The color of crime

Author : New Century Foundation
Title : The color of crime Race, Crime, and Violence in America
Year : 2000

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The Color of Crime, a New Century Foundation study based on federal crime reports, has found significant differences in violent crime rates for different racial and ethnic groups. Blacks, for example, are many times more likely to commit crimes of violence against whites than vice versa. Of the approximately 1,700,000 interracial violent crimes involving blacks and whites reported every year, blacks commit 90 percent and whites commit only ten percent. Blacks are therefore more than 50 times more likely than whites to commit interracial crimes of violence. The differences are even greater for multiple-offender interracial crimes, with blacks 100 to 250 times more likely to be involved in gang attacks on whites than the reverse. Some people may argue that blacks attack whites because they expect them to be carrying cash or valuables. However, fewer than 20 percent of black attacks on whites are robberies; rape and assault do not usually have economic motives. There is more black-on-white violent crime than black-on-black violent crime. When blacks commit violence they attack whites 50 to 55 percent of the time. When whites commit violence they attack blacks only two to three percent of the time. Hate crimes are thought to be the most serious acts of interracial crime, but there were only 9,861 reported in 1997. Of these, 6,981 were race-related and 4,105 were violent. This very small number of crimes receives a disproportionate amount of attention, but it is likely that the millions of ordinary interracial crimes–90 percent of which are committed by blacks against whites–are more damaging to race relations. Although white-on-black hate crimes receive a great deal of attention, blacks are approximately twice as likely to commit hate crimes as whites. Hispanics are considered a victim category for hate crimes but not a perpetrator category. A Mexican who is attacked because of ethnicity is recorded as Hispanic, but if the same Mexican attacks a black or white for racial reasons he is considered white. This inflates the figures for “white” hate crime perpetrators, and gives the impression that Hispanics commit no hate crimes. For virtually all crimes, there are consistent and pronounced differences in arrest rates for violent crime by race and ethnicity. Blacks are five to ten times more likely to be arrested than whites, Hispanics are approximately three times more likely, American Indians are about twice as likely, and Asians are only one half to two-thirds as likely to be arrested for violent crimes as whites. The very high rates for blacks means that the single best independent predictor of crime rates for an area is the percentage of the population that is black. Blacks are as much more likely to be arrested for violent crimes as men are more likely to be arrested than women. To the extent that arrest rates are a good indication of actual criminal behavior– and there is very strong evidence that they are– blacks are as much more dangerous than whites as men are more dangerous than women. If people feel more threatened by unknown men than by unknown women and are justified in taking additional precautions against them, from a statistical point of view they are equally justified in making the same distinctions between blacks and whites. Interracial Crime. On June 7, 1998, white supremacists hitched James Byrd of Jasper, Texas, to the back of a truck, and dragged him to death. This appalling crime reminded the country in the most forceful way that racial hostility and interracial crime continue to be serious problems in the United States. The resulting national outcry demonstrated how deeply Americans feel about racial violence. Outrage over acts of this kind is entirely appropriate. However, to concentrate on one crime, no matter how sickening, is to present a distorted picture of interracial crime. If we are to respond appropriately to the problem of racial violence it is important to know its true nature and proportions. Most Americans probably believe that whites commit most interracial crimes, and that blacks are the most frequent victims. The reverse is true: In approximately 90 percent of the interracial crimes of violence involving blacks and whites, blacks are perpetrators and whites are victims. In terms of crime rates (calculated as the number of crimes per 100,000 population), blacks are more than 50 times more likely to attack whites than the reverse. To use the common short-hand expression, interracial crime is overwhelmingly “black-on-white.” Because statistics of this kind are surprising to most people, it is worth explaining them in some detail. Every year since 1972, the U.S. Department of Justice has carried out what is called the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) to determine the frequency of certain kinds of crimes. The NCVS survey sample is very large–approximately 100,000 people in some 50,000 households–and is carefully selected on the basis of census data to make it as representative as possible of the nation as a whole. The NCVS is an invaluable record of criminal victimization as reported directly by Americans, and it is the only significant nationwide measure of interracial crime. Two pages from the NCVS are included as Appendix A of this report.1 The first page, Table 42, lists various categories of single-offender interracial violent crimes for 1994 (the NCVS is carried out annually, but the Department of Justice does not issue full reports every year; 1994 is the most recent year for this data). The group of numbers at the top of the page represents totals calculated for single-offender violent crimes reported for that year. They are extrapolated from the actual crimes reported by the survey sample. We find that in 1994 6,830,360 whites were victims of violent crimes, and that 16.7 percent (1,140,670) reported that the perpetrator was black. Blacks were victims of 1,100,490 violent crimes, of which 12.3 percent (135,360) were committed by whites. Adding these figures for interracial crime together (1,140,670 and 135,360) we get a total of 1,276,030 interracial crimes, of which 1,140,670 or 89 percent were committed by blacks. To get the rates at which blacks and whites commit interracial crime we divide the number of crimes by the population to get crimes per 100,000 population. The Census Bureau reports that the 1994 white and black populations were 216,413,000 and 32,653,000 respectively. Whites therefore committed acts of interracial violence at a rate of 62.55 per 100,000 while the black rate was 3,493.63 per 100,000, a figure that is no less than 55.85 times the white rate. Put in the most easily understood terms, the average black was therefore 56 times more likely to commit criminal violence against a white than was a white to commit criminal violence against a black. Similar calculations show that the black rate for interracial robbery, or “mugging,” was 103 times the white rate. These two rates are illustrated in the graph on the next page, and it is important to understand what these figures mean. The multiple of 56 does not mean that blacks commit 56 times as much interracial violence as whites. What it means is that if whites commit interracial violence at a rate of 10 crimes per 100,000 whites, the rate for blacks is 560 per 100,000, or 56 times the white rate. This is the kind of calculation that is represented in most of the graphs in this report. ...

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