Mon 23 Feb, 2009
Tags: Crime, Homicide, Racial inequality, Racial segregation, Racial stereotypes
Inspired by a recent exchange of views on another post on this blog, I’d like to offer a few statistics about race and criminal behavior in the U.S.
The comment which sparked this exchange, offered by Louis Calabro, was as follows:
Daily we discuss slavery’s damage to blacks, but what about the extreme disproportionate number of black on white crimes–some horrible?
The idea that black criminals are preying on white victims is a persistent myth in our country, not unlike the mistaken belief that welfare recipients are overwhelmingly black.
Race and crime
According to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), for instance, in 2005 86% of white homicide victims were killed by other whites.
The related claim that the victims of crime related to the legacy of slavery are primarily white is also patently false. The same statistics show, for example, that in 2005 blacks were murdered at a rate six times higher than the rate for white Americans. In 2006, for all violent crimes, the BJS reports that blacks were victimized at a rate roughly 50% higher than whites.
It is generally true, of course, that black Americans are more likely to commit crimes than whites are. The same BJS homicide statistics show that blacks are convicted of murder at more than seven times the rate of whites. It is also true that blacks are more likely to be the victims of crime, and these two facts are not unrelated.
This connection to crime, as both perpetrators and victims, is due partly to the fact that blacks are disproportionately likely to be poor. Blacks are also more likely to live in neighborhoods with many of the hallmarks of poverty, such as a lack of infrastructure and jobs. These circumstances, of course, are largely a result of the legacy of slavery and discrimination. There are undoubtedly other factors at work which are more specific to race, and these, too, are in one way or another the consequence of our nation’s difficult history with race.
Racial segregation and crime
One of the most striking facts in all of this, for me, is that most murders in the U.S. are “intraracial,” that is, they are committed against a person of the same race as the offender. This reflects the fact that our society is still largely segregated by race, especially in housing, neighborhoods, schools, churches and other social institutions. As a result, most homicides (92%) committed against a friend or acquaintance are intraracial, and even homicides against strangers (75%) are committed against someone of the same race.
The impact of racial segregation on crime in the U.S. goes a long way towards explaining the dramatic black-on-black and white-on-white crime statistics mentioned above. However, this is hardly a cause for celebration, but rather a dramatic illustration of the extent to which our society to remains highly segregated by race, despite all of our enthusiasm over diminishing signs of racism and the election of a black president.