. Still, some say the biggest failure of these funds may lie in the near absence of funding for community groups that could provide counseling and support to heal and to interrupt violence and retaliations.
Murphy’s year-long investigation of this issue included substantive research on the collection and distribution of crime victim funds; a review of the history of the victim’s rights movement; and interviews with service providers, community groups youth, clergy, doctors, social workers, academics, lawyers, Department of Justice, agencies that help decide how the funds are distributed — and of course victims, parents of victims, direct service victim advocates (some of whom have been in the field for 20-30 years, since the founding of law that provides these funds), and people working for policy change.
As part of this third installment of “Life Cycles of Inequity,” which looks at the relationship between black men, crime and justice, filmmaker André Robert Lee produced “Out of Prison, but Not Free.” The video features men formerly incarcerated in Louisiana’s infamous Angola state penitentiary, discussing the challenges of reentering society with their families, lovers, friends and coworkers. This video is critical to a discussion on those impacted by the criminal justice system because Louisiana incarcerates a greater share of its residents than any government in the world, and nearly one in seven Black men in the state are either in prison or on parole or probation.
An online discussion will be held on Twitter Tuesday, August 5 at 1:00 p.m. ET. Community members will share their personal stories and solutions–both personal and systemic–with Colorlines’ 58,600 followers, led by Colorlines (@colorlines), using hashtag #livesofblackmen.
Throughout 2014, Colorlines’ “Life Cycles of Inequity” series will focus upon on a life stage or event that for Black men in the United States is uniquely confined by broad, societal inequities. It began with high school boys—Trayvon Martin’s peers—and will conclude with the early mortality that takes too many of our fathers, uncles and partners in their middle ages. Previous installments in the series include: