With the tragic 2014 events in Ferguson, Missouri and the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, it’s no secret that not only does white on black violence get a lot of media coverage, but it also incites a lot of anger and controversy. These issues should certainly be discussed, but what often gets undeservedly shoved under the rug are black on black crime events. Here’s what you need to know, and why:
Crime Statistics By Race
People of all races and ethnicity commit crimes. That’s just a fact. As stated above, violence committed by one race against another (particularly white on black crime, due to the history of racial tension and inequality) incites a lot anger and controversy, the statistics can be nevertheless rather shocking when broken down by race.
A detailed report from the U.S. Department of Justice shows the following:
- 93 percent of black homicide victims are killed by other blacks
- 84 percent of white homicide victims are killed by other whites
- White on white crime has decreased by about 10 percent since 1980, while black on black crime has increased by about 10 percent in the same amount of time
- The rate of black on white crimes has remained consistently higher than white on black crimes over the past 30 years, without any notable fluctuation
- The amount of white victims and black victims is roughly the same, which is concerning because there are significantly more white Americans than there are black Americans
- Black children (particularly those under five years old) are more likely to become victims than children of any other race, and they are also more likely to know the offender as a close family member, relative, or other member of their community
The good news is that the crime rate– the homicide rate, at least– has declined over the past few decades. This is progress, but as a country we are still nowhere close to where we need to be in order to be considered a “safe society” for all.
While looking at crime rates among people of different races, it is important to also look at the rates of incarceration in the United States. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the U.S. actually has the highest incarceration rate in the world (and has had the highest incarceration rate since 2002). While this can at first seem like a good crackdown on the country’s crime, things become more complicated when we look at the black crime statistics and incarceration rates versus those for other races.
In 2010, for example, black men were jailed or imprisoned at a rate of 3,074 per 100,000 black residents. Meanwhile, white men were jailed or imprisoned at a rate of 459 per 100,000 white residents. These numbers are certainly cause to be concerned, especially since the white population still outnumbers the black population significantly. The numbers also show us that for committing the same crime, not only is a black person more likely to be incarcerated, but they are also more likely to be given a longer sentence. That said, the same statistics also show that a person of color is more likely in general to turn to criminal behavior than a white person is, which is also cause for concern.
The History of Race and Crime Studies
The truth is that studies of crime and violence by race have been in place since at least the early 1900s, helped shaped by famous figures like W.E.B. DuBois, John Thorsten Sellin and Frances Kellor. While some researchers argued that there was a biological connection between crime and race that caused people of certain racial and ethnic makeups to be more prone to violence and criminal acts than others, DuBois, Sellin and Kellor argued that it was social and economic factors that put certain racial groups more at risk of engaging in such behavior. While support for the biological connection has indeed decreased significantly over the past century, this argument remains in some circles. Nevertheless, the arrival of new technology and more sophisticated data keeping systems allows the public to see that the statistics are not necessarily what they assume them to be.
Interestingly, there are very different schools of thought on race and crime when it comes to people of different political beliefs. People with more conservative views tend to focus on internal problems within a racial group that puts them more at risk of criminal behavior, while people with more liberal views tend to focus on external problems imposed by society as a whole. In reality, the issue is likely a combination of the two.
Why Do We Need to Know This?
By now, some of you may be asking just why this information is important since, to some, it may come across as racist and prejudice even to address it. Nevertheless, with so much racial tension flaring up every time there is a white on black act of violence or other criminal act with significant racial disparity, looking at this information and understanding it helps us realize that the real issues are not necessarily where we think they are.
For example, those who think white on black violence is the real issue need only to look at the statistics to see that a person of color is much more likely to be victimized by someone of their own racial background. Likewise, those who point out that there is statistically more black on white violence than there is black on white should take another look at the crime information in order to see that while that may be true, whites are also much more likely to be killed by someone who is also white.
Mind you, none of this is saying that crimes committed between races are not of significance– rather, it is simply a statement of the fact that violence committed within the same race is currently and historically a much bigger problem that needs to be addressed.
Understanding Crime in General
The real question is why do people commit crimes in the first place? Particularly violent crimes? The answer is, of course, rather complicated. People from poorer backgrounds tend to be more likely to turn to criminal and/or violent activity due to frustration and societal pressures. Nevertheless, many people from wealthier backgrounds have– and do– cross the line as well. In these cases, it is sometimes an act of rebellion spiraling out of control, although it can also be due to poor supervision and lack of stability while growing up. And of course, people from all backgrounds who tend to be less educated are at greater risk.
While there are indeed many white people who are under the poverty line and/or have low education levels, the fact is that a black person is statistically more likely to fall under these circumstances. This puts them at a higher risk of criminal behavior. It is important to remember that there are many exceptions, but unfortunately the exceptions at this time are not doing much to change the general statistics.
If there was an easy solution to black on black crime or rather, crime in general, there would no longer be an issue. Unfortunately, the solution is both education and a cultural shift, which is going to take a lot of time and effort. However, that doesn’t mean the battle isn’t well worth it. The U.S. Department of Justice report also showed that violent offenders are most often young people; that is, people in their late teens and twenties. This suggests that if intervention is taken early– during childhood and continued through the teens and twenties– it may be possible to curb this trend. More educational programs on violence are needed, and young people need to have viable alternatives to crime as well as opportunities to succeed. In the long run, it will benefit not only the black community but society as a whole.