This post is mostly a data dump, but I personally think the data included is quite fascinating. Part of my motivation was in response to another blog. I already responded once before. That previous post was about Appalachia. This one is more general— mostly about race, crime and violence, but also including issues of poverty and class, history and ethnicity, health and environmentalism; et cetera.
My thinking about all this has been going on for quite a few years now. There is a lot of data out there, but it takes immense effort to even begin to grasp what it all might mean. Trying to analyze the data can seem like a fool’s errand, for many reasons.
The breakdown by race, for example, is pretty much meaningless. Some argue that Hispanics should be separated from ‘whites’. But why? Other ethnic groups (Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, Jewish-Americans, etc) used to be separated and at the time they had high crime rates. No one has a clue what the crime rates of these groups are today.
Also, should we try to separate the percentage of crimes by the percentage of racial genetics. So, if a black person is 60% European, then 60% of their crime should be put into the ‘white’ category, right? In that case, how do we categorize the crimes of blacks who have no detectable African genetics (about 1 in 20 blacks)?
The reality, however, is that we don’t know the genetic breakdown of criminals. Considering that, shouldn’t we ask who is determining the race of criminals when it gets recorded in official records? Is it self-identification or is it what the arresting police officer perceives, the same police officer that is arresting people based on his perception of race, as studies show?
Is it surprising in a racist society that people who are perceived as a black or another minority are more likely to be arrested for the very crimes that are perceived as being black/minority crimes, whether or not that is the case? And is it surprising that those who are arrested are more likely to be perceived as black or another minority? In the eyes of a police officer, what is the difference between a light-skinned black and dark-skinned white, both before and after the officer decides to stop and confront the person?
It is always good to keep in mind that FBI statistics are arrest data, which may have little correlation to crime data. We know that blacks get arrested more (along with convicted more and imprisoned longer) than whites, even for crimes that whites commit as much or more. Also, police are more likely to see black as carrying guns when they aren’t and more likely to see whites as not carrying guns when they are, despite the fact that whites are more likely to carry both legal and illegal guns than blacks. It’s no surprise that the police have a bad habit of shooting blacks first and asking questions later. Once dead, blacks tend to be portrayed as criminals, and without video footage the police can say whatever they want.
Interestingly, overall crime arrests for whites are about equal to their percentage of the population (here is the 2009 FBI data, in order to compare against the 2010 census data). It’s only with certain crimes that whites show disproportionate lower arrest rates, whatever that may say about their actual crime rates. There are some crimes, however, that whites commit at much higher rates. There are such things as high rates of white-perpetrated child molestation, but I don’t know if that means whites really are more inclined to pedophilia or just more likely to get reported.
A more interesting example is everything related to intoxication. Whites have a major drinking problem for some reason. You are way more likely to get killed by a white drunk driver, but these deaths aren’t included as part of the homicide rates. Even with drugs, whites have a greater predisposition to addiction, although not necessarily more drug use, depending on the drug. This might relate to their greater rates of carrying and dealing drugs, even as blacks get arrested at higher rates for drug crimes because of racial profiling (the Drug War has been mostly fought in poor minority neighborhoods, because they are a population that can’t easily defend itself: legally, financially, and in the mainstream media’s court of public opinion).
What racists like to focus on are the arrest data on murder offenders. The total numbers between whites and blacks are about equal, the difference not being statistically significant. Racists argue that whites are a larger population and so have a lower rate. That misses the point that there is no single population of either blacks or whites.
Violent crime is mostly about poverty and all that goes with it: unemployment, homelessness, heavy metal toxicity, undiagnosed mental health issues, lack of healthcare, food deserts, underfunded public schools, general lack of opportunity and resources, etc; not to mention cross-generational carryover effects from past environments caused by epigenetics, as even slavery is well within the known range of epigenetic influence. When controlled for poverty (both in terms of severity and concentration), the differences in violent crime rates disappear; other non-criminal social problems also equalize along economic lines. The fact that the total numbers of murders for blacks and whites are about the same is merely indicative that the total numbers of severe and concentrated poverty are fairly close (and becoming closer), although the percentages are different within each race.
It sucks to be a poor white in a poor area about as much as it sucks to be a poor black in a poor area. Pointing to statistics is small comfort to a poor white. Class ends up getting conflated simultaneously with race and crime, but a lot of this has to do with inequality. Poverty most often manifest as major social problems where high levels of inequality are found. The United States does indeed have high inequality compared to less violent Western countries, and that goes along with the United States also having lower economic mobility which of course is worse among minorities, but also worse where poor whites are concentrated (not to ignore the fact that poor whites do even more badly where black poverty is found the most, which so happens to directly map onto the areas of former slavery and the continuing regional legacies of inequality).
One thing I noticed in the homicide data is the shifts across ages. The lowest rates of black murders compared to white murders shows up in the oldest demographics. This fits the lead toxicity hypothesis. Lead toxicity mostly hit poor minority communities during specific decades. The oldest blacks grew up during a time prior to the spike of childhood lead exposure. On top of that, the oldest blacks reached adulthood before the deindustrialization and ghettoization of the inner cities. So they never experienced the high rates of unemployment that younger blacks have known nor did they experience the drug wars that targeted specific generations of young black males. Though older blacks did spend much of their life during a more overtly racist time, they were able to establish their careers and families while society was more stable and the economy more prosperous.
My point is that the generational differences being greater among blacks shows that environmental factors are playing a larger role for the black population. This makes perfect sense in relation to other data. For example, it is known that environmental factors have a greater influence on IQ for the poor than for the wealthy, whereas genetic influences are nearly undetectable for the poor because of all the environmental noise of confounding factors.
That ends my personal commentary. The rest of my post will be the data dump. I’ll first share some of my previous posts. Following that is a slew of info from articles and books.
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A 2011 study which examined the racial disparities in violent crime and incarceration from 1980 and 2008 found little difference for black share of violent offending. Racial imbalances between arrest rates and sentencing have caused some to question the disparities. The authors argued that the prior studies had been confounded by not separating Hispanics from Whites. Another recent study in 2012 raises a different concern, showing that Hispanics and blacks receive considerably longer sentences for the same or lesser offenses on average than white offenders with equal or greater criminal records. Another recent study in 2012 raises a different concern, showing that Hispanics and blacks receive considerably longer sentences for the same or lesser offenses on average than white offenders with equal or greater criminal records. A 2012 University of Michigan Law School study found that African Americans are given longer federal sentences even when factoring prior criminal records, and that African American jail sentences tend to be roughly 10% longer than white jail sentences for the same crimes.
The overall pattern of persons in poor households having the highest rates of violent victimization was consistent for poor non-Hispanic white households (46.4 per 1,000) and non-Hispanic black households (43.4 per 1,000). However, the rate of violent victimization for Hispanics did not vary across poverty levels. Poor whites (56.4 per 1,000) and poor blacks (51.3 per 1,000) in urban households had higher rates of violence than persons in all other types of households.
Violence against persons in poor (51 percent) and low-income (50 percent) households was more likely to be reported to police than violence against persons in mid- (43 percent) and high- (45 percent) income households.
This pattern of lower reporting of violence among mid- and high-income households held true for whites but not for blacks or Hispanics. […]
Poor Hispanics (25.3 per 1,000) had lower rates of violence compared to poor whites (46.4 per 1,000) and poor blacks (43.4 per 1,000).
- Black-on-Black homicides have decreased by 67% in 20 years, a sharper rate of decrease than white on white homicide.
- According to FBI statistics 7361 Blacks were killed by fellow African-Americans in 1991. In 2011, it dropped dramatically to 2447 African-Americans.
- Among Black youth, rates of robbery and serious property offenses are the lowest in more than 40 years.
The 134-page study, titled “What Caused the Crime Decline?” found that “when other variables are controlled for, increasing incarceration had a minimal effect on reducing property crime in the 1990s and no effect on violent crime.”
The report continued, “In the 2000s, increased incarceration had no effect on violent crime and accounted for less than one-hundredth of the decade’s property crime drop.”
Some states with large Black populations, such as Michigan, Texas, New York, and California, even reduced their prison populations during the crime decline with no adverse effects. Texas, for example, has decreased its imprisonment rate by 15 to 25 percent since 2000; at the same, both property crime and violent crime have dropped about 20 to 30 percent.[…]
The United States accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population but holds 25 percent of its incarcerated population. One in three Americans now has a criminal record. One in nine school-aged Black children has or has had a parent in prison. The Brennan Center calculates that federal prison spending has increased 1,100 percent in 30 years as a result of being overpopulated by more than 30 percent – fueling the rise of for-profit prisons that disproportionately house young Blacks and Latinos. […]
“Research has shown, in fact, that the U.S. poverty rate has increased by 20 percent because of mass incarceration rate. There are proposals on the table to cut back on mandatory minimums, to curb nonviolent drug offenses, and there is renewed attention being paid across the country to rehabilitation to lower recidivism rates. All of these proposals are worth great consideration.”
Black children were almost four times as likely as white children to be living in poverty in 2013, a new report has found, the latest evidence that the economic recovery is leaving behind some of the United States’ most vulnerable citizens.
The share of American children living in poverty fell to about 20 percent in 2013 from 22 percent in 2010, according to the report by the Pew Research Center, which analyzed data from the United States Census Bureau.
But the poverty rate remained stable for black children, while it fell for Hispanic, white and Asian children, a sign of just how pervasive and stubborn poverty has been for African-Americans, according to the report. About 38.3 percent of black children lived in poverty in 2013, nearly four times the rate for white children, at 10.7 percent. About 30.4 percent of Hispanic children and 10.1 percent of Asian children live in poverty.
For the first time since the federal government started collecting the data, the number of black children in poverty appears to have overtaken the number of poor white children, even though white children far outnumber black children in the American population, the report said. About 4.2 million black children were living in poverty in 2013, compared with 4.1 million white children, though researchers said the difference was not statistically significant.
A household in poverty in 2013 was defined as a family of four, two of whose members were children, living on an annual income of less than $23,624.
In actual numbers, there were still more Hispanic children in poverty, 5.4 million, than any other group, researchers said, a ranking the group has held since at least 2008. The Hispanic population is larger and younger than any other racial or ethnic group, and the child poverty rate is relatively high. […]
The child poverty rate is closely related to the unemployment rate, as children are more likely to be poor if their parents are unemployed.
…it is undeniably true that when it comes to our political anger and frustration (as contrasted with that brought on by alcohol and athletics) we white folks are pretty good at not torching our own communities. This is mostly because we are too busy eviscerating the communities of others—those against whom our anger is aimed. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Panama, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Manila, and on down the line.
When you have the power you can take out your hatreds and frustrations directly upon the bodies of others. This is what we have done, not only in the above mentioned examples but right here at home. The so-called ghetto was created and not accidentally. It was designed as a virtual holding pen—a concentration camp were we to insist upon honest language—within which impoverished persons of color would be contained. It was created by generations of housing discrimination, which limited where its residents could live. It was created by decade after decade of white riots against black people whenever they would move into white neighborhoods. It was created by deindustrialization and the flight of good-paying manufacturing jobs overseas.
And all of that is violence too. It is the kind of violence that the powerful, and only they, can manifest. One needn’t throw a Molotov cocktail through a window when one can knock down the building using a bulldozer or crane operated with public money. One need not loot a store when one can loot the residents of the community as happened in Ferguson—giving out tickets to black folks for minor infractions so as to rack up huge fines and fees, thereby funding city government on the backs of the poor. Zoning laws, eminent domain, redlining, predatory lending, stop-and-frisk: all of these are forms of violence, however much white America fails to understand that. They do violence to the opportunities and dreams of millions, living in neighborhoods most of us have never visited. Indeed, in neighborhoods we consider so God-forsaken that we even have a phone app now to help us avoid them.
As I was saying, it is bad enough that we think it appropriate to admonish persons of color about violence or to say that it “never works”—especially when in fact it does. We are, after all, here, are we not? Living proof that violence works and quite well at that, thank you very much. What is worse, as per Baldwin, is our insistence that we bear no responsibility for the conditions that have brought about the current crisis, and that indeed we need not even know about those conditions. That innocence, as Baldwin expressed it, was the crime, because it betrays a non-chalance that ensures the perpetuation of all the injustices against which those presumed to be uncivilized are rebelling.
Coming Apart excludes non-whites from its discussions of unemployment, out-of-wedlock births, and other troublesome social indicators, but at the end of the book Murray recalculates his findings to demonstrate that in nearly every instance the same dismal patterns hold within the colorblind proletariat. (The only notable exception is the incarceration rate, which shoots way up when you include blacks.)
Reading Mr. Murray’s book and all the commentary about the sources of moral collapse among working-class whites, I’ve had a nagging question: Is it really all that bad?
I mean, yes, marriage rates are way down, and labor force participation is down among working-age men (although not as much as some of the rhetoric might imply), but it’s generally left as an implication that these trends must be causing huge social ills. Are they?
Well, one thing oddly missing in Mr. Murray’s work is any discussion of that traditional indicator of social breakdown, teenage pregnancy. Why? Because it has actually been falling like a stone, according to National Vital Statistics data.
And what about crime? It’s soaring, right? Wrong, according to Justice Department data.
So here’s a thought: maybe traditional social values are eroding in the white working class — but maybe those traditional social values aren’t as essential to a good society as conservatives like to imagine.
Putnam shows that as social capital has now deteriorated, poorer families generally have fewer close friends and fewer “weak ties” that help parents and their children navigate through school and work. Compared to wealthier families, poor families’ networks are disproportionately concentrated within their own extended family and perhaps a high school friend or two. He calls lower-class social circles, “redundant,” that is “their friends tend to know the same people they do, so that they lack the ‘friend of a friend’ reach available to upper-class Americans.” He reports that 64% of wealthier kids have some mentoring beyond their extended family, while on the flip side, 62% poor kids do not. This affects kids’ ability to handle difficulty at school or at home, Putnam argues, by making it difficult to navigate through challenges and build resiliency.
“Studies during the past 40 years have consistently shown that, if anything, drug usage and binge drinking are more common among privileged teenagers than among their less affluent peers,” Putnam reports. “What is different, however, are the family and community ‘air bags’ that deploy to minimize the negative consequences of drugs and other misadventures among rich kids.”
She said that poor white Americans are more likely to reap the benefits of living near areas with better resources and higher incomes, while poor black Americans tend to live in relatively isolated inner-city neighborhoods.
“When low-income whites can reside in close proximity to higher-income whites then they reap the benefits of living in a higher-income area and everything that goes along with that,” Nuru-Jeter said.
In black communities, economic segregation is much higher. Higher-income black people are more likely to move away from low-income black people. Poor black communities often struggle with higher crime rates, fewer grocery stores, a higher proportion of liquor stores and less green space such as parks.
“In terms of opportunity to lead the healthy life, the environment doesn’t really support that,” Nuru-Jeter said. […]
A college education, commonly believed to be a ticket out of poverty, is expensive. In fact, about half of black college students graduate with more than $25,000 in student loans. Yet even a college degree doesn’t guarantee that they will be better off. In fact, a recent Demos analysis of Americans’ net worth revealed that white high school dropouts have about the same wealth that black college graduates do.
If the homicide rates in the poor black areas were twice the rates in the better-off white areas, that would be significant. The differences above, averaging about 13 to one, are staggering. This is what apartheid looks like.
Let’s remember how things got this way, in Chicago and a host of other northern cities. Policies throughout the first seven decades of the 20th Century—some governmental, some commercial—hemmed blacks in geographically. So did the bombing and burning of the homes of blacks who tried moving into white neighborhoods, and the shooting and stoning of these intruders. Racial segregation combined perfectly with racial discrimination in hiring and schooling to create vast areas of concentrated poverty—most notably in housing projects, but in other black neighborhoods as well. In areas of concentrated poverty, children are far more likely to grow up with one parent or no parent, neglected and abused, amid alcoholism and drug addiction. If you want children to become violent in their teens and early 20s, these are the right ingredients. Merely having more police around to catch them in the act is like throwing thimblefuls of water on a house fire.
The Enduring Effect of Neighborhoods
Richard Florida interviewing Robert J. Sampson
Chicago is hailed as a great comeback city. Business and the arts are flourishing and it has seen extensive investment and renewal and gentrification, yet in one startling graph, you show the striking persistence of poverty across its neighborhoods from 1960 to 2000. Earlier anthropologists and sociologists like Oscar Lewis would have pointed to a so-called “culture of poverty.” You disagree with that. Explain.
“Culture of poverty” advocates typically attribute the persistence of poverty to self-defeating norms among the poor. Structural forces take a back seat. I view culture and structure as inextricably linked, with structure in the driver’s seat. So while culture matters—here Lewis was right—the question is how and why.
My data show that the poor are quite conventional morally. It is also a myth that the work ethic is weak among the poor, witness the long hours put in among first-generation immigrants in concentrated immigrant communities.
Despite commitment to mainstream values and striving to get ahead, the stigmatization heaped on poor neighborhoods and the grinding poverty of its residents are corrosive, leading to what I call “moral cynicism” and alienation from key institutions, setting up a cycle of decline. Those with the means move out, leading to further cynicism and an intensified “poverty trap” in the neighborhoods left behind.
Trust and altruism toward strangers—such as giving CPR to heart attack victims or mailing an anonymous lost letter on the street—are undermined by levels of concentrated poverty and segregation laid down as far back as 1960. Initial conditions thus matter, setting in motion a reinforcing mechanism.
Despite political change and urban social transformation toward the end of the 20th century and gentrification in the early 21st century, neighborhoods remained remarkably stable in their relative economic standing—whether at the bottom or the top. Overall, then, while cultural norms shaped by poverty may linger or take on explanatory relevance, they cannot be thought about independent of structural change and socioeconomic resources.
A good deal of the book and a great deal of your own work focuses on urban crime. In another startling graph, you show the “spatial persistence” of the rate of incarceration in Chicago neighborhoods. What causes such localized persistence of incarceration and crime?
Much interest has been focused of late on the national phenomenon of “mass incarceration.” Yet mass incarceration has a local concentration too, what we can think of as “punishment’s place.” Like the geographically concentrated nature of crime, a small proportion of communities bear the disproportionate brunt of U.S. crime policy’s experiment with mass incarceration. For example, large swaths of the Chicago, especially in the southwest and northwest, are relatively untouched by the imprisonment boom no matter which time period we examine, with almost no one sent to prison in some areas. By contrast, there is a dense and spatially contiguous cluster of areas in the near west and south central areas of Chicago that have rates of incarceration many times higher that cannot be explained away by crime differences. In fact the incarceration rate in the top African-American community is over 40 times higher than the highest incarceration rate in the white community. This is a staggering differential even for community-level comparisons —a difference of kind, not degree.
The rate of male unemployment predicts crime and incarceration in predominantly black communities much more strongly than in white communities. Incarceration is part of the cycle of “poverty traps” that find their most intense manifestation in segregated and racially isolated communities. There is a reciprocal feedback – imprisonment removes males from their families and the wider community, a form of disruption, while at the same time unemployed males drive the incarceration “input,” thus reinforcing a vicious cycle of disadvantage. Counterintuitively, then, incarceration does not just reduce crime through the incapacitation of criminals, at the same time it appears to indirectly increase future crime through a neighborhood feedback effect
In the United States of America, a higher percentage of African Americans live in poverty than any other racial/ethnic subgroup. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 27.4% of blacks lived below the poverty line in 2010, compared to 9.9% non-Hispanic whites, while 38.4% of black children (almost five million children) lived in poverty compared to 12.4% of non-Hispanic white children . A high percentage of Hispanics (26.6%) and their children (35%) also live below the poverty line . […]
This disturbing data undoubtedly account for a significant amount of maternal and child poverty among African Americans in the U.S. Five years ago, I proposed a second possible underlying factor, namely high rates of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) among the poor, especially in the American South . NTDs are chronic infections often lasting for years that both occur in the setting of poverty and can actually cause poverty by making people too sick to go to work and causing developmental delays in childhood. My research published in a PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases article entitled, “Neglected infections of poverty in the United States of America”, identified a (previously hidden) burden of NTDs among the poor in the U.S. and mostly among people of color . The leading NTDs among African Americans include toxocariasis, a parasitic cause of asthma and epilepsy; trichomoniasis, a sexually-transmitted parasitic infection, congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection that results in severe mental disabilities and deafness, congenital syphilis, and possibly dengue . I estimated that the number of cases of these NTDs among African-Americans exceeds 4 million at any given time . These are not rare diseases! Among Hispanics, a second group of NTDs includes Chagas disease and cysticercosis . I recommended a series of measures to combat NTDs in the U.S. including programs of active surveillance, disease transmission studies and research and development efforts to produce new drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines .
Another finding of the study is that the distribution of benefits no longer aligns with the demography of poverty. African-Americans, who make up 22 percent of the poor, receive 14 percent of government benefits, close to their 12 percent population share.
White non-Hispanics, who make up 42 percent of the poor, receive 69 percent of government benefits – again, much closer to their 64 percent population share.
The Nurture Assumption
by Judith Rich Harris
I mentioned a study of African -American kids from “high risk” families —no fathers, low incomes. The ones who lived in low-income neighborhoods were more aggressive than their middle-class counterparts; aggressive behavior was the norm where they lived. But the ones who lived in mostly white, middle-class neighborhoods were not particularly aggressive. These black kids from fatherless, low-income homes were “comparable in their level of aggression” to the white, middle-class kids they went to school with. They had adopted the behavioral norms of the majority of their peers.
When the biological father is living but not living with his kids, you have a family situation that is statistically associated with unfavorable outcomes for the kids. Let me show you how it might be possible to account for the unfavorable outcomes without reference to the children’s experiences in the home or to the quality of parenting they receive there.
Most single mothers are nothing like Murphy Brown: most of them are poor. Half of all homes headed by women are below the poverty level. Divorce usually leads to a drastic decline in a family’s standard of living— that is, in the standard of living of the ex-wife and the children in her custody. 22
The loss of income impacts the kids in several ways. For one thing, it can affect their status in the peer group. Being deprived of luxuries such as expensive clothing and sporting equipment, dermatologists and orthodontists, can lower kids’ standing among their peers. 23 Money is also going to play a role in whether the kids can think about going to college. If it’s out of the question, then they may be less motivated to graduate from high school and to avoid getting pregnant.
But by far the most important thing that money can do for kids is to determine the neighborhood they grow up in and the school they attend. Most single mothers cannot afford to rear their children in the kind of neighborhood where my husband and I reared ours —the kind where almost all the kids graduate from high school and hardly any have babies. Poverty forces many single mothers to rear their children in neighborhoods where there are many other single mothers and where there are high rates of unemployment, school dropout, teen pregnancy, and crime. 24
Why do so many kids in these neighborhoods drop out, get pregnant, and commit crimes ? Is it because they don’t have fathers? That is a popular explanation, but I considered the question in Chapter 9 and came to other conclusions. Neighborhoods have different cultures and the cultures tend to be self-perpetuating; they are passed down from the parents’ peer group to the children’s peer group. The medium through which the cultures are passed down cannot be the family, because if you pluck the family out of the neighborhood and plunk it down somewhere else, the children’s behavior will change to conform with that of their peers in their new neighborhood.
It’s the neighborhood, not the family. If you look at kids within a given neighborhood, the presence or absence of a father doesn’t make much difference. Researchers collected data on 254 African-American teenage boys from an inner city in the northeast United States . Most of the boys lived in households headed by a single mother; others lived with both biological parents, a mother and a stepfather, or in other kinds of family arrangements. Here are the researchers’ conclusions:
“Adolescent males in this sample who lived in single-mother households did not differ from youth living in other family constellations in their alcohol and substance use, delinquency, school dropout, or psychological distress.” 25
Within an economically disadvantaged inner-city neighborhood, the kids who live with both parents are no better off than those who live with only one. 26 But within a neighborhood like this, the majority of families are headed by single mothers, because mothers with partners generally can afford to live somewhere else. The higher income of a family that includes an adult male means that kids with two parents are more likely to live in a neighborhood with a middle -class culture and, therefore, more likely to conform to middle-class norms.
Homelessness is primarily a poverty issue. In 2010, nearly one-quarter (23.3 percent) of black families lived in poverty, three times the rate of white families (7.1 percent).
But there is more to it than that. Understanding why blacks are overrepresented in homeless shelters requires an examination of the longstanding and interrelated social and structural issues facing the black community. Throughout U.S. history, housing discrimination has been ever-present, both in the form of official government policies and societal attitudes. Federal policies that reduced the stock of affordable housing through urban renewal projects displaced a disproportionate number of poor blacks living concentrated in cities to other substandard urban neighborhoods.
Residential segregation, which affects black households to a greater extent than other minorities, perpetuates poverty patterns by isolating blacks in areas that lack employment opportunities and services, and experience higher crime and poverty rates. Blacks are also overrepresented in the criminal justice system, which increases the risk of homelessness and developmental delays among affected children.
Lower educational attainment among blacks, in particular black males, is a barrier to gaining any employment and especially to qualifying for jobs in well-compensated sectors. Black males earn bachelor’s degrees or higher at half the rate of white males (15.6 percent compared to 32 percent). Employment disparities rooted in subtle forms of discrimination persist even with educational advancement.
In 2010, blacks with an associate’s degree experienced a higher unemployment rate than whites with a high-school diploma (10.8 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively). Furthermore, a male black employee with a bachelor’s degree or higher was paid one-quarter (25.4 percent) less on average in weekly full-time salary ($1,010) in 2010 compared to a male white worker ($1,354) with the same level of education.
While many of the factors related to increasing income are at least potentially under the control of people born in the lowest income level, at least one important item is not: race.
“If you look at the findings, there are some that are not potentially encouraging,” says Elliott. “This study reinforces how difficult movement is upward out of the bottom (fifth) for blacks rather than whites.”
The study is based on the Panel Study of Income Dynamics — a look at actual parent/children pairings starting in 1968 and continuing to today. This means that because so few samples were taken in the 1960s from Latino families, there isn’t enough data available to see how those families have fared over time. So the study is best able to look at black and white families. Elliott says Pew has found a persistent gap between white and black families.
Whites were two times more likely to leave the bottom fifth of income than blacks. Forty-five percent of blacks got out of the bottom versus 68 percent of whites.
That 23-point difference shrinks when comparing the percentage of whites and blacks that climbed to the middle fifth. Twenty-five percent of blacks at the bottom made the middle while 35 percent of whites did — a 10 percent difference.
“This underscores the persistent race gap in economic mobility,” Elliott says.
So, in the case of Appalachians, the proper test of their racial privilege (or lack thereof) would be to compare whites in the region with blacks in the same region and to then ask, do whites have an advantage or privileges relative to their regional counterparts of color? That most people aren’t even aware of the existence of blacks in Appalachia (though they comprise about 6 percent of the region’s population, and are among some of the poorest) seems a pretty good answer to that question. That whites are the ones we instantly think of when we think of Appalachian poverty, and the ones for whom we typically then express such great sympathy, seems to indicate a very substantial kind of privileging; a kind that erases from our consciousness altogether, the problem of rural black poverty as though it were a non-factor.
And indeed there is far more sympathy expressed for the white poor, historically and today, than for the black and brown poor: another form of implicit preference for, and privileging of, whiteness. Now that the economy is imploding, one can hear concern expressed about the poor (especially the once middle-class poor, mostly constructed as white), and how terrible it is that they are now facing such hardships. Yet when those same hardships were being experienced by the urban black and brown (whose communities have been in a recession or even depression state for entire generations in some cases) little sympathy attached. Indeed, as Martin Gilens explained in his book Why Americans Hate Welfare, as the media imagery of the poor began to shift in the early 1970s, from mostly white and rural to mostly black and urban, public animosity towards the impoverished rose in lockstep. As contrasted with the mostly sympathy-filled portrayals of the Dust Bowl poor in the 30s, or the white families that were losing their farms in the 80s, black families suffering under the combined forces of the decline in city-based manufacturing employment, as well as racism, redlining by banks and neglect of urban school infrastructure, were viewed as responsible for their own plight.
The simple truth is, working people are not all in the same boat, and white working class folks have real advantages. Black and Latino workers are typically the first fired in an economic downturn, and remain twice as likely to be unemployed and 3-4 times as likely to be poor, in good times or bad; and white high school dropouts are twice as likely to find work as similarly uneducated African Americans.
Furthermore, according to Thomas Shapiro’s groundbreaking work on the racial wealth divide, whites in the bottom fifth of all white households (in terms of income) have, on average seven times the net worth of similar blacks. In large part this is due to a major advantage in home ownership and thus equity, due to passed down property from parents. Indeed, whites with incomes below $13,000 are more likely to own their own homes than blacks with incomes that are three times higher, largely due to these intergenerational transfers of wealth.
Involuntary sterilization is no longer legal, and intelligence is recognized as a complex interplay between biology and environment. Indeed, the 1960s, the era that Mr. Murray blames for the moral failings that have driven poor and middle-class white America apart, was the very same era that stemmed the human rights abuse of involuntary sterilization. (Not coincidentally, it was the same era that began addressing the discrimination that entrenched black poverty as well.)
The stigmatization of poor white families more than a century ago should provide a warning: behaviors that seem to have begun in the 1960s belong to a much longer and more complex history than ideologically driven writers like Mr. Murray would have us believe.
This data from Massachusetts challenges the traditional assumptions at two levels. First, the available evidence points to the fact that serious crime was not increasing but decreasing between 1835, the first date for which reasonable records are available, and the turn of the century. Second, while a full explanation for this decline would require a social history beyond the limits of a brief study, the structure of the evidence suggests that, under relatively stable conditions, the urban-industrial growth of the commonwealth was itself a major contribution. In short, the growth of cities had a literally “civilizing” effect on the population affected. […]
At the beginning of the period covered, in 1835, Massachusetts had a population of about 660,940, 81 percent rural, still overwhelmingly pre-industrial and native born.” Its inhabitants, used to living and working independently, were more free than lawabiding, not easily constrained by formal rules. Although scarcely a frontier, the commonwealth was used to this condition and was prepared to tolerate considerable disorder. No city in the state boasted a full-time professional police. The machinery of justice was not equipped to handle many cases, and the citizens often ignored their lesser injuries or dealt with them privately.
By 1900, in contrast, the 2,805,346 inhabitants of Massachusetts were 76 percent urban. And the move to the cities had produced, for better and worse, a more tractable, more “civilized,” more socialized generation than its predecessors. What had been tolerable in a casual, independent society was no longer acceptable in one whose members- were living close together, whose habits were governed by the clock” and whose livelihood, controlled by a supervisor, was dependent upon cooperation and a delicate interdependence. All cities and many towns had acquired police forces. And throughout the state, the victims of violence and theft were conditioned to seek official help. The whole system of criminal justice had expanded to meet new demands. As a relative decrease in major offenses eased the task of dealing with minor ones, the system was increasingly able to undertake the task of “maintaining order,” of dealing with irregular or distasteful behavior.
In nineteenth-century Massachusetts, then, the figures indicating a “rise in crime” represent at the least a misleading half-truth. Further study may well show that the case is similar for other times and places. If so, we should readjust the conventional notion of an inevitable urban viciousness.
Its acceptance on the one hand is part of a continuing tendency to pasteurize the image of our rural past. And on the other it helps to perpetuate that mistrust of the city that has haunted our society for too long.
Crime and Policing in Rural and Small-Town America: Third Edition
by Ralph A. Weisheit, David N. Falcone, L. Edward Well
Informal social control, keeping things in, and showing a greater suspicion of government may also help account for rural-urban differences in the willingness of local communities to cooperate fully with reporting to the FBI’s UCR. Reporting to the CR program in 2003 differed by population density, with reports covering 95% of citizens living in metropolitan statistical areas but only 83% of those living in rural areas (FBI, 2003). Similarly, Laub (1981) has found that while the overall likelihood of reporting crime to the police is similar for rural and urban citizens, those in urban areas fail to report because they think nothing can be done, while those in rural areas fail to report because they consider the crime a private concern, even when the offender is a stranger. As a New Mexico state police officer observed: “In a lot of these [rural] areas, there’s really no law enforcement—no police, no sheriff, no state police station. People prefer to handle their own affairs and disputes themselves” (Applebombe, 1987, p. 11). The officer’s comment should be taken as more figurative than literal, although there are remote areas of Alaska where the statement could be taken literally. The statement does reflect two dimensions of the issue that are distinct but tend to reinforce each other. First, rural citizens may less often to choose to deal with a problem formally because they see it as a local problem. Second, in some rural areas formal police authority is in fact physically distant and is not an immediate option.
Kenneth Wilkinson (1984) also used county-level data but came to a very different conclusion. In contrast to other data, he found that homicide rates were higher in rural areas. He accounted for this by noting that in a geographically dispersed population, social interactions occur more frequently among family members and close acquaintances; both are groups at a relatively higher risk for homicide. Wilkinson also observed that when compared with large cities, homicide rates were higher in rural areas but lower in small cities. Taken together, these findings highlight the importance of crime-specific analyses and of using care in defining the term rural. Simply treating everything outside of major metropolitan areas as rural can mask important patterns.
Finally, official police data provided in the UCR also reveal some offenses for which the rates are higher in small towns and rural areas than for large cities… [R]ural counties are much higher than large cities in the arrest rate for DUI and for crimes against family members and children. This last finding conflicts with field research and some survey research that suggests that family violence rates are similar across rural and urban areas and that police in rural areas are more hesitant to respond to family violence… [S]mall towns are higher than either large cities or the most rural areas in arrest rates for fraud and vandalism. In small towns and rural areas arrest rates for fraud are about four times greater than in the largest cities. Curiously, arrest rates for vandalism are lowest in the most rural areas and highest in small towns, with city rates falling in between.
Cities with at least some lead piping had murder rates that were, on average, 8.6 percent higher than cities with galvanized iron or wrought iron pipes. Other causes of death were mostly unrelated. Only the murder rates changed1.
In the United States, nearly a million children between the ages of one and five have lead in their blood at levels above the safety threshold.
Low-income children are eight times more likely to be exposed to lead paint, and African-American children are five times more likely than Anglo children to suffer from lead poisoning. […]
Toxicity Threshold for Lead and IQ Scores – Studies
In the largest study of its kind, data from 4,800 children and adolescents showed that those with blood lead concentrations as low as 5 ug/dL had learning problems. For every 1 ug/dL rise in blood lead levels, their reading scores dropped an average of 1%.
The more data we get, the more we must lower the toxicity threshold for lead. “There is no safe level of blood lead,” says Dr. Bruce Lanphear, an associate professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. It’s estimated that one in every 30 U.S. children suffers from the harmful effects of lead.
” Until the last decade, we couldn’t find children with levels low enough to study them in this way,” said he study’s author Dr. Lanphear at a news briefing in March 2001, sponsored by the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning and the American Public Health Association.
His research team also measured blood lead levels in 276 New York children – twice a year, from six months to five years old. At age five, the kids were given an IQ test. Those with a lead concentration of less than 10 ug/dL scored on average more than 10 points lower on the Stanford-Binet IQ test, compared to children with concentrations of less than 1 ug/dL.
Levels as low as 2.5 ug/dL were associated with lower scores in tests of reading and mathematics. (The CDC’s threshold of safety established in 1991 is still 10 ug/dL.) Lanphear said the study also found that for every additional 10 ug/dL increase in blood-lead concentration, IQ declined by an average of 5.5 points.
Low-Level Lead and Cognitive Performance – Study
Neurologists at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem found a direct link between low-level long-term exposure to lead and deficits in cognitive performance and behavior in childhood through adolescence.
They also concluded that “there is no threshold below which lead remains without effect on the central nervous system.”12
Intellectual Impairment in Children with Low Blood Levels – Study
Researchers at the College of Human Ecology, Cornell University, released a new study in April of 2003 to examine low blood lead concentration and IQ. The results suggest that there may be more U.S children who are adversely affected by environmental lead than previously estimated. In the study, 172 children had their blood lead concentrations measured at 6, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, and 60 months of age.
These same children were given the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale at the ages of 3 and 5 years. 101 of the 172 children whose blood lead concentrations measured below 10 µg per deciliter (the CDC’s threshold of safety) showed a 7.4 point decline in IQ.13 […]
” Of wider concern are the subtler effects on mental function seen among children exposed to lead before birth. Researchers have now documented small but significant mental deficits among children whose fetal lead level (measured in umbilical cord blood at birth) exceeded 10 ug/dL. . . . If the exposure ends at birth, the effect appears to be reversible and children recover normal IQ scores by four or five years of age. But if a child is also exposed to lead after birth (as is often the case) or is raised in an otherwise disadvantaged environment, his intelligence may be permanently compromised.” […]
“Lead Kids” and Attention-Deficits-Studies
According to Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, “lead kids” have very low levels of concentration, are very disruptive, and have violent tendencies.
The relationship between hair lead levels of children and their attention-deficit behaviors in the classroom was evaluated at the University of Massachusetts. Researchers found a “striking dose-response relationship between levels of lead and negative teacher ratings. . . An even stronger relationship existed between physician-diagnosed attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and hair lead in the same children.”16
A similar study done at Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam found that children with relatively high concentrations of lead in their hair “were significantly less flexible in changing their focus of attention.”17
THE TOXIC ENVIRONMENTAL BURDEN
According to a study by the Environmental Working Groups, blood samples from newborns show exposure to over two hundred eighty-seven toxins, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides and Teflon—exposure that occurs even before they are born. Of these, one hundred eighty cause cancer in humans or animals; two hundred seventeen are toxic to the brain and nervous system; and two hundred eight cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests.123
Common exposures have been documented for mercury from vaccines, amalgam fillings, and fish; for lead from paint, soil and water fixtures; for arsenic from treated wood, pesticides and shellfish; for aluminum from processed food, cookware and deodorants; for cadmium from shellfish, paint, pesticides and piping; for antimony from Scotchgard; for manganese from soy milk, welding and metal works; and for fluoride from water, tea, medications and soy. All of these metals are documented to be extremely neurotoxic.
Heavy metal exposure compromises normal brain development and neurotransmitter function, leading to long-term deficits in learning and social behavior. Studies show that hyperactive children and criminal offenders have significantly elevated levels of lead, manganese or cadmium compared to controls; high blood lead at age seven predicts juvenile delinquency and adult crime.124
Prenatal and neonatal toxic metal exposure to mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, nickel and aluminum have been documented in medical publications and medical texts to cause common and widespread neurological and psychological effects including depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorders, social deficits, mood disorders, schizophrenia, anorexia, cognitive impairments, ADHD, autism and seizures.125
High lead, copper, manganese, or mercury levels are associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), impulsivity, anger, aggression, inability to inhibit inappropriate responding, juvenile delinquency and criminality.126Occupational mercury exposure has been found to cause depression, anxiety, anger, antisocial behavior and aggressiveness.127
Manganese toxicity has a known association with impulsive and violent behavior. A poor diet increases the susceptibility to lead and manganese toxicity. The most significant dietary source is soy infant formulas, which typically have very high levels of manganese.128
Lead has been the subject of extensive research documenting its relationship to all of these conditions and to juvenile delinquency. Based on a national sample of children, there is a significant association of lead body burden with aggressive behavior, crime, juvenile delinquency and behavioral problems. After adjustment for covariates and interactions and removal of non-influential covariates, adjudicated delinquents were four times more likely to have bone lead concentrations greater than 25 parts per million (ppm) than controls. Communities with a higher percentage of children having blood lead over 10 mg/dL are significantly more likely to have higher rates of violent crime and higher rates of educational failure.129
Communities using silicofluorides in the water supply also report higher rates of learning disabilities, ADHD, violent crime and criminals using cocaine at the time of arrest. The use of fluorosilicic acid (H2SiF6) to fluoridate public water supplies significantly increases the amounts of lead in the water. Data from analysis of a national sample of over four thousand children show that water fluoridation is associated with a significant increase in children’s blood lead, with especially strong effects among minority children.129
Studies have found that heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead, aluminum, nickel, and tin affect chemical synaptic transmission in the brain and the peripheral and central nervous system.130,131 They also disrupt brain and cellular calcium levels, significantly affecting many body functions. Inadequate calcium levels in the brain can adversely affect cognitive development and contribute to degenerative CNS diseases. Calcium-dependent neurotransmitter release results in depressed levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine, all conditions related to mood and motivation.131
So where did we see the most exposure to gasoline lead? Answer: in places with the densest concentration of automobiles. And that’s in the inner core of big cities. In the early ’60s, big cities had double the ambient air lead levels of midsize cities, which in turn had air lead levels 40 percent higher than small cities. (Nevin, p. 316.) So if lead exposure produces a rise in crime, you’d expect to see a bigger rise in big cities than in small ones. Over time, big cities would become increasingly more dangerous than small ones.
Likewise, when lead was removed from gasoline, and children started to grow up normally, you’d expect to see a bigger crime decrease in big cities. Over time, crime rates would start to converge.
And that’s exactly what we see in the data.
The protests in Warren County, North Carolina in 1982, to prevent the siting of a polychlorinated biphenyls landfill in the county became the driving force to a 1983 US General Accounting Office study, “Siting of Hazardous Waste Landfills and Their Correlation with Racial and Economic Status of Surrounding Communities.” The study revealed, “ Three of the four commercial hazardous waste landfills in the Southeast United States were located in majority black communities.” The General Accounting Office Study, or GAO study, solely studied off-site hazardous waste landfills in the Southeastern United States limiting the scope of the study. In response to this limitation the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, or CRJ, directed a comprehensive national study on demographic patterns associated with the location of hazardous waste sites. The CRJ national study conducted two examinations of areas surrounding commercial hazardous waste facilities and the location of uncontrolled toxic waste sites. The first study examined the association between race and socio-economic status and the location of commercial hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities. After statistical analysis, the first study concluded that “the percentage of community residents that belonged to a racial or ethnic group was a stronger predictor of the level of commercial hazardous waste activity than was household income, the value of the homes, the number of uncontrolled waste sites, or the estimated amount of hazardous wastes generated by industry”. The second study examined the presence of uncontrolled toxic waste sites in ethnic and racial minority communities, and found that 3 out of every 5 African and Hispanic Americans lived in communities with uncontrolled waste sites.
Other studies like the 1987, “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States,” by the Commission for Racial Justice, found race to be the most influential variable in predicting where waste facilities were located.
In short, lead paint simply wasn’t available in most rural areas before the 1880s except in very narrow corridors with good transportation. You can see this in the prevalence of white barns along the National Road. Then, starting in the 1880s, revolutions in both rail transport and mail order distribution made economical lead paint available almost everywhere—including rural areas. A couple of decades later, homicide rates had skyrocketed in rural areas and had nearly caught up to urban murder rates.
By itself, of course, this would be merely speculative. What makes it more than this is that it adds to the wealth of other evidence that lead exposure in childhood leads to increased violence in adulthood. In the post-World War II era, lead exposure came mainly from automobile exhausts, but in the post-Civil War era it came mainly from the growth in the use of lead paint. And when lead paint became available in rural areas, farmers found it just as useful as everyone else. Given what we now know about the effects of lead, it should come as no surprise that a couple of decades later the murder rate in rural areas went up substantially.
In a passing comment, Chetty and his co-authors observed that “both blacks and whites living in areas with large African-American populations have lower rates of upward income mobility.” Far from being divergent, the fates of poor blacks and poor whites in these regions are curiously, inextricably, intertwined.
Instead of chalking it up to race, recent research points toward a more startling and somewhat controversial explanation: When we see broad areas of inequality in America today, what we are actually seeing is the lingering stain of slavery. Since 2002, with increasing refinement in the years since, economic historians have argued that the “peculiar institution,” as it was once called, is dead but not gone. Today, in the 21st century, it still casts an economic shadow over both blacks and whites: “Slavery,” writes Harvard economist Nathan Nunn, “had a long-term effect on inequality as well as income.” […]
The question, then, is how exactly did slavery have this effect on contemporary inequality? Soares and his colleagues speculated that limited political rights for slaves and their descendants played a role, as did negligible access to credit and capital. Racial discrimination, too, would have played a part, though this would not explain why whites born in former slaveholding regions might find themselves subject to higher levels of inequality. Nunn, though, advanced an additional explanation, pointing to an idea advanced by Stanford economic historian Gavin Wright in 2006.
In lands turned over to slavery, Wright had observed, there was little incentive to provide so-called public goods—schools, libraries, and other institutions—that attract migrants. In the North, by contrast, the need to attract and retain free labor in areas resulted in a far greater investment in public goods—institutions that would, over the succeeding decades, offer far greater opportunities for social mobility and lay the foundation for sustained, superior economic growth.
In his masterful history, Reconstruction, the historian Eric Foner recounts the experience of the progressives who came to the South as teachers in black schools. […] In short, white progressives coming South expected to find a black community suffering the effects of not just oppression but its “cultural residue.”
Here is what they actually found:
During the Civil War, John Eaton, who, like many whites, believed that slavery had destroyed the sense of family obligation, was astonished by the eagerness with which former slaves in contraband camps legalized their marriage bonds. The same pattern was repeated when the Freedmen’s Bureau and state governments made it possible to register and solemnize slave unions. Many families, in addition, adopted the children of deceased relatives and friends, rather than see them apprenticed to white masters or placed in Freedmen’s Bureau orphanages.
By 1870, a large majority of blacks lived in two-parent family households, a fact that can be gleaned from the manuscript census returns but also “quite incidentally” from the Congressional Ku Klux Klan hearings, which recorded countless instances of victims assaulted in their homes, “the husband and wife in bed, and … their little children beside them.”
The point here is rich and repeated in American history—it was not “cultural residue” that threatened black marriages. It was white terrorism, white rapacity, and white violence. And the commitment among freedpeople to marriage mirrored a larger commitment to the reconstitution of family, itself necessary because of systemic white violence.
“In their eyes,” wrote an official from the Freedmen’s Bureau, in 1865. “The work of emancipation was incomplete until the families which had been dispersed by slavery were reunited.” […]
Nor had the centuries-long effort to destroy black curiosity and thirst for education yielded much effect:
Perhaps the most striking illustration of the freedmen’s quest for self-improvement was their seemingly unquenchable thirst for education …. The desire for learning led parents to migrate to towns and cities in search of education for their children, and plantation workers to make the establishment of a school-house “an absolute condition” of signing labor contracts …
Contemporaries could not but note the contrast between white families seemingly indifferent to education and blacks who “toil and strive, labour and endure in order that their children ‘may have a schooling’.” As one Northern educator remarked: “Is it not significant that after the lapse of one hundred and forty-four years since the settlement [of Beaufort, North Carolina], the Freedmen are building the first public school-house ever erected here.”
“All in all,” Foner concludes, “the months following the end of the Civil War were a period of remarkable accomplishment for Southern blacks.” This is not especially remarkable, if you consider the time. Education, for instance, was not merely a status marker. Literacy was protection against having your land stolen or being otherwise cheated. Perhaps more importantly, it gave access to the Bible. The cultural fruits of oppression are rarely predictable merely through theorycraft. Who would predicted that oppression would make black people hungrier for education than their white peers? Who could predict the blues?
And culture is not exclusive. African-American are Americans, and have been Americans longer than virtually any other group of white Americans. There is no reason to suppose that enslavement cut African-Americans off from a broader cultural values. More likely African-Americans contributed to the creation and maintenance of those values.
The African-Americans who endured enslavement were subject to two and half centuries of degradation and humiliation. Slavery lasted twice as long as Jim Crow and was more repressive. If you were going to see evidence of a “cultural residue” which impeded success you would see it there. Instead you find black people desperate to reconstitute their families, desperate to marry, and desperate to be educated. Progressives who advocate the 19th-century line must specifically name the “cultural residue” that afflicts black people, and then offer evidence of it. Favoring abstract thought experiments over research will not cut it. […]
And it’s not just knowable from Eric Foner. It can be gleaned from reading the entire Moynihan Report—not just the “tangle of pathologies” section—and then comparing it with Herb Gutman’s The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom. It can be gleaned from Isabel Wilkerson’s history of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns. One of the most important threads in this book is Wilkerson dismantling of the liberal theory of cultural degradation.
Slavery By Another Name
by Douglass A. Blackmon
Introduction (from excerpt)
As I began the research for this book, I discovered that while historians concurred that the South’s practice of leasing convicts was an abhorrent abuse of African Americans, it was also viewed by many as an aside in the larger sweep of events in the racial evolution of the South. The brutality of the punishments received by African Americans was unjust, but not shocking in light of the waves of petty crime ostensibly committed by freed slaves and their descendants. According to many conventional histories, slaves were unable to handle the emotional complexities of freedom and had been conditioned by generations of bondage to become thieves. This thinking held that the system of leasing prisoners contributed to the intimidation of blacks in the era but was not central to it. Sympathy for the victims, however brutally they had been abused, was tempered because, after all, they were criminals. Moreover, most historians concluded that the details of what really happened couldn’t be determined. Official accounts couldn’t be rigorously challenged, because so few of the original records of the arrests and contracts under which black men were imprisoned and sold had survived.
Yet as I moved from one county courthouse to the next in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, I concluded that such assumptions were fundamentally flawed. That was a version of history reliant on a narrow range of official summaries and gubernatorial archives created and archived by the most dubious sources—southern whites who engineered and most directly profited from the system. It overlooked many of the most significant dimensions of the new forced labor, including the centrality of its role in the web of restrictions put in place to suppress black citizenship, its concomitant relationship to debt peonage and the worst forms of sharecropping, and an exponentially larger number of African Americans compelled into servitude through the most informal—and tainted—local courts. The laws passed to intimidate black men away from political participation were enforced by sending dissidents into slave mines or forced labor camps. The judges and sheriffs who sold convicts to giant corporate prison mines also leased even larger numbers of African Americans to local farmers, and allowed their neighbors and political supporters to acquire still more black laborers directly from their courtrooms. And because most scholarly studies dissected these events into separate narratives limited to each southern state, they minimized the collective effect of the decisions by hundreds of state and local county governments during at least a part of this period to sell blacks to commercial interests.
I was also troubled by a sensibility in much of the conventional history of the era that these events were somehow inevitable. White animosity toward blacks was accepted as a wrong but logical extension of antebellum racial views. Events were presented as having transpired as a result of large—seemingly unavoidable—social and anthropological shifts, rather than the specific decisions and choices of individuals. What’s more, African Americans were portrayed by most historians as an almost static component of U.S. society. Their leaders changed with each generation, but the mass of black Americans were depicted as if the freed slaves of 1863 were the same people still not free fifty years later. There was no acknowledgment of the effects of cycle upon cycle of malevolent defeat, of the injury of seeing one generation rise above the cusp of poverty only to be indignantly crushed, of the impact of repeating tsunamis of violence and obliterated opportunities on each new generation of an ever-changing population outnumbered in persons and resources.
Yet in the attics and basements of courthouses, old county jails, storage sheds, and local historical societies, I found a vast record of original documents and personal narratives revealing a very different version of events.
In Alabama alone, hundreds of thousands of pages of public documents attest to the arrests, subsequent sale, and delivery of thousands of African Americans into mines, lumber camps, quarries, farms, and factories. More than thirty thousand pages related to debt slavery cases sit in the files of the Department of Justice at the National Archives. Altogether, millions of mostly obscure entries in the public record offer details of a forced labor system of monotonous enormity.
Instead of thousands of true thieves and thugs drawn into the system over decades, the records demonstrate the capture and imprisonment of thousands of random indigent citizens, almost always under the thinnest chimera of probable cause or judicial process. The total number of workers caught in this net had to have totaled more than a hundred thousand and perhaps more than twice that figure. Instead of evidence showing black crime waves, the original records of county jails indicated thousands of arrests for inconsequential charges or for violations of laws specifically written to intimidate blacks—changing employers without permission, vagrancy, riding freight cars without a ticket, engaging in sexual activity— or loud talk—with white women. Repeatedly, the timing and scale of surges in arrests appeared more attuned to rises and dips in the need for cheap labor than any demonstrable acts of crime.
Putative “role models” show high rates of violence. It just depends on the era studied.
As regards the 2011 black homicide rate of 17.51 per thousand this is high, but often surpassed by whites- it just depends on the time period you want to study. The supposedly more self-restrained Dutch of Amsterdam posted a whopping 47 per 100,000 in the 16th century, higher than any rate ever recorded for New York City, Irish and all. (Epstein and Gang 2010. Migration and Culture, Vol 8) In Maryland the rate at which unrelated European adults killed was 29 per 100,000 adults per year in the mid 1600s. In white Virginia it was 37 per 100,000. The supposedly more virtuous Yankee peoples in colonial America in the Chesapeake posted a rate of 12 per 100,000.
In some decades of the 1800s, white San Francisco posted rates well above 17.5. Even allegedly milder white Oregon posted a rate around 30 per 100,000. (Randolph Roth- Homicide Rates in the American West) Using modern FBI formulas, mostly white Los Angeles County in the 19th century ran up a body count of about 414 homicides per 100,000. (McKanna 2002. Race and Homicide in 19th Century California). Nor is the West unique. Studies show the heavily white Scotch-Irish Kentucky-Tennessee borderlands posting a rate of 24 per 100,000 starting in the 1850s. ( –Randolph Roth, 2009. American Homicide). In a study of homicides in white Russia, it was found that in 1998, the homicide victimization rate was 23.9 per 100,000. The 1999 homicide figures were substantially up over those for 1998.” –Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, Vol 1. 2002 (David Levinson ed) p. 1426. […]
Whites post higher rates of child molestation than other groups according to scholars Hattery and Smith 2007, depending on the baselines measured, and said white child molesters serve LESS time for their crimes than black crack cocaine offenders, according to some studies. QUOTE:
‘Furthermore, our analysis suggests that child molesters, who are primarily white men, serve shorter average sentences than crack offenders who are primarily African American men. Child molesters serve an average of 6 years and only 43% of their full sentences, whereas the average inmate serving a sentence for possession of crack serves 11 years and 80% of his or her sentence.”
–(African American families, by Angela Hattery, Earl Smith, SAGE 2007. pp. 245)
and as one conservative police chief report states:
“Criminal profiling has a legitimate and successful history when applied to serial killers, rapists, hijackers, child molesters and arsonists. Ironically, some criminal profiles show a racial relationship between white males and serial killers, rapists, and child molesters.”
(– Carl Milazzo (1999) Race Relations in Police Operations: A Legal and Ethical Perspective. International Assn. of Chiefs of Police)
The police chief profiling report mentions several offenses, but when broken out separately, a pattern emerges of whites as over-represented among child molesters. Kirk (1975) found that black offenders were more likely to pick out adult females for sexual assault at a rate three times more than white offenders (34% and 11% respectively), compared to white offenders who selected non-adults more. Kirk’s finding is supported by West and Templer’s 1994 study of incarcerated sex offenders, which found that a disproportionate number of child molesters were white, compared to negro offenders.
(Kirk, S.A. (1975). The sex offenses of blacks and whites. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 4, 295-302)
(West, J and Templer D. (1994). Child molestation, rape and ethnicity. Psychological Reports, 75, 1326)
The heavy white pattern varies by state. For example, a 1998 study in Florida was carried out on molesters over a 21 month period. Of these 88.4% were white, versus 7.9% black. Around 1998, Florida’s populations stood at 78% white, and 14.6% black (Bureau of the Census 2000). Whites were thus overrepresented among the child molesters relative to general population, (88% molesters versus 78% general population) versus blacks who were underrepresented 7.9% versus 14.6%) on molestation offenses.
— Tingle, et al (1998) Childhood and Adolescent Characteristics of Pedophiles and Rapists.
An alternative point of comparison is to compare criminals to criminals – those actually in jail for crime – rather than non-offending persons in the general population. In the 1990s in Florida, whites made up less than 50% of the prison population.* Based on such patterns, whites are thus overrepresented as a proportion of those in jail. The same pattern repeats itself nationally. (*Data Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 1995 – State detail.)
The white pattern is also seen in some federal crime reports. Per the website below- quote:
“According to the Survey of Inmates of State Correctional Facilities by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, the following statistics have been recorded concerning the characteristics of offenders who violate and assault children.
* Those inmates who were convicted of committing violent acts against children were more likely to have been white, a percentage of nearly 70%, than any other race.
* White inmates were nearly three times more likely to have victimized a child than black inmates.”
Detailed data from Federal prison statistical reports also show the same pattern. Under the “Other sexual Assault” category, which is primarily child molestation, whites were six times more likely to go to state prison than Blacks and twice as likely to go to prison for such offenses than Hispanics. Under the category “Parole violators returned to State prison” whites were twice as likely to be returned to prison for the sexual offences than blacks.
–Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics. National Corrections Reporting Program, 1994.
NCRP9404 – New court commitments to State prison, 1994: Offense by sex, race and Hispanic origin
NCRP9405. Parole violators returned to State prison, 1994: Offense, by sex, race, and Hispanic origin
And in 1994 the white prison population was less than 50%, (48,21% per the Federal Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics- 1990) and yet whites made up 77% of all child molesters in prison, almost 30 percent more than their representation in the general prison population. Whites are thus overrepresented as child molesters in proportion to their incarceration rate. […]
Much is made of comparisons to blacks and assorted European immigrants, but as the example of the Irish shows, blacks are not some unique, basket case. They suffered and show the same patterns that often accompany rural people being urbanized. As anyone who has a basic knowledge of black history knows, WWII was to spark major changes and population movements in Black America. The MAJORITY of Blacks became an urban people, in contrast to the majority rural volk of previous decades. As becoming urbanized, blacks fell prey to a common pattern that often afflicts ‘country’ people who are squeezed into the crowded slums, violent streets and indifferent attitudes of cities – there is greater social dysfunction as the old rural community bonds begin to break down. It happened with whites from and in Ireland and Britain. It happened with Chinese in the over-packed slums of numerous Chinatowns. It happened with a host of other people in varying measures. But according to HBD “experts”, black people are these unique basket cases as far as such problems go. Only they are permanently affected by such horrible dysfunctions, you see, because’ they are black. Never mind the white people who have gone before, and who underwent the same pattern. They are exempt, and covered with a magical mantle of white goodness and virtue.
by Thomas Sowell
Such living patterns reflected not only the poverty of the Irish but also their being used to squalid living conditions in mud huts in Ireland… Sewage piled up in backyard privies until the municipal authorities chose to collect it, or else it ran off in open trenches, fouling the air and providing breeding grounds for dangerous diseases. The importance of proper garbage disposal, to keep the neighborhood from being overrun with rats, was one of many similar facts of urban life that every rural group new to the city would have to learn over the years, beginning with the Irish, and continuing through many others until the present day. Cholera, which had been unknown before, swept through Boston in 1849, concentrated almost exclusively in Irish neighborhoods. In New York, cholera was also disproportionately observed in Irish wards. In various cities, both tuberculosis and fire swept regularly through the overcrowded tenements where the Irish lived, and there was a high rate of insanity among the Irish immigrants.. The incidence of tuberculosis in Boston varied closely with the proportion of the Irish living in a neighborhood.
Patterns of alcoholism and fighting brought over from Ireland persisted in the United States. Over half the people arrested in New York in the 1850s were Irish.. Police vans became known as ‘Paddy wagons” because the prisoners in them were so often Irish. “The fighting Irish” was a phrase that covered everything from individual brawls to mass melees (known as “Donnybrooks” for a town in Ireland) to criminal gangs.. Irish neighborhoods were tough neighborhoods in cities around the country. The Irish Sixth Ward in New York was known as “the bloody ould Sixth.” Another Irish Neighborhood in New York was known as “Hell’s Kitchen,” and another as ‘San Juan Hill” because of the battles fought there. In Milwaukee, the Irish section was called the “Bloody Third”.. Where the Irish workers built the Illinois Central Railroad, people spoke of “a murder a mile” as they laid track. The largest riot in American history was by predominantly Irish rioters in New York in 1863..
Even the proportion of the black population who were laborers and house servants in Boston in 1850 was much lower than among the Irish, and the free blacks in mid-century Boston were in general economically better off than the Irish. The Irish-women’s work as domestic servants and washerwomen was usually more steadily available than that of Irishmen- a situation later to be repeated among blacks.
As in Ireland itself, the poverty and improvidence of the Irish immigrants to America often reduced them to living on charity when hard times came. In early nineteenth-century Ireland, even before the famine, it was common for whole families of the poor to go ‘tramping about it for months, bragging from parish to parish.’ Recourse to public charity was a well-established habit carried over to America. Expenditures for relief to the poor in Boston more than doubled from 1845 to 1855, during the heavy influx of the Irish, after such expenditures had been relatively stable for years. In New York City in the same era, about 60 percent of the people in almshouses had been born in Ireland. As late as 1906, there were more Irish than Italian paupers, beggars and inmates of almshouses, even though the Italians arrived a generation later and were generally poorer at the turn of the century. radically different attitudes toward accepting charity existed in Ireland and Italy, and these attitudes apparently had more effect than their respective objective economic conditions in America. There were similar cultural differences in attitudes toward the abandonment of wives and children. In the 1840s, ‘it was almost automatically assumed than an orphan was Irish,” and as late as 1914, about half the Irish families on Manhattan’s west side were fatherless. No such pattern appeared among the Italians.
Although the Irish immigrants (like other immigrants) had a disproportionate representation of young people in the prime of life, the mortality rate shot up after their arrival. Boston’s mortality rate in 1850 was double that of the rest of Massachusetts, even though there were relatively fewer aged people in Boston. The difference was due to the extremely high mortality rate in the Irish neighborhoods. Diseases that had become rare in America now flourished again. In 1849, cholera spread through Philadelphia to New York and to Boston- primarily in Irish neighborhoods. There had not been a smallpox epidemic in Boston since 1792, but after 1845, it became a recurring plague, again primarily among the Irish. The spread of the Irish into other neighborhoods, mean, among other things, the spread of these and other diseases. The residential flight of middle-class Americans from the Irish immigrants was by no means all irrationality…
Today’s neighborhood changes have been dramatized by such expressions was ‘white flight’ but these patterns existed long before black-white neighborhood changes were the issue. When the nineteenth-century Irish immigrants flooded into New York and Boston, the native Americans fled. With the first appearance of an Irish family in a neighborhood, ‘the exodus of non-Irish residents began. ‘White flight’ is a misleading term, not only because of its historical narrowness, but also because blacks too have fled when circumstances were reversed. Blacks fled a whole series of neighborhoods in nineteenth-century New York, ‘pursued’ by new Italian immigrants who moved in. The first blacks in Harlem were fleeing from the tough Irish neighborhoods in mid-Manhattan, and avoided going north of 145th Street for fear of encountering more Irish there.
Rethinking Southern Violence: Homicides in Post-Civil War Louisiana
by Gilles Vandal
Information compiled on 557 black homicides committed against other blacks provides comprehensive evidence of the frequency of black intraracial homicides in rural Louisiana. This data becomes an even more significant record of real physical violence in rural Louisiana when black intraracial homicidal behavior is compared not only to black homicides committed against whites, but also with white homicidal behavior.
Against the scattered evidence of contemporary prejudices and perceptions, one must set the hard statistics concerning black homicide. The black community certainly had its criminal elements, but in spite of the economic, social, and political emancipation that they gained through enfranchisement, blacks, with some minor exception, were less prone than whites to violence. Indeed, whites had little need to fear from blacks. The cases were rare and were mostly related to either robbery or work relations. […] The evidence provided by quantitative analysis is overwhelming. Although they formed 60 percent of the population, blacks were responsible for only 25 percent of all murders committed in rural Louisiana between 1866 and 1884 (table 7.1). In the same period they were victims of 72 percent of all homicides. The situation was even more striking during Reconstruction, when blacks committed less than 20 percent of the homicides, but were the victims in 80 percent of all murders. Furthermore, only 20 percent of whites killed during the whole period died at the hand of blacks, while 75 percent of black victims were killed by whites. Thus, though black homicides were a feature of the period, their importance was minimal compared to white homicides.
The figures in table 7.1 show important differences between black homicides and those involving both whites and the total population. Most black homicides were also intraracial in nature. Almost all black homicides were perpetrated against other blacks during Reconstruction (77%) and the early post-Reconstruction period (83%). In contrast white homicides were largely interracial during Reconstruction (77%). Only after 1876 were more than half of white homicides directed against other whites (56%). […]
Whatever the conservative newspapers may have said about black homicidal behavior, the evidence clearly shows that black intraracial homicide rates were lower than white rates during both periods. The data show that there were fewer black murders per 100,000 persons than there were white. While black homicidal behavior decreased slightly, with rates of 8.9 per 100,000 during Reconstruction and 6.6 in the early Redemption period, white intraracial homicide rates dropped from 17 to 8. The last noteworthy feature to emerge from these data is the apparent stability of black homicidal behavior as a proportion of all homicides in the twenty years with which we are concerned. But the question arises why black homicide rates remained more stable while those of whites strongly decreased.
Data in table 7.1 show that the overall homicide rates in Louisiana actually declined as Reconstruction ended. Though the evidence certainly shows that blacks were far less prone to homicides than whites, they were far from being upright and law-abiding as shown by their involvement in property crimes. Still, the figures in table 7.1 show clearly that black patterns of homicidal behavior diminished only slightly through the years, while white rates went through a slow but constant decline.
Blacks, then, were less likely to resort to murder. Moreover, when they did, blacks acted alone. Indeed, 86 percent of black intraracial homicides involved only one assailant. This was also true for black interracial violence; in 66 percent of such cases, a lone black killed a white. In sharp contrast, white intraracial (33%) and interracial (70% murders tended to involve two or more assailants (fig. 7.1). Clearly, homicide among blacks followed different patterns and thus had different consequences and meanings than among whites.
As we have seen in chapter 5, a striking feature of this analysis is the absence of women as either murderers or murder victims. Women represented only 4 percent of 156 whites killed by blacks, they cocmprised 10 percent of the victims of black intraracial violence. Meanwhile, white and black women represented 3.4 percent and 3.5 percent respectively of the victims of white violence. The higher number of black women dying at the hands of other blacks may imply a greater tendency among blacks to turn their aggression against themselves rather than against whites. The absence of women as assailants is even more evident. Indeed, women, whether black or white, represented less than 1 percent of the people committing homicides.
One must not forget that a large portion of the black population was young and consequently fell into the age group that tended to be more prone to violence. Not surprisingly these data indicate that younger members of the black population had a greater propensity to commit homicides than did their elders. This is even more obvious when compared to the rates for young whites. Thirty-four percent of blacks who killed other blacks were less than 24 years old, compared to only 23 percent of whites who killed other whites. Furthermore, only 15 percent of blacks involved in intraracial homicides were 45 years old or more, compared to 26 percent for whites. The analysis of interracial homicides gives similar numbers for each racial group. For blacks, being young and male were the conditions most consistently associated with the risk of becoming involved in a murder. this may suggest that younger blacks were more free from the restraint of slavery, less submissive to whites, and consequently less afraid to resort to violence to solve their disputes.
The data reveal few cases of homicide among the black elites. The killing of William Weeks, the assistant secretary of state, by George Paris, a former member of the state legislature and a member of the state board of assessors, represented the most notable case. But such bloody incidents among the black elites were rather rare. Most black intraracial homicides involved people from the lower social strata of the black community in both the city and the rural areas.
Meanwhile white intraracial homicides were spread more evenly through the different levels of white society (figure 7.2). This finding contradicts studies of twentieth-century North America and sheds light on attitudes prevailing within white society after the Civil War. The involvement of a large number (33%) of members of the social and economic elites is an important characteristic of white intraracial homicide. Finally, the presence of large numbers of skilled workers, day laborers, businessmen, professionals, and public officials seems to support the hypothesis that a great number of homicides, for both races, took place in towns and villages. […]
Although conservative press asserted that blacks regularly killed each other for trivial matters, my data show that the prime motives for black intraracial homicide were similar to those which moved whites to kill each other. Blacks (37%), as well as whites (32%), killed each other over personal grudges, in self-defense, and over trivial matters, as violence became an extralegal means of defending their honor and gaining respect within their own communities. Blacks lived in a world they could not change. The endemic frustration of black life and their particular code of honor were expressed not in encounters against whites but in violence within the black community. […]
Familial and marital quarrels were the second major category of criminality among blacks. Quarrels over women and disputes of passion were one of the main causes for which blacks killed each other. As shown in chapter 5, there were also a few instances of wife-killing. The killing of men by their wives did occur, but very infrequently. Overall, the relative scarcity of black intrafamilial homicides is striking when compared to modern industrial societies. […]
In spite of the conservative presses’ allegations that blacks had become inveterate criminals and that they monopolized the criminal calendar, the data presented here show that they were less prone to resort to homicide in the course of another crime. Only a few homicides could be linked to other forms of black criminal behavior. Although robberies were regularly committed by blacks in rural Louisiana, evidence shows that blacks rarely committed murder while perpetrating theft. Only 34 black homicides, of which 19 were against whites, were linked to robbery. Meanwhile, 61 white homicides originated with robberies, and 37 of these were intraracial in nature. The fact that so few homicides were related to robbery is in itself rather surprising.
When all of the evidence is evaluated, one is left with the impression that most intraracial homicides, for both races, were not premeditated but rather spontaneous acts arising from disputes between individuals who knew each other. These data confirm the view that both blacks and whites in nineteenth-century Louisiana had quick tempers and an exaggerated sense of honor. When these two elements combined with whisky, gaming, and pistols, they became highly explosive. Indeed, these were the cultural characteristics that made intraracial homicides a daily occurrence for both races in rural Louisiana.
Twentieth-century social scientists have fully examined the various factors that underlie black and white violence. They have demonstrated by sophisticated analysis how violence was deeply rooted in poverty, lack of education, poor housing, and disrupted family. Nevertheless few historians have examined nineteenth-century black violence, except in very general terms. Since intraracial homicide rates have been especially high among African Americans in the United States during the last century, these historians have concluded, without detailed study, that the same was true for the nineteenth-century rural South. They were therefore rather quick to draw sweeping conclusiosn and to adopt the impressionistic portrayals of black violence that they found in the local conservative press.
The foregoing analysis of the general patterns of homicide and the statistical breakdown between races show that these historians have been too hasty in blaming blacks for the high level of violence that marked the period. In fact, whites were largely responsible for the general atmosphere of violence that prevailed. Proportionately they killed each other in greater numbers than did blacks. Evidence presented here clearly shows that there were fewer black intraracial homicides per 100,000 persons than there were among whites.
This data set also reveals several important characteristics of post-Civil War homicidal behavior in Louisiana. First, violence became more intraracially oriented with the end of Reconstruction. Second, white intraracial homicide rates declined significantly with the end of Reconstruction, while black homicide rates also fell, but much less sharply. Third, white and black intraracial rates varied within the various areas of the state and were closely linked to the general rates of violence that prevailed in those regions.
The sharp decline of white interracial violence was due to a greater consensus among whites about the black issue, the fall from power of the Republicans, and the appeasement of the social and political disruption generated by the Civil War. Paradoxically, the same factors that eased the tension within the white community were responsible for the relative stagnation of black homicidal behavior. As blacks became more socially and politically alienated, violence remained a dominant feature of their community.
Roots of Violence in Black Philadelphia, 1860-1900
by Roger Lane
As was appropriate for these decades of stasis, the Afro-American murder rate simply started high and stayed there. It began at 12.9 convictions per 100,000 population during 1901-1907, dropped marginally […] The most thorough investigation ever into the patterns of criminal homicide was conducted in Philadelphia during this hopeful period, from 1948 through 1952. This was in retrospect the high point of the urban-industrial revolution. Three full generations had passed since the city’s overall murder rate had begun to fall in the 1870s—since the public and parochial schools, factory and white-collar work, had combined to redirect the aggressive impulses of most of the population. Homicide was not then a major social problem for most of the population. The overall murder rate for Philadelphia, as counted by the best and highest method, the number of offenders known to the police, was 6.0 per 100,000 of population, very close to the big-city average of 6.8. By comparison with earlier years, and later, murder was almost domesticated. Over half of all killings, or 51 percent, occurred in the home and were confined largely within the circle of family, friends, and acquaintance. Only 14 percent of victims were strangers; less than 8 percent of them were robbed. The white murder rate stood at 1.8; the black at 24.6, or just fourteen times as high. Thus, for the first time in generations the officially recorded racial gap in this index of violence had not grown at all.
The future had not looked so promising for decades, as greater opportunities continued to pull blacks out of the South and into northern cities. These in-migrants were by no means troublesome social problems on arrival. On the contrary, transplanted southerners were typically vigorous and ambitious young people, more of whom had graduated from high school—34 percent—than the 33 percent among the white population of the cities in which they settled. In Philadelphia specifically they were also much less prone to mental illness than those who had been longer exposed to the multiple problems that still afflicted people who had grown up in a metropolis.
Many of the hopes, too, of these Afro-American migrants were apparently realized. The breakthroughs in civil rights helped create a new leverage in urban politics. Above all, the gains continued in factory and white-collar employment, matched by the steady but far smaller increases among professionals managers and other elite groups. The situation in Philadelphia was again typical. As of 1950, 8 percent of the black male work force had won white-collar jobs, fully 25 percent were classified as operatives and kindred workers,” and another 11 percent were called “craftsmen, foremen, etc.” Over the next decade these figures crept up, the white-collar workers to 10.5 percent and the craftsmen to 12.5.
The year 1960 marked three related and dramatic firsts. The census of that year, marking the climax to the long historic process of migration, recorded that the black population of the United States, once overwhelmingly rural, had reversed that situation and become more typically urban than the whites, by a margin of 73 to 70 percent. The end of an almost equally significant process was signaled by the black proportion of factory workers for the first time exceeding the white, or 28 percent to 21 percent in Philadelphia, 25 to 20 percent across the country. In a further development, the national death rate from homicide dropped for both whites and blacks—the white rate from 2.6 to 2.5 per 100,000 annually, the black from 28.8 to 23.1. As of 1960, which closed out three eventful and promising decades, the overall murder rate of 4.7 was the lowest in any decennial year since the F.B.I. began collecting statistics in 1933.
PHILADELPHIA AND THE WIDER WORLD, 1960-
Yet the promise of the mid-century decades has not generally been realized, and in particular the condition of poorer blacks in cities is in many respects worse than it was a generation ago. Patterns of criminal behavior have intensified, exacerbating all other problems, as part of a wider national and even international increase in violent and illicit activity of all sorts. In other respects, too—some positive, many negative—the postindustrial era dating form the late 1950s has created a different world for Afro-Americans and indeed for everyone.
The central irony is that just as blacks were beginning to enter the urban industrial age, the economy and indeed the whole society shifted beneath them. The high point occurred toward the middle of the 1950s when the Afro-American unemployment rate reached a historic low of 4.5 percent. From then on, though migrants continued to move into the city, the city itself was increasingly not what it had been. Part of the reason that blacks had by 1960 become more characteristically urban than whites is that whites were leaving the city in larger numbers.
Race, Reform, and Rebellion (3rd ed.)
by Manning Marable
In 1960, the homicide rate per 100,000 blacks was 21.9, slightly less than the black homicide figure of 1910 (22.3). By 1970, the black homicide rate reached 35.5 percent, compared to a 4.4 figure among American whites. During the Nixon, Ford and Carter administration, black fratricidal violence soared. About 55 black males per thousand were victims of violent crime during the 1970s. Of all black working-class and impoverished households 13 to 16 percent experienced robberies every year in the decade. Black male homicide rates were between 600 and 900 percent higher than those for whites by the late 1970s. And by 1980, 50 percent of all American homicides were black males killing other black males.
by Randolph Roth
Kindle Locations 222-225
Race and slavery are connected to America’s homicide problem, but not in a straightforward way. Before the 1890s, for example, African Americans were far less likely to kill than whites were, and especially unlikely to kill one another. Why, for the past century, has the opposite been the case? Why were Virginia and Maryland no more homicidal than Pennsylvania in the 1720s and 1730s, when they had more slaves and free blacks? Why did slave states become more homicidal after the Revolution, when free states became less homicidal?
The Ethnic Myth: Race, Ethnicity, and Class in America
by Stephen Steinberg
However, now that immigrants have escaped from the poverty of earlier generations, they tend to look back on their experience in poverty as different from that of lower-class minorities today. Thus, Nathan Glazer distinguishes between “slums of hope” and “slums of despair,” by which he implies that immigrant slums were not afflicted with the social disorganization and cultural distortions that are identified with present-day slums. According to this view, despite their material privations, immigrant families stayed together, workers organized for better wages, and a stubborn ethnic pride cemented immigrants together in collective self-defense against the deprecations of the outside world. The solidarity of family and community is assumed to be the chief reason that immigrant ghettos were spared the social pathologies associated with today’s ghettos.
But were they so spared? A number of recent studies suggest that social pathologies of various kinds were more widespread in immigrant communities than has previously been acknowledged. Once again, it will be useful to focus on the Jewish experience, since Jews have so often been held out as an example of a group that, despite the poverty of the immigrant generation, did not produce high rates of crime and other such pathologies.
“Slums of Hope”
Chroniclers of the Jewish experience in America have rarely suggested that crime among Jews was ever more than an idiosyncratic event. […] However, this was not the prevailing view in the early part of the century.
In 1908 the “crime wave” among immigrant Jews emerged as an explosive political issue […] In the popular mind Jews were very much a part of the crime wave that had besieged American cities, and Jewish groups were kept busy defending Jewish honor against the exaggerated and often malicious allegations that periodically appeared in the press.
The debate within the Jewish community over the “criminality problem” produced the usual ideological split. Most of the Yiddish press, as well as moderate Jewish leaders, attributed the rising rate of crime among Jews to the breakdown of the traditional order. The problem, they believed, was that in America parents had lost control over their children, and religion and other traditional values had been shattered. To remedy this situation, they called for a revitalization of traditional values through religious instruction and various social work programs; they also advocated a more concerted effort within the Jewish community to stamp out crime.
The socialist Forward, however, took a quite different view of the rising rates of crime among Jews. The problem, the Forward insisted, was not with the Jewish community or even an erosion of traditional values, but with capitalism. The Forward explicitly rejected the notion of “Jewish crime.” It seemed obvious that the destitute condition of immigrant Jews was the root cause of crime, and for this reason the Forward opposed the Kehillah and other specifically Jewish efforts to control crime. If crime was a product of conditions endemic to capitalism, then narrow strategies that treated crime as an internal disorder of the Jewish community were misdirected and doomed to failure.
The experience of other immigrant groups certainly is consistent with the Forward’s view that crime had nothing to do with ethnicity as such, but was primarily a function of poverty. The history of prostitution in America is a case in point. The “oldest profession” has always been the province of the newest group to reside in urban ghettos. In the middle of the nineteenth century it was the Irish who, despite a strong tradition of chastity, figured most prominently among the streetwalkers of New York and Boston. Later in the century they were replaced by Jews and other immigrants. Only in recent decades has this dubious mantle been passed on to blacks and other newcomers to the city.
Generally speaking, there has been an ethnic succession in an all areas of crime, beginning with the Irish, who were the first identifiable minority to inhabit urban slums. In the 1860s Harper’s Magazine observed that the Irish “have so behaved themselves that nearly 75% of our criminals are Irish, that fully 75% of the crimes of violence committed among us are the work of Irishmen. . . .” Speculation as to the causes of the alarming rate of crime among the Irish centered on ethnic traits, especially the intemperate disposition of the Irish “race.”
By the end of the century, the connection between immigration and crime became something of a national obsession. The United States Immigration Commission, which carried out a series of studies on the “immigration problem,” devoted a whole volume to “Immigrants and Crime.” On the basis of extensive statistics collected in New York, Chicago, and Massachusetts, the commission drew up a composite picture of “races and nationalities . . . exhibiting clearly defined criminal characteristics.” Italians figured most prominently with respect to crimes of personal violence, including murder. The Irish stood out among those arrested for drunkenness and vagrancy. The French and Jews were disproportionately represented among those arrested for prostitution. In addition, Jews were second only to native Americans when it came to crimes against property, including burglary, larceny, and receiving stolen goods. Greeks, Italians, and Jews all ranked high with respect to infractions against city ordinances regulating peddling and trade. The commission concluded that “immigration has had a marked effect on the nature of the crime committed in the United States.” Though the report did not attempt to explain the observed relationship between crime and ethnicity, neither did it consider the possibility that the correlation was simply a by-product of poverty. For the commission, the relationship between nationality and crime was self-evident, and implied its own remedy: crime should be reduced by restricting the immigration of those “races” that were prone to criminality.
Today, of course, it is blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Chicanos who are blamed for high rates of crime, and as before, crime is treated as a cultural aberration rather than a symptom of class inequality. No doubt, the incidence of crime in immigrant ghettos was lower than it is today; nor, perhaps, were homicides and other crimes of violence as prevalent. But neither were immigrants mired in poverty over many generations. On the contrary, having entered an expanding economy, most immigrants were on the threshold of upward mobility. Yet if the Irish, Italians, Jews, and others produced as much crime as they did in a single generation, what could have been expected of these groups had they remained in poverty for five or eight or ten generations, like much of the nation’s black population?
That crime in immigrant communities was primarily a response to economic disadvantage, and not a product of deeper cultural abnormalities, is easier to see now that these groups have attained middle-class respectability. To realize this should make it easier to avoid confusion of social class with culture and ethnicity when considering the problems of minorities today.
“Slums of Despair”
If social scientists have idealized the immigrant communities as “slums of hope,” they have also portrayed the communities of today’s racial minorities as “slums of despair,” characterized by a tangle of pathology involving high rates of crime, unstable families, weak and disorganized communities, and a debilitating culture of poverty that is said to impede social and economic progress. In this respect, contemporary sociological thought is reminiscent of nineteenth-century Social Darwinism. Then, as now, the prevailing attitude toward the ghetto was of moral condemnation, and the onus for the ethnic plight was placed on the ethnic groups themselves. Of course, there is no small irony in the fact that the “New Darwinists” invariably have their roots in the very ethnic groups that were previously maligned by the Social Darwinists. […]
Controversy surrounded Moynihan’s insistence that the problems of black families today are a by-product of the ravages of slavery on the black family. This is a seductive argument, since it appears to place the onus of blame on a racist society. But for Moynihan it is not our sins but the sins of our fathers that are at the root of the problem. That is to say, the report tends to minimize the role of present-day conditions as they operate to undermine black families; instead, the emphasis is upon racism as it operated in the distant past. Aside from this misplaced emphasis, more recent historical evidence calls into question the assumption that slavery shattered the black family as a cultural institution.
In his history of The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, Herbert Gutman marshaled an enormous body of evidence to show that despite the abuses inflicted on black families during slavery, the cultural fabric of the family remained intact, and blacks left slavery with very powerful family traditions. Even before Gutman’s book was published there was evidence that contemporary problems in black families do not have their roots in slavery. Had Moynihan examined available data prior to the 1940s, he would have realized that illegitimacy and family instability are only recent trends that began with the mass movement of blacks to cities since the First World War. In other words, if there is a crisis in the black family, it has its roots not in slavery, but in the conditions that black migrants encountered in northern ghettos.
When immigrants lived in urban slums, they, too, experienced strains in the family system. In the early 1900s, for example, desertions wee widespread among Jewish immigrants, and Jewish journals and social agencies expressed alarm over the “desertion evil.” Some indication of the magnitude of this problem can be gleaned from the records of the United Hebrew Charities of New York, which reported that in 1903-4 alone it had received over one thousand applications for relief from deserted women. The Jewish Daily Forward routinely ran a “Gallery of Missing Husbands” to assist women in locating their errant spouses.
Once again, it would not be correct to imply that family instability was as common among Jews and other immigrants as it is among today’s racial minorities, for this was not so. But neither was their experience in poverty the same. Despite the hardships of immigrant life, most immigrants had left still more depressed conditions in their countries of origin, and their American experience of poverty was generally short-lived. In the case of New York’s Jewish population, the proportion residing on the Lower East Side declined from 75 percent in 1892 to only 23 percent in 1916. If this was a “slum of hope,” then it is clear that there was something to be hopeful about.
The vulnerability of the family to poverty was revealed during the Depression. A study by Edward Bakke, called Citizens Without Work, traced the devastating impact of unemployment on the family system. Bakke wrote:
“The family, dissociated from many of its former community contacts, is now thrown in upon itself where conflict and confusion dominate and established relationship patterns have disintegrated. There is no comfort in the family circle. The breaking up of the family unit may be considered at this time by one or both of the parents since there is a present failure to receive satisfaction customarily expected of the family and very little prospect that the future will offer anything different.”
The dissolution of families occurred despite the fact that the “citizens without work” had been unemployed for only a short time, and could hardly blame themselves for a collapse in the national economy. In contrast, racial minorities today not only experience chronic unemployment, but do so at a time of general prosperity, a condition that exacerbates feelings of self-blame, with dire consequences for the family. […]
The issue with respect to the culture of poverty, however, goes beyond the question of how much weight is to be given to internal versus external factors. The more compelling question has to do with the relationship between these two sets of factors and particularly with the ways in which external structures impinge upon and shape the values and life-styles of the poor. The stark figures presented in the Moynihan Report, for example, do not shed light on the process that results in a high rate of illegitimacy and family breakdown. To suggest that a weak family system produces family instability is meaningless, when the only evidence for the claim that the family system is weak is the high rate of family instability. To break out of this pattern of circular reasoning, and to understand the process through which family relationships are undermined, it is necessary to explore the linkages between economic forces, cultural values, and individual states of mind.
In The Condemnation of Blackness, Muhammad shows how “the racial data revolution” was made to work against blacks even as social scientists, journalists, and reformers created pathways to rehabilitation for Irish, Italian, and other foreign-born immigrants once tagged with a similar stigma of criminality. Where white criminals enjoyed the privilege of “racial anonymity” and were afforded an understanding of the structural roots of poverty and crime, black criminals, whose crimes, we can now see, differed little in form and function from those committed by whites, were made to stand in for the imagined deficiencies of the race as a whole, so that in evaluations of black fitness for modern life, the innocent came to be tarred along with the actually guilty. “Whites commit crimes, but black males are criminals”—in exposing the roots of this persistent refrain, one that has justified not only racial violence but the kind of benign neglect that has relegated blacks to the margins of an American social sphere that has historically expanded to incorporate new and different groups, Muhammad shows how this particular mismeasure of man has become foundational to our thinking about modern urban America, and how its insidious logic remains with us to this day.
White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology
“Being a Statistician Means Never Having to Say You’re Certain”
by Oscar H. Gandy Jr
Kindle Locations 5769-5785
Arguments in support of racial profiling that are based on crime statistics often point to the “fact” that “blacks, who are only about 13 percent of the population, make up ‘35 percent of all drug arrests and 55 percent of all drug convictions,’” implying that African Americans are responsible for a “disproportionate share of the crime” (Muharrar 1999, 8).
It then falls to public intellectuals like Kennedy to remind us that not only is the implication that one is likely to draw from these statistics dangerously incorrect, in that arrest and conviction rates bear no necessary relationship to the commission of drug-related crimes, but that the social cost of using race to activate police surveillance exceeds the short-term benefits that the supporters of profiling might reasonably expect.
Kennedy (1999) suggests that each encounter that an “innocent” or nonoffending African American has with the police increases their sense of alienation, resentment, and disregard for the police and for the criminal justice system. Public opinion data support this claim, in that African Americans are more likely than Whites to hold unfavorable opinions of the police, with young Black men most likely to hold unfavorable opinions of their local police (Gallup 1999). This alienation feeds back into the system and weakens it, inviting high-level concern about the nature and extent of “jury nullification” and the reluctance among African Americans to participate in the imprisonment of still more young men (Cole 1999).
Most of what we have read about racial profiling has been framed in terms of the importance of the war against drugs (Allen-Bell 1997). The police and much of the general public have come to believe incorrectly that African Americans are far more likely to be users of illegal drugs than Whites. For many, the numbers of African Americans in prison for drug offenses supplies all the proof that anybody might need. But those “facts” deserve greater scrutiny.
If the truth is that African Americans are no more likely than Whites to be carrying drugs as they drive the New Jersey Turnpike (ACLU 1996), yet they are far more likely to be stopped and searched
“Crime Statistics, Disparate Impact Analysis, and the Economic Disenfranchisement of Minority Ex-Offenders”
by Regina Austin
Kindle Locations 5910-5930
One of the most significant disabilities burdening the economic advancement of blacks and Latinos today is the tendency to link their race and/ or ethnicity with crime and violence, a linkage that statistics seemingly confirm. For example, although Blacks represent roughly 12.8 percent of the population, they constitute 28.6 percent of persons arrested, 27.7 percent of persons convicted in federal courts, 44 percent of those convicted of felonies in state courts, 37.8 percent of those incarcerated by federal authorities, and 46.5 percent of those incarcerated by state authorities. 2 Similarly, Latinos, who represent roughly 11.9 percent of the population and may be of any race, are 27.3 percent of federal inmates and 17 percent of state inmates (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2000; U.S. Census Bureau 2000). 3
All manner of social and economic consequences follow from the mistaken significance attached to such racialized criminal justice data. Because minorities are disproportionately represented among those arrested, convicted, and incarcerated, it is assumed that any individual minority person is more likely to engage in criminal behavior than any individual White person. It is accordingly thought to be rational for actors or decision makers in political, economic, or even social settings to avoid contact or interaction with minority persons who might use the encounter as an opportunity to commit a crime. There are many problems with this approach. For one thing, it is an erroneous interpretation of the gross criminal justice statistics. Even if the data are taken at face value, the percentage of the minority population engaged in criminal behavior is still quite small and so are the chances that any random minority individual poses a threat of criminal behavior (Armour 1997, 38– 39, 165 n. 10). 4 More importantly, action predicated on misinterpretations of racialized crime data produces grave social, political, and economic consequences that contravene norms of fairness and equality. The burdens imposed on Blacks and Latinos because of the inappropriate interpretation of crime data extend beyond racial profiling by law enforcement officers, a practice nearly universally condemned. 5 For example, statistical discrimination and the exaggerated fear of minority criminality have impaired the ability of law-abiding minority citizens to engage in such mundane activities as shopping in a retail establishment without being closely watched, having a pizza delivered to their door (because deliverymen fear being mugged), or paying for a purchase by check (because merchants fear that the checks will bounce) (Austin 2000; Linstedt 2000). 6
Kindle Locations 6210-6218
All racialized crime statistics should be published, read, or interpreted with the following explicit or implicit disclaimer:
Racial and ethnic data must be treated with caution because of the varying circumstances under which such information is recorded or reported…. Race and ethnicity may be recorded from observation or from self-identification. The use of racial or ethnic descriptions may reflect social custom rather than genetic or hereditary origins. Moreover, existing research on crime has generally shown that racial and ethnic identity is not predictive of crime behavior within data which has been controlled for social and economic factors such as education levels, family status, income, housing density, and residential mobility. (Minnesota Department of Public Safety 2000)
Stated more succinctly, descriptive racialized crime statistics that are not controlled for social and economic factors are “not sufficient for causal analysis and should not be used as an indicator of the role of race and criminality in economic decision making” (Walker, Spohn, and DeLone 2000).
The Condemnation of Blackness
by Khalil Gibran Muhammad
In the period under investigation, crime, despite its variability in form and expression across groups, was a ubiquitous problem across the nation— so much a problem in the urban North that it was not clear that blackness would eventually become its sole signifier. Even the wellsprings of violent crime, as historian and criminologist Jeffrey S. Adler found in his recent definitive study of homicide in Progressive era Chicago, flowed from the same broader cultural, social, economic, and demographic shifts and tensions affecting all non-elite urban people. “Contrary to the impressions of most observers,” he writes, “African American violence was similar to white violence. It resembled white homicide in the form it took; and African-American violence paralleled white violence in how that form changed.” 22 From the 1890s through the 1930s, from the Progressive era through Prohibition, African Americans had no monopoly on social banditry, crimes of resistance, or underground entrepreneurship; the “weapons of the weak” and “lower-class oppositional culture” extended far and wide and in many directions. 23 The Condemnation of Blackness demonstrates and explains how ideas of racial inferiority and crime became fastened to African Americans by contrast to ideas of class and crime that shaped views of European immigrants and working-class whites. 24
Whiteness scholars have shown how crucial the attributes of skin color, European ancestry, and the gradual adoption of anti-black racism were to immigrant assimilation “into the singular ‘white race.’ ”25 Such benefits, Thomas Guglielmo found recently, even secured the whiteness of Chicago’s “Sicilian Gunmen” because their criminality “never positioned them as non-white in any sustained or systematic way.” 26 Building on whiteness and critical race scholarship, I explore how postbellum southern black out-migration to the urban North— to Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York in particular— fueled an invidious black migration narrative framed by crime statistics and reshaped broader racial discourses on immigration and urbanization during Progressive era. Evoking the specter of black rapists and murderers moving north one step ahead of lynch mobs, innovative racial demographers such as Frederick L. Hoffman explicitly sanitized and normalized the criminality of northern white working and immigrant classes. Consequently, the black southern migrant— the “Negro, stranger in our midst”— was marked as an exceptionally dangerous newcomer.
One of the strongest claims this book makes is that statistical comparisons between the Foreign-born and the Negro were foundational to the emergence of distinctive modern discourses on race and crime. For all the ways in which poor Irish immigrants of the mid-nineteenth century were labeled members of the dangerous classes, criminalized by Anglo-Saxon police, and over-incarcerated in the nation’s failing prisons, Progressive era social scientists used statistics and sociology to create a pathway for their redemption and rehabilitation. 27 A generation before the Chicago School of Sociology systematically destroyed the immigrant house of pathology built by social Darwinists and eugenicists, Progressive era social scientists were innovating environmental theories of crime and delinquency while using crime statistics to demonstrate the assimilability of the Irish, the Italian, and the Jew by explicit contrast to the Negro. 28 White progressives often discounted crime statistics or disregarded them altogether in favor of humanizing European immigrants, as in much of Jane Addams’s writings. 29 In one of the first academic textbooks on crime, Charles R. Henderson, a pioneering University of Chicago social scientist, declared that “the evil [of immigrant crime] is not so great as statistics carelessly interpreted might prove.” He explained that age and sex ratios— too many young males— skewed the data. But where the “Negro factor” is concerned, Henderson continued, “racial inheritance, physical and mental inferiority, barbarian and slave ancestry and culture,” were among the “most serious factors in crime statistics.” 30
Similar comparisons would echo for the rest of the twentieth century. The Progressive era was indeed the founding moment for the emergence of an enduring statistical discourse of black dysfunctionality rather than the 1960s, as is commonly believed. The post-Moynihan social-scientific and public policy view of black pathology that scholars such as Robin D. G. Kelley criticize as “ghetto ethnography” began, statistically speaking, in the 1890s. The racial project of making blacks the “thing against which normality, whiteness, and functionality have been defined,” was foundational to the making of modern urban America. 31 Shaped by racial ideology and racism, the statistical ghetto emerged, study by study, in the Progressive era as the northern Black Belt formed block by block. 32 Inextricably linked at birth, they grew up together.
Northern black crime statistics and migration trends in the 1890s, 1900s, and 1910s were woven together into a cautionary tale about the exceptional threat black people posed to modern society. In the Windy City, in the City of Brotherly Love, and in the nation’s Capital of Commerce this tale was told, infused with symbolic references to American civilization, to American modernity, and to the fictive promised land of unending opportunity for all who, regardless of race or class or nationality, sought their fortunes. In these imagined communities of a post-slavery, post-Reconstruction civil rights America, “color-blind universalism” added an additional thread of contempt to the narrative. In a moment when most white Americans believed in the declining significance of racism, statistical evidence of excessive rates of black arrests and the overrepresentation of black prisoners in the urban North was seen by many whites as indisputable proof of black inferiority. 33
What else but black pathology could explain black failure in these modern meccas of opportunity? Unlike subsequent commentators in the 1920s and 1930s, Progressive era white race-relations writers frequently asserted that racism had nothing to do with black criminality. They self-consciously critiqued black criminality in what they perceived to be race-neutral language. The numbers “speak for themselves” was one frequent refrain, followed by “I am not a racist.” 34 A variant attached to both rhetorical strategies accused black race-relations writers of being biased and sentimental toward their own. They were accused of “coddling” their own criminals and excusing their behavior. When black experts dug in, when they made forceful counterarguments of epidemic racism in the heyday of “separate but equal”— even in the North— they were often charged with playing the race card (a concept then still in its infancy). The familiar resonance of these statements and exchanges is a testament to their longevity in American culture and society. 35
One explanation for the staying power of black crime rhetoric is that it had far more proponents than opponents compared to other racial concepts. 36 Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the statistical rhetoric of the “Negro criminal” became a proxy for a national discourse on black inferiority. As an “objective” measure, it also became a tool to shield white Americans from the charge of racism when they used black crime statistics to support discriminatory public policies and social welfare practices. Evidence throughout the first half of this book shows that the gap in the racial crime rhetoric between avowedly white supremacist writers and white progressives narrowed significantly when it came to discussing black crime, vice, and immorality. Progressive era white social scientists and reformers often reified the racial criminalization process by framing white criminals sympathetically as victims of industrialization. They described a “great army of unfortunates” juxtaposed against an army of self-destructive and pathological blacks who were their “own worst enem[ ies].” 37 Race and crime linkages fueled an early antiliberal resentment that pushed African Americans to the margins of an expanding public and private collaboration of social, civic, and political reform. 38 Northern white settlement house workers, for example, drew on these ideas when they limited their crime prevention efforts “for whites only.” 39 Local YMCA officials, playground managers, and recreation center supervisors drew on these ideas when they locked black youngsters out of constructive sites of leisure and supervised play. Trans-ethnic gangs of white men— backed by consenting police officers— drew on these ideas as they attacked black pedestrians and homeowners in an increasingly violent and enduring contest over racialized space in the urban North.
To be sure, racial liberals— a subset of white progressives— pushed back against the rising tide of northern segregation, discrimination, and violence during the Progressive era. 40 Such leaders as Jane Addams and Mary White Ovington distinguished themselves in their NAACP commitments to civil and political rights. Drawing on the pioneering work of cultural anthropologist Franz Boas, racial liberals also promoted new cultural explanations of black criminality and rejected the biological determinism of the racial Darwinists who had dominated scientific discourse on race since the mid-nineteenth century. But there were limits to Boas’s culture concept. 41 The statistical evidence of black criminality remained rooted in the concept of black inferiority or black pathology despite a shift in the social scientific discourse on the origins of race and crime. The shift from a racial biological frame to a racial cultural frame kept race at the heart of the discourse. Although racist notions of (permanent) biological inferiority gave way to liberal notions of (temporary) cultural inferiority, racial liberals continued to distinguish black criminality from white and ethnic criminality. In effect, they incriminated black culture. Attempts to deemphasize blackness and provide social welfare for African Americans never matched the scale or intensity of the Americanization project among immigrants. The racial-cultural content of white ethnic criminality gradually began to lose its currency during the Progressive era, while black criminality became more visible (and more contested by blacks). 42
Unfortunately, this false debate has obscured the deeper issue – whether or not Blacks contribute disproportionately to the crime rate. Media coverage, conviction rates and “common knowledge” (stereotypes) all suggest that Blacks commit crimes at a rate disproportionate to our numbers in society. Conservatives embrace this assumption, and call for tougher laws. Liberals embrace the same assumption, though squeamishly, and instead call for more social programs.
The better question for public debate is this: do the actual government statistics bear out the claim that Blacks contribute disproportionately to the crime rate? Or is this largely a stereotype, which is driven by the disproportionate rate of ARRESTS and CONVICTIONS of Black people? And does the over-focus on Black crime conceal an alarmingly high crime rate within the white population? […]
Those who believe that African American or Latino youth are more “criminal” than any other ethnic groups are simply wrong. The real facts tell us much more than stereotypes, or musings—both of which obscure the well-documented disparate treatment accorded African Americans compared to whites within the justice system. These comments on racially disparate crime also overlook the area of “corporate crime.”
As you can see the clearance rate for violent crimes are far far higher than they are for property crimes such as Burglary or Larceny – yet Burglaries and Larcenies occur many times more often, which means that since the most common crimes actually lead to the lowest percentage of arrest we really have NO IDEA whose doing what “the Most”.
If they’re only arresting 22% of the people who perpetrate larceny, that means 78% of them are getting away with it. 78% of 6.1 Million is 4,797,000 Crimes being committed that no one is being arrest for. […]
[Ed. To reinterate: being ARRESTED MORE OFTEN doesn’t mean that someone is necessarily GUILTY More often. Arrests only show the amount of focus that Police are placing in that particular area, so what we can see is that the Police focus is HIGHER for Murder and for Robbery than it is for Burglary and it is for Larceny, even though Murder and Robbery are much less frequent than the others. It doesn’t mean Black people committed more of these crimes, it only means they get presumed guilty and arrested for them more often.]
It’s very possible that Black People are arrested more often simply because they are suspected more often regardless of whether they did the crime or didn’t. We can see from the results of the Innocent Project that using DNA evidence 317 people who had been convicted and sent to death row – Couldn’t Have Done the Crime, so exactly how positive can we be about everyone else in prison with cases against them that are nowhere near as rigorously vetted as Death Row Cases are? […]
The presumption of Black Guilt drives police to stop, question, ticket and arrest black people far more often than they are found actually committing crimes, and the same type of thing affects who gets charged, who gets sentenced harshly [remember “affluenza”] and who ultimately winds up in jail and prison for longer periods. This is has been shown to be case by many studies. […]
What we don’t see here in any of the data is a greater propensity for Black Criminality Across the Board. It’s not across the board, where’s there’s a disparity it’s limited to specific areas and doesn’t spread to every type of case.
Yes, even if we were able to add a control to eliminate the police disparity and bias that has been repeatedly proven, proportionally Blacks would probably still be far too represented in cases of Murder and Robbery, but there may be reasons for that. Many of the Robberies are economically induced. People steal because they Want Stuff they don’t have. People who have stuff, and are earning a decent wage at a decent job don’t usually need to commit Robberies – those people can commit Larceny by stealing from their employer while they’re on the job.
Also a lot of Murders in the Black community are retaliatory, especially when Gangs and the Drug Trade are involved. They’re Pay-Back for someone else being Murdered. People are getting Street Justice, because they don’t think the POLICE are going to catch the person who did the first crime [rightly or wrongly the perception is that many murders of Black people are far more likely to go unsolved without an arrest or prosecution even when other Black people are the perpetrators], so as a result they take the law in their own hands. […]
Yeah, it’s an issue. Yeah, they’re out of “proportion” in these two areas. But it’s interesting how people that harp on this proportion stuff, don’t ever want to recognize that they’re also dramatically out of proportion on access to jobs, access to healthcare, access to housing, and access to decent education. Their out of proportion in their access to HOPE, and without Hope nothing good can flourish. These things are not unconnected. If you go further down the table Black people are actually below their proportion – just 12-13% of those arrested – when it comes to DUI and liquor laws but I’m not really expecting that they get any “credit” for that stuff. Blacks overperform in plenty of areas and that’s used against them all the time.
But again, the total number of Murders we’re talking about are fairly small compared to every other crime that’s happening on the list. Same thing with the Robberies. Take an unemployment rate somewhere in the 20-30% for young black men, add some resentment, persecution, lousy schools, hopelessness, desperation and puree for 50 years and a shit load of pointless Murder and Robbery is just a couple of the crappy results you’re gonna get. Shiny Happy Talk about “Opportunity” and “Pulling up your Pants” aren’t very convincing in that environment.
Yes, Murder is a far more serious crime, but is Robbery really that different from Burglary or Larceny? We’re literally comparing Millions of Crimes, with Thousands, and Hundreds. Why doesn’t that proportional difference count?
Either way we can see that Larceny – one of the most common crimes – isn’t where you see Black people jumping out way ahead of White people. Not even.
In raw simple numbers Black people with 2.6 Million Arrests really can’t possibly commit More Crime than White People at 6.5 Million Arrests. That’s just not logical. Maybe if Black people were only at 1.7 Million Arrests, or 1.4 Million some people who seem eternally bothered by this would feel better – but it still feels like a big smoke screen to take our attention away from the OTHER 4.7 Million Criminals that are getting away without an arrest and without a conviction for their crimes, year after year after year. Now I think it’s safe to assume that some of those missing arrests are for repeat offenders, even if they don’t get caught the first, second, third or tenth time – they might get them on the eleventh so there just might not be a one-to-one relationship between one single crime each being performed by one single criminal.
But then that means we really have no fracking idea how many of who is actually doing what now what do we? All we know is who is far more likely to pay the price for it in our jails and losing their lives on our streets.
Although I can’t prove it, somehow I just don’t think most of those missing guys and gals doing the most crimes and not getting caught – are Black. I just don’t. Black guys, generally speaking, are automatically suspected of everything and practically can’t get away with anything.
The final issue with the “Black-on-Black Crime” argument involves the disparate treatment of Black and White offenders in the criminal justice system. Whites represent a majority of the American population and are responsible for 54% of murders involving an intimate partner, 59% of murders involving a family member, 55% of murders involving infants, 56% of murders involving elders, 54% of sex related murders, 53% of gang related murders, 70% of workplace related murders, 55% of arson related murders, 80% of poison related murders, and 53% of murders involving multiple victims (BJS, 2011). Blacks comprise 13% of the population and are responsible for 59% of felony murders, 65% of drug murders, 50% of murders involving an argument, 56% of gun homicides, and 54% of murders with multiple offenders (BJS, 2011).
Although Whites commit more types of homicides in comparison to Blacks, Blacks are more likely to be arrested and convicted. Whites are just as likely as Blacks to commit crimes against people of their own race, but Blacks often receive longer sentences and are more likely to be incarcerated or sentenced to death when they commit crimes against people of their own race. It is a double-standard that Whites who commit crimes are more likely to be acquitted, and Blacks who commit crimes and are more likely to be convicted. This historical issue of racially disparate treatment in the criminal justice system is another reason why people rally for justice. Using the “Black-on-Black Crime” argument only serves as a means to distract people from macro-level issues of injustice.
In our nation’s history, so many of the sickest, most appalling crimes have been committed by whites. Yet no matter how sadistic the crime, no matter how young the victims, no matter how much fear is engendered in a community, no matter how much media attention and public discussion the crimes of whites engender, the race itself is never sullied. One does not look at a white man or woman and feel concern that pale skin enhances the likelihood that he or she is an assassin, a bomber, a murderer. […]
Let’s look at run-of-the-mill crimes today. Who’s committing them? Who should be feared? Again, it depends on what categories of offenses we choose to fear. Whites are disproportionately arrested for some crimes, such as arson, driving under the influence, and vandalism. That is, even with the focus of police resources on black communities, whites are convicted of these offenses at numbers greater than their percentage of the population. Drunk driving is a real menace, killing over 10,000 Americans per year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. Yet no one eyes a white driver next to him on the road and says, “A-ha, light-skinned guy, he’s probably drunk, I’m calling the police.” The statistics don’t matter. Our perceptions do.
How much crime overall is committed by African Americans? You’d be surprised at how difficult it is to strip away anxieties and emotions and arrive at the factual answer to this question. Most go quickly to FBI arrest or incarceration statistics, to see who has been convicted and sentenced for various offenses, broken down by race. But this data doesn’t include every state or even consistent reporting from one police department to the next. Nevertheless, this FBI data shows that African Americans, who comprise 13 percent of our population, represent 38 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons. That is, blacks are locked up at nearly three times their rate in population, a shockingly high number. This statistic is often used in support of the black-as-criminal conclusion.
But these numbers are almost entirely useless, because they are both over- and under-inclusive. They include a small number of people who may be innocent as well as a very large number of inmates incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, especially marijuana possession, which does not strike fear in the hearts of most people. Worse, these numbers are flawed because they do not reflect who’s committing the crime, merely who has been apprehended and locked up. They leave out all the burglars and rapists and killers who are still on the loose.
And the statistics don’t take into account unequal policing. Many people are unaware of the huge disparity of law enforcement resources applied to majority black urban neighborhoods in comparison to the relatively lax policing of white suburbs. Police departments send legions of officers to patrol inner city neighborhoods, with high concentrations of blacks, stopping, questioning, and frisking African Americans (and Hispanics), and where law enforcement has more eyes on a community, it finds more offenses. Once in the “sticky” criminal justice system, young men of color are likely to find themselves under correctional control, monitored, watched for many years, even after release from incarceration. To make room for the skyrocketing number of Americans (disproportionately men of color) incarcerated in the last few decades, we’ve slashed and generally eliminated prison counseling, drug treatment programs, education and vocational programs. Once released, ex-cons are legally discriminated against by employers, denied food stamps, access to public housing, school loans, professional licenses, and access to many other basic services. As a result, the United States has a high recidivism rate, as drug dealing and other criminal enterprises are the rare occupations that offer jobs to released former inmates. In inner city neighborhoods, it’s easy to fall under correctional control, and once in, it’s tough to get out.
The chief problem with arrest and incarceration statistics, compiled so diligently by law enforcement annually and relied upon heavily by most legal analysts, is that they are only as good as the humans making decisions as to where to focus police, what crimes to charge, what plea bargains to offer, what sentences to impose. As we’ve seen, nearly everyone harbors implicit racial fears and assumptions, and the humans staffing our criminal justice system are no better nor worse than the rest of us. We know that at every turn, similarly situated African Americans are treated more punitively than whites in the criminal justice system.
Thus the decisions made at the entry point to the criminal justice system – community policing decisions as to who gets watched, who gets stopped, who gets questioned, who gets patted down for contraband – powerfully determine not who is a criminal, but who gets labelled as criminal. All things being equal, inmate numbers would easily tell us who has broken the law. But again, almost nothing is equal in our justice system.
For example, arrests. We know that overall blacks and whites use marijuana at about the same rate (whites are more likely to sell). Among young people aged eighteen to twenty-five, the most common age to be caught up in the criminal justice system, whites are more likely to have smoked marijuana. This is contrary to the widely held association of drug use with African Americans. When we include other narcotics, whites constitute the vast majority of drug users. Yet in one survey, when subjects were asked, “Would you close your eyes for a second, envision a drug user, and describe that person to me?” Ninety-five percent of respondents pictured a black drug user.
Nationwide, four times as many African Americans as whites are arrested for marijuana possession. In Iowa and the District of Columbia, the number jumps to eight times as many. How does this happen? Because police departments, partly driven by a desire to increase their drug arrest statistics, concentrate on minority or poorer neighborhoods. Focusing on low-level offenses is easier and cheaper than investigating serious crimes, and drives those arrest numbers high, triggering increased funding. And so hundreds of thousands of inner city residents are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated for having a joint, a cookie, or a baggie of marijuana in their pocket, even though the majority of Americans favor legalization.
When was the last time you saw a drug sweep in the suburbs?
If one reasoned only from arrest records, one would conclude that blacks are four times as likely as whites to smoke marijuana. And we know that would be wrong. Reasoning backward from arrest or imprisonment statistics to conclude that minority groups are violent criminals is equally flawed.
We know that police disproportionately target neighborhoods of color, so that’s where the vast majority of arrests occur. That does not necessarily mean that’s where most of the criminals are.
Here’s a pretty astonishing chart on the skyrocketing number of arrests of black Americans for nonviolent drug crimes. Brookings’ Jonathan Rothwell lays it out:
Arrest data show a striking trend: arrests of blacks have fallen for violent and property crimes, but soared for drug related crimes. As of 2011, drug crimes comprised 14 percent of all arrests and a miscellaneous category that includes “drug paraphernalia” possession comprised an additional 31 percent of all arrests. Just 6 percent and 14 percent of arrests were for violent and property crimes, respectively.
Even more surprising is what gets left out of the chart: Blacks are far more likely to be arrested for selling or possessing drugs than whites, even though whites use drugs at the same rate. And whites are actually more likely to sell drugs
(6) The suicide rate is notably increasing for whites.
(7) The homicide rate is notably decreasing for blacks.
And there are many countries full of white people — Norway, Iceland, France, Denmark, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom — where white people murder each other at a much lower rate than you see here in the United States. On the other hand, although people often see criminal behavior as a symptom of poverty, the quantity of murder committed by white people specifically in the United States casts some doubt on this. Per capita GDP is considerably higher here than in France — and the white population in America is considerably richer than the national average — and yet we have more white murderers.
To understand the level of cultural pathology at work here, it’s important to understand that 36 percent of those killed by whites are women — a far higher share than you see with black murderers.
* Only about 1 percent of African Americans — and no more than 2 percent of black males — will commit a violent crime in a given year;
* Even though there are more black-on-white interracial crimes than white-on-black interracial crimes, this fact is not evidence of anti-white racial targeting by black offenders. Rather, it is completely explained by two factors having nothing to do with anti-white bias: namely, the general differences in rates of criminal offending, and the rates at which whites and blacks encounter one another (and thus, have the opportunity to victimize one another). Once these two factors are “controlled for” in social science terms, the actual rates of black-on-white crime are lower than random chance would predict;
* No more than 0.7 percent (seven-tenths of one percent) of African Americans will commit a violent crime against a white person in a given year, and fewer than 0.3 (three-tenths of one percent) of whites will be victimized by a black person in a given year;
* Whites are 6 times as likely to be murdered by another white person as by a black person; and overall, the percentage of white Americans who will be murdered by a black offender in a given year is only 2/10,000ths of 1 percent (0.0002). This means that only 1 in every 500,000 white people will be murdered by a black person in a given year. Although the numbers of black-on-white homicides are higher than the reverse (447 to 218 in 2010), the 218 black victims of white murderers is actually a higher percentage of the black population interracially killed than the 447 white victims of black murderers as a percentage of the white population. In fact, any given black person is 2.75 times as likely to be murdered by a white person as any given white person is to be murdered by an African American.
To say that white people’s lives are endangered by black folks, as though it were some widespread social truth, is to ignore the facts in the service of one’s prejudices and paranoiac fears. According to the most comprehensive data set ever compiled regarding homicides in America, which breaks perpetrators and victims down by race and ethnicity, the numbers of black-on-white homicides, and the percentage of homicides by African Americans that involve white victims are both much smaller than one would expect. And although interracial homicide in either direction is quite rare, the fact is, any given black person in the U.S. is almost three times as likely to be murdered by a white person as any given white person is to be murdered by someone who is black. […]
[O]nly a ridiculously small percentage of African Americans will kill anyone in a given year. In 2010, since there were 42 million African Americans in the population, for there to have been 8,384 black murderers (and even if we assumed that each of these were separate and unique persons — i.e., there were no repeat offenders, which is unlikely), this would mean that at most, about 2 one-hundreths of one percent of all blacks committed homicide that year. So to fear black people generally, given numbers like these, is truly absurd. […]
In other words, although interracial homicides are incredibly rare in either direction, any given black person in the United States is about 2.8 times more likely to be killed by a white person than any given white person is to be murdered by a black person.
Just to put the risk of a white person being murdered by a black person in perspective, that risk is one-fifth the risk of dying while out for a walk, and we’re about 2.5 times more likely to die from choking, more than twice as likely to die from post-surgery complications, and about 60 percent more likely to die from falling down stairs.
Likewise, we are more than 40 times as likely to die in a motor vehicle accident, about 3 times as likely to date a supermodel, 4.5 times as likely to strike it rich on Antiques Roadshow, and far more likely to die from falling in the bathtub.
Which is to say, rather than fearing black people, white folks should — statistically speaking — stop bathing, stop driving, gather up all the dated nicknacks in our basements and call our local public television station, never climb stairs, and go on a completely liquid diet that won’t involve chewing. […]
*A note here about why the black homicide offending rate is so much higher than the rate for whites. Contrary to the arguments of many on the right — and especially white nationalist types — that the disproportionate rate of violent crime (and especially murder) is due to something either genetic or cultural about black folks specifically, the facts say otherwise.
According to the research by actual criminologists (which is to say, not by racist internet trolls), socioeconomic variables explain the difference between white and black violence rates, and where economic conditions are comparable between whites and blacks, there are no significant racial crime differences. In fact, the correlation between economic variables and crime are remarkably consistent from one society to the next. Evidence gathered from more than thirty countries has found that race and ethnicity have far less to do with crime than these environmental factors.
Please note, it is not that poverty in the abstract causes crime — or is, in and of itself, even the main correlative factor for crime — but rather, the kinds of conditions associated with extreme poverty that are to blame. Although whites in the U.S. also suffer poverty, black poverty is more severe and more likely to correlate with crime. Seven out of ten poor whites live in stable, mostly non-poor neighborhoods, while eighty-five percent of the black poor live in mostly poor areas. Blacks are three times more likely to live in extreme poverty than whites (less than half the poverty line), and six times more likely to live in concentrated poverty neighborhoods. Indeed, three-quarters of persons living in concentrated poverty neighborhoods are people of color (powell, john, 2001. “Socioeconomic School Integration,” Poverty and Race Research Action Council Bulletin, 10: 6, November/December: 6).
Looking specifically at homicide rates, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that crowded housing was the key to higher murder rates among blacks in the U.S. When census tracts with similar incomes, population density and housing conditions are compared, racial murder rate differences evaporate, (Pope, John, 1995, “Murder linked to dense poverty,” New Orleans Times-Picayune. June 14), because the poorest neighborhoods have similar homicide rates, no matter their racial composition.
A 1990 meta-analysis of twenty-one different studies on homicide, covering thirty years of research found much the same thing: among all the factors positively correlated with higher homicide rates, two of the most significant were unemployment rates and community resource deprivation.
Indeed, racial crime gaps in the U.S. are largely a reflection of geography. Since blacks are more concentrated in cities, which have higher crime rates no matter their racial makeup, the crime rate among blacks is skewed upwards; but this has nothing to do with any genetic or cultural predisposition to crime. In large measure, because cities are more crowded, and because crowded areas tend to increase levels of anonymity amongst residents, and chip away at the levels of organization in a neighborhood, they will be the site of elevated levels of crime. Adjusting violent crime rates for levels of urbanization alone cuts the racial disproportion in half, with economic conditions explaining the remainder.
In fact, absent a litany of socioeconomic factors, there is no substantial independent relationship between a community’s racial composition and its homicide rates (Johnson and Chanhatasilpa, 2003: 92). Although the homicide rate among “middle class” blacks is higher than that for middle class whites, the reasons for this have nothing to do with race: middle class blacks tend to live in much closer proximity to poor communities, tend to be substantially less well off than middle class whites, and are thus exposed to more negative social influences than whites of their same general class group (Ibid, 107).
The role of social and economic environment and community conditions in determining crime rates is particularly evident among juveniles. A comprehensive analysis of homicide and robbery data, which looked at the importance of such things as race, poverty, family disruption and unemployment in determining crime rates in these categories, found that black male joblessness explained black family disruption, which in turn was highly related to black murder and robbery rates, particularly for youth.
Via LAWSONRY News And Analysis reports:
While the majority of all violent crimes are perpetuated by men, American mass murders in particular seem to be the territory of white men. The Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime writes that, “Compared with assailants who kill but one victim, mass murderers are overwhelmingly likely to be male, [and] are far more likely to be white,” and the numbers prove it. According to Wikipedia, 75% of the rampage killings on US record were perpetrated by white males, as were 71% of massacres in schools, and 60% of workplace rampages – a seriously disproportionate number for the number of white males that make up the general population. Clearly, there is more at play here than the advantage of opportunity. […]
News outlets have a also broken down by demographic, shooter’s identities, weapons and number of victims of these shooters. The most common denominator, most of these killers were white men…
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 910,200 of the men and women behind bars last year were black, 777,500 were white and 395,400 were Hispanic.
In 1997, about 9 percent of the black population in the U.S. was under some form of correctional supervision compared to 2 percent of the white population and over 1 percent of other races.
Blacks were two times more likely than Hispanics and five times more likely than whites to be in jail.
But those numbers count only those who were jailed for a crime. In 2003, more than twice as many whites as blacks were arrested and charged with a crime, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.
Of 9.5 million offenses charged, 6.7 million whites were arrested, compared to 2.5 million blacks.
The most common crimes were drug abuse violations, resulting in arrest of 770,430 whites and 381,006 blacks.
Whites were far more likely to be arrested driving under the influence. Of 998,035 total offenses, 877,810 of those arrested where whites.
Blacks, meanwhile, were more than twice as likely as whites to be arrested for gambling, 5,153 to 1,964.
And while blacks comprise about 13 percent of the population, they were charged with most of the robberies, 40,993 compared to 33,070 for whites, and nearly as many homicides–4,395 black and 4,454 white.
Whites outnumbered blacks about 2-1 in arrests for other crimes, including rape (11,766-6,114), aggravated assault (203,076-103,697), burglary (143,889-103,697) and larcey/theft (556,215-233,806.)
Whites also were most often arrested for motor vehicle theft, arson, other assaults, fraud, embezzlement, dealing in stolen property, vandalism, weapons charges, prostitution, sex offenses, crimes against families and children, liquor laws, drunkenness, disorderly conduct, vagrancy, curfew and loitering, suspicion, as runaways and all other offenses not including traffic.
This myth relies on shaky evidence and a selective definition of crime that ignores crimes committed by powerful institutions and the people who run them, many of whom are white men.
Blaming the crime problem on black people is unfair and ill-founded. On one hand, according to FBI homicide data, African Americans commit more homicides than other racial groups. In 2013, there were 5,375 black homicide offenders versus 4,396 who were white and over 4,000 whose races were unknown. However, that is a very small percentage of the national black population, which is over 40 million people. The vast majority of black people do not commit any crimes.
Moreover, so-called black-on-black crime has decreased over the decades. In the past 20 years, black-on-black homicides decreased by 67 percent—a sharper decline than white-on-white homicide—and “[a]mong black youth, rates of robbery and serious property offenses are the lowest in more than 40 years,” according to Demos. Throughout the country, crime has continuously fallen since the 1990s. Plus, black-on-black crime is hardly unique. Most crime is intra-racial. Around 90 percent of black homicide victims are killed by black offenders, while white people kill each other at roughly the same rate. […]
American discourse on crime is deeply politicized and influenced by racial and class bias. “Crime” is synonymous with “black.” In news reports and TV shows about crime, the criminal is usually a black person, especially a black male. But as legal expert and author Lisa Bloom points out in her book Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat it, many mass killings and heinous crimes — such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado that killed 12 moviegoers — are committed by white people. White people are also the ones most frequently arrested for crimes like rape, robbery, assault, forgery, and fraud. Yet unlike black people, white people are not collectively blamed for violent crimes committed by people who look like them.
Missing from American discourse on crime are those abuses committed by the powerful. War crimes, human rights abuses, violations of international law and the U.S. Constitution, and corporate and financial crimes are regularly carried out by governments, large corporations, and people with wealth and political clout. These crimes harm large numbers of people but are largely ignored and mostly go unpunished.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports — the official national crime database—leaves out many corporate and state crimes, while largely emphasizing street crimes. It tracks some white-collar crimes, like fraud and embezzlement, but leaves out many others, like money-laundering and human rights abuses or civil liberties violations. These infractions are tracked elsewhere, but extra digging is required to find the information. Such discrepancies have a serious effect on how the public perceives what is and is not a crime.
Here are five examples of the kinds of crimes that slip under the radar in the U.S.
1. America’s Illegal Invasion of Iraq […]
2. The CIA’s Secret Torture Program […]
3. Banks Undermine the Economic Status of Minorities […]
4. Wall Street Is Complicit in the International Drug Trade […]
5. The U.S. Government’s Covert Role in the Drug Trade […]
Crimes of the powerful are far more destructive than any street crime could ever be. Street crimes, from theft to murder, harm individuals or small groups of people, while crimes of the powerful, from aggressive and perpetual war to money laundering and economic plunder, destroy entire communities and countries.
Crimes of the powerful are sophisticated and effectively concealed. Street crime is visible. State and corporate crimes involve manipulating complicated laws, rich lawyers siding with the powerful, multiple actors, layers of bureaucracy, and government secrecy. People with power have the resources and connections to manipulate the system so that they are not held accountable, like corporations buying loyalty from politicians through campaign contributions.
This is what makes our entire discourse on crime a total joke. Crimes committed by marginalized groups receive attention and punishment, while crimes of the powerful go ignored and unpunished. The black criminality myth cloaks anti-black fears under the guise of “law and order.” It serves to justify routine police brutality and the mass incarceration of black people. It means that whenever a police officer kills an unarmed black person, racist apologists can pull out the black criminality myth card and say they had it coming.
The black people commit more crime canard is a fallacy of both process and outcomes. African Americans are subject to discrimination in the legal system at every level. As documented by The Sentencing Project, and detailed in such works as Race, Crime and the Law, and The New Jim Crow, African Americans are more likely to be stopped by police without cause, to be more aggressively questioned, receive longer and more severe charges for the same crimes as white defendants, and to have fewer resources to defend themselves in court.
As compared to white neighborhoods, black and brown communities are also subject to more severe surveillance and aggressive police tactics. Moreover, the disproportionate number of minorities in the criminal justice system can be largely explained by the War on Drugs. In total, if white communities were subject to the same type of aggressive police tactics as black and brown communities, the number of white people in prison would skyrocket.
The data is very telling here. While people of color are the prime targets of such policies as “stop and frisk” and racial profiling, it is in fact white people who are far more likely to be both drug users and to be in possession of narcotics at a given moment. This reality signals to a larger social phenomenon: black individuals who commit crimes are representative of their whole communities, crime is racialized, and there is no qualifier of individual intent. All black people are deemed suspicious and guilty because of the deeds of the very few.
In contrast, white people who commit crimes are unique individuals: the criminals who destroyed the global economy, a group of white men, were not taken as representative of the entire white community. There is a long list of crimes such as domestic terrorism, serial murder, child rape, sedition, treason, and financial fraud that are almost exclusively the province of white people. But again, whites as a group are excluded from suspicion or indictment as a “criminal class.”
The supposition that black men (and black folks more generally) are by definition “suspicious” is a channeling of the once in vogue concept known as “rational” or “reasonable” racism. Applying this logic, George Zimmerman is justified in shooting first, profiling, or harassing black people because “statistically” the latter are more likely to commit crime. Again, this is a chain of reasoning that is rife with problems.
Generalized statistics about crime tell you very little about a given person’s likelihood of committing a criminal act. This is especially true in a society where race and class are variables which over-determine how the courts treat suspects and who the police choose to single out for surveillance, harassment, and arrest.
Broad statistics also tell us little about a given population’s capacity or propensity to commit crime. For example, while black men are disproportionately incarcerated, the majority are in jail for drug offenses. African Americans are also more likely to be poor than whites. When a researcher accounts for these variables, the story becomes one of class and not race. Further problematizing the true lie that “black equals criminal,” is that disparities in crime largely disappear when you consider the black middle and upper classes in comparison to their white peers.
As demonstrated by Jody Armour in her book Negrophobia, less than 2 percent of black men are incarcerated for violent crimes. By implication, to generalize from the demographics of a given prison population to a specific person’s likelihood of committing a violent crime is a fool’s errand of the first order.
This is a counter-intuitive dynamic: just because a given group may constitute a higher percentage of those in jail, it does not in fact mean that a given individual is more likely to commit said type of crime.
A person is more likely to suffer a violent crime at the hands of a family member, friend, or acquaintance than a stranger; and most crime is intraracial.
Ultimately, incarceration is a function of many structural factors in relation to the criminal justice system.
Anecdotes matter. Police often give a pass to those who they know or trust. The white kid with weed just made a mistake; the black or Latino is a hardcore thug to be jailed. The judge may give parole or a lenient sentence to a white defendant in order to “teach them a lesson” about bad behavior. By comparison, a person of color before the same judge is already a “lost cause,” someone to have the book thrown at. We see this same dynamic even in schools: researchers have determined that white and black youth who are accused of the same offenses see wildly different outcomes in terms of punishment. The latter are suspended or expelled, while the former are given warnings or other remediation.
People living in poverty with access to less quality education, and fewer everyday mundane resources(jobs,healthcare, recreational parks) tend to commit way more crimes than those who are from a more affluent upbringing.
In general most black people tend to live in densely populated areas(cities),whereas poor white Americans tend to live in less densely populated areas(rural settings) where the nearest neighbor may be a few miles away.
Guess which population of poor people are more likely to have confrontations, the people living in the densely populated area. Theoretically if more poor white Americans lived in more densely populated areas(in cities), white on white crime would be astronomical.
It should come as to no surprise either blacks are routinely aggressively policed harder, yet non-blacks are more to carry guns or contraband:
With that said, the stats suggest there are about 4400+ black homicides a year, and there are 40 million blacks in America.
4400/40,000,000 x 100% = 0.01 aka less than one percent of the black population will likely commit a murder.
There’s no way you can parrot the “black on black gun crime epidemic” narrative without acknowledging that statistically, the clear majority of firearm related deaths in the U.S. are white males cooking their own noodles…and well out of proportion to their numbers in the population.
Contrary to white propaganda, the face of firearm death in the U.S. is a white male with a pistol to his head or a shotgun in his mouth
In case it hasn’t been pointed out, I will state that the FBI statistics are only statistics on arrests, not actual perpetuators of crimes.
Black people are arrested more often due to a racial bias against them in law enforcement. I know a person who was arrested for murder in 2009 and therefore was a part of those statistics and he was acquitted at trial.
Just because someone is arrested, doesn’t mean they committed the crime.
Also, the FBI statistics usually has between 4000-6000 murder arrests listed as “unknown.” For all we know, all those people could be white.
Another also, white people commit DUI (they are convicted of it) much more often than black people. Over 10000 people are killed annually by drunk drivers. Most years the FBI statistic data states that 80% of the arrest for drunk driving were white people, by those statistics alone, whites would commit over 8000 murders by themselves. Many times, homicide by vehicle or DUI are not listed as actual homicides on FBI statistics. […]
It is always interesting to me how certain many people are so apt to believe that murder statistics in general “prove” that black people are violent, when even if we take the arrests into consideration, there are usually about 4000-5000 black people who are arrested for murder and that is 0.000125% of the black population.
As a whole, if you tally up the total amount of arrest by black people in any given year, it is 1-2% of the population that is even arrested. Considering that a majority of those arrests are cleared through the court processes, one can be fairly safe to say that less than 1% of black people commit crime in any given year.
ETA: One can even look into the prison population as people like to use that to claim some sort of “super criminality” in regards to black. On any given year there are 1-2 million blacks in prison. A large majority of those are non-violent offenses, but the total prison population in compared to the black population is about 2.5%. Not very significant or proof of any sort of wide spread black crime element in the country. Violent black criminals in prison are less than 1% of the black population. And even when you take into effect the storied black male criminal, overwhelmingly when you look at the numbers black males are not very violent or murderous on the whole. There are about 20 million black males in the country. Only about 5000 are even arrested for murder. I would guess that of those 5000 maybe 3000-4000 are convicted, that is only .00175% of the black male population.
Most White people don’t kill White people. Yet media pundits, from Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly to CNN’s Don Lemon, have no problem using the phrase “Black on Black violence” despite the fact that most Black people don’t kill Black people.
When the news talks about gang-related deaths, they treat it as an almost exclusively Black problem. However, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, for the period of 1980 to 2008, a majority (53.3 percent) of gang homicides were committed by White offenders, and the majority of gang homicide victims (56.5 percent) were White.
When was the last time you’ve seen on the news, discussions about a White-gang problem?
Crimes committed by White people are explained as deviations of the individual but have nothing to do with race, but crimes committed by Blacks or Latino’s are somehow attributed to race. Gang-bangers from South Chicago have somehow become a symbol that Black men are to be feared, but you don’t get the same fear that one could attach to the brutal murders committed by Neo-Nazi skinheads.
According to statistics from the Justice Department, White men are more likely to kill than any other racial group. When it comes to how and why people kill, Black men do, in fact, outnumber Whites in gun-related homicides, but especially drug-related offenses. However, White men top the list in most all other categories.
When the Bureau of Justice Statistics collected homicidal rates from 1980 to 2008, they found that compared to Blacks, Whites were more likely to kill children, the elderly, family members, and their significant others. They commit more sex-related crimes, gang related crimes, and are more likely to kill at their places of employment.
Although White individuals made up 69.2% of arrests for crimes in 20111, Black men still account for the majority of the prison population, more than six times as likely to be incarcerated than White men. Black men are also subjected, according to Lawrence Grossman, former President of CBS News and PBS, to media stereotyping where TV newscasts “disproportionately show African Americans under arrest, living in slums, on welfare, and in need of help from the community.” However, men of color do not represent the majority of school shooters or mass murderers.
Recent studies reveal that most school shooters are White males, with 97 percent being male and 79 percent White. Over the last three decades, 90 percent of high school or elementary school shootings were the result of White, often upper-middle class, perpetrators. These shootings are a direct reflection of White male privilege and the consequences that occur when groups like the NRA control influential conservative leaders. […]
There is a pattern in these school shootings that has been coined as “suicide-by-mass-murder,” and seems to be an almost-exclusively young-White-male phenomenon. Michael Kimmel, a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University and founder of the academic journal Men and Masculinity, has been conducting research on the intersection between race and gender of American school shooters, and observed that “victims of [young men of color] are usually those whom the shooter believes have wronged him. And it rarely ends with his suicide. .. White men, on the other hand, have a somewhat more grandiose purpose…’If I’m going to die, then so is everybody else,’ they seem to say. Yes, of course, this is mental illness speaking: but it is mental illness speaking with a voice that has a race and a gender.”
* Those inmates who were convicted of committing violent acts against children were more like to have been white, a percentage of nearly 70%, than any other race.
* White inmates were nearly three times more likely to have victimized a child than black inmates.
Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis For Professionals Investigating the
Sexual Exploitation of Children Fifth Edition 2010 Kenneth V. Lanning
Former Supervisory Special Agent Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
In relationship to the age of child victims, potential offenders can be peers, slightly older adolescents, young adults, and significantly older adults. The National Juvenile Online Victimization (N-JOV) Study that looked at an estimated 2,577 arrests by law enforcement for Internet sex crimes committed against minors during the 12 months starting July 1, 2000, (Wolak, Mitchell, and Finkelhor, 2003) found the vast majority of offenders were non-Hispanic White males, older than 25, acting alone. […] The sex offenders discussed here have tended to be White males from a middle class or higher socioeconomic background.
National Juvenile Online Victimization (NJOV) Survey Publications
Chapter 2 Internet Sex Crimes Against Minors
Non-Hispanice White 92%
All but one were male, the majority was between the ages of 26 and 39
(61%) with an additional 33% ages 40 or older, and most were non-Hispanic
White (91%). Nearly half (43%) had annual household incomes between $20,000
and $50,000 with 36% having incomes greater than $50,000.
Eighty-nine percent of arrestees charged with child pornography
were [non-Hispanic] white, 99% were male, and 58% had
attended some college. The median age at arraignment
was 42 years. […]
Most suspects charged with sex transportation offenses
were [non-Hispanic] white (70%). Twelve percent of sex transportation
suspects were non-U.S. citizens, and 9% were female.
The median age at arraignment was 36 years. Twenty-six
percent of sex transportation defendants had a prior felony
conviction compared to 20% of pornography defendants
and 21% of sex abuse defendants.
Thailand has a reputation for engaging in one of the largest child sex trade operations in Southeast Asia. UNICEF estimates the number of Thai children involved in prostitution to be between 60,000 and 200,000, though the organization says the exact number is difficult to track.
The U.S Department of Justice said the growing popularity of the very profitable child sex tourism trade contributes to the problem. A Thai organization called FACE, the coalition to Fight Against Child Exploitation, claimed that 5,000 foreigners come to Thailand each year to have sex with children.
The organization described the average sex tourist as a middle-aged white male from either Europe or North America who often goes online to find the “best deals.” One particular Web site promised “nights of sex with two young Thai girls for the price of a tank of gas.”
Nixon and the stories he tells also cast light on the differences between top-down and bottom-up environmental movements. “Full-stomach” environmentalism in rich nations, for instance, has tended to focus on the preservation of charismatic megafauna and majestic landscapes, often to the exclusion of the people native to those landscapes. This is the environmentalism of Priuses, debt-for-nature swaps, recycling campaigns and dreams of going “off the grid.” Poor-nation, “empty-belly” environmentalists, by contrast, “experience environmental threat not as a planetary abstraction but as a series of inhabited risks.” Although Nixon doesn’t address the environmental justice movement among poor and minority communities in the U.S. as an example, the principle is similar: environmental justice advocates, like poor-nation environmentalists, are often spurred to action by a direct threat to which the larger society — itself the perpetrator — pays little attention. There’s power to be gained by the two sides coming together, by environmentalists embracing the diversity of their causes alongside activists for women’s rights, minority rights and other rights discourses. If, as Maathai writes, “Poverty is both a cause and symptom of environmental degradation,” then each movement can be strengthened by joining forces with the other.
Eric Garner, who suffered from asthma, died in a police officer’s chokehold, screaming, “I can’t breathe.” These horrifying last words have been transformed into a protest chant across the United States. But they must also be historicized, attuned to both slow violence and recent acts of police violence. Before Eric Garner was exposed to the act of state violence that killed him, he was caught up in what Gregg Mitman calls an “ecology of injustice that structures urban life.” In New York City’s ecology of injustice, “asthma disproportionately affects people of color living in impoverished inner-city communities.” These disproportionate rates of suffering are a result of differential exposure to health risks, such as living close to bus depots, polluting industries, cockroach allergens, and pesticides.
Rather than claiming a direct connection between, say, asthma and police brutality, we are recruiting concepts such as slow violence and ecologies of injustice to unpack the complexity of the events surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other victims of racialized state violence. Moreover, it connects the recent killing to a broader history of unjust urban ecologies that expose some people to risk more than others. The environment thus becomes not a marginal concern, but a central issue in understanding risk and exposure in the struggle for justice.
Before Freddie Gray was injured in police custody last month, before he died and this city was plunged into rioting, his life was defined by failures in the classroom, run-ins with the law and an inability to focus on anything for very long.
Many of those problems began when he was a child and living in this house, according to a 2008 lead-poisoning lawsuit filed by Gray and his siblings against the property owner. The suit resulted in an undisclosed settlement.
Reports of Gray’s history with lead come at a time when the city and nation are still trying to understand the full ramifications of lead poisoning. Advocates and studies say it can diminish cognitive function, increase aggression and ultimately exacerbate the cycle of poverty that is already exceedingly difficult to break.
It is nonetheless hard to know whether Gray’s problems were exclusively borne of lead poisoning or were the result of other socioeconomic factors as well. From birth, his was a life of intractable poverty that would have been challenging to overcome.
Equally difficult to know is the total number of children lead has poisoned. That’s because the declared threshold for how much lead a body can safely tolerate has shifted dramatically over the years as researchers have come to better understand its dangers. Decades ago, city health officials tested for blood lead levels that were higher than 20 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. Now, it is believed that anything higher than 5 micrograms can cripple a child’s cognitive development. […]
“A child who was poisoned with lead is seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system,” Norton said. She called lead poisoning Baltimore’s “toxic legacy” — a still-unfolding tragedy with which she says the city has yet to come to terms. Those kids who were poisoned decades ago are now adults. And the trauma associated with lead poisoning “creates too much of a burden on a community,” she said.
“Limiting the conversation about racism to just about how we’re policed is a lost opportunity,” Bautista wrote to me. “Folks should care not only about how racism kills quickly (via the police), but how racism also kills slowly and insidiously.”