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CRIME and RACE

 

In an egalitarian society with no rich and no poor, will there be vastly less crime (such as car theft, muggings, home burglaries, murder and rape) than today? Most of what we hear in the mass media is designed to make us believe that the answer to this question is 'No'; but as we demonstrate below, the answer is 'Yes."

 

Those who say "No" argue that even if we had an egalitarian society where everybody willing to work reasonably could do so and then share equally in the fruits of the economy, crime would not be substantially reduced. They say the problem is black people--they're just criminal by nature (genetically) or they have a "culture of poverty" that causes them to prefer crime to honest work. They say the solution to crime (to the extent that there even is one) is to give stiff prison sentences to criminals and (to the extent that the problem is cultural rather than genetic) to somehow change the culture of the people prone to criminality while leaving the capitalist nature of society with its enormous economic inequality pretty much the same.

 

These "stiff-prison-sentences and change-their-culture" people love to cite statistics to make their case, even though (as discussed below) the statistics they cite do not actually make their case at all. They cite the higher rate of murders committed by blacks than by whites, for example. It is apparently true that the murder crime rate is higher among blacks than whites (as shown here) and likewise for other crimes (based on FBI arrest statistics, at least, shown here) for which the pattern is that, for most categories of crime, the percent of all arrests in which a black person was arrested is greater than the 12.6% of the population that is black, and the percent of all arrests in which a white person was arrested is less  than the 72.4% of the population that is white. Some of this racial imbalance is due to blacks being more likely to be arrested than whites for the same illegal behavior. This is particularly true in the case of drug arrests, as discussed in detail here and here. And some of this imbalance is due to outright racial discrimination by police. For example, the New York Times in an editorial  Nov. 26, 2014 wrote:

 

"News accounts have strongly suggested, for example, that the police in St. Louis County’s many municipalities systematically target poor and minority citizens for street and traffic stops — partly to generate fines — which has the effect of both bankrupting and criminalizing whole communities. In this context, the police are justifiably seen as an alien, occupying force that is synonymous with state-sponsored abuse."

 

Still, it seems to be the case that blacks commit crimes disproportionately to their numbers in the population. The question is, what is the cause of this crime? Is it poverty in a society of great economic inequality, or race (i.e., something wrong about black people)? If the cause is poverty, then making society equal (with no rich and no poor) will vastly reduce the problem of crime. On the other hand hand, if the problem is race then even in an egalitarian society crime will remain a big problem.

 

Here is some powerful evidence that the cause of crime is poverty, not race. The evidence is reported in an academic paper titled, "Extremely Disadvantaged Neighborhoods and Urban Crime," by Lauren J. Krivo and Ruth D. Peterson, both of Ohio State University, in the journal, Social Forces, December 1996, 75(2):619-650 and online here. The authors analyzed census data for the city of Columbus, Ohio for 1990, specifically data for 177 small regions or "tracts," containing at least 700 persons. Twenty-six tracts were at least 70% black and 122 of them were at least 70% white. A higher proportion of the black tracts than the white tracts had extremely high levels of poverty, but the number of black and white tracts with extreme rates of poverty were nearly identical.

 

This study examined the relationship between crime rate and the following factors: poverty, percent of families headed by females, unemployment, employment in professional or managerial occupations, percent of units that are renter occupied, and the percent of the population that is male and in the crime prone ages (15-24). Sophisticated statistical methods were employed, on the basis of which the authors conclude that, "extremely disadvantaged communities have qualitatively higher levels of crime than less disadvantaged areas, and that this pattern holds for both black and white communities." They add, "Overall, average property and violent crime rates are substantially higher in black communities. However, disadvantage has the same patterns of effects on crime in white and black neighborhoods. Hence crime rates for racially distinct areas generally approach one another when structural conditions [i.e., the factors of poverty, percent of families headed by females, unemployment etc. listed above--ed] are controlled [i.e., when white and black areas are very similar with respect to the structural conditions of poverty etc.--ed]. These patterns are particularly striking for violent crime. Gross rates of violence are nearly three times as high in black as in white neighborhoods, but the net race difference [i.e., when comparing black and white neighborhoods with similar poverty, unemployment etc.--ed] in violent crime is small and nonsignificant for the vast majority of contrasts [one "contrast" would be comparing black and white neighborhoods that both had low unemployment, whereas another "contrast" would be comparing black and white neighborhoods that both had high unemployment, etc. for the other structural conditions factors--ed] between similarly disadvantaged communities. And even when race differences persist, residents confront much less violence in black neighborhoods with low disadvantage than in either black or white communities with extreme disadvantage. Taken as a whole, these findings clearly substantiate Sampson and Wilson's contention that the sources of crime are invariant across race [i.e., the same regardless of race--ed] and are rooted largely in the structural differences [i.e., poverty, unemployment etc.--ed] among communities."

 

The higher rate of crime in black versus white neighborhoods is thus due to the greater poverty and related hardships that blacks experience compared to whites, which is described in great detail here and especially here. In an egalitarian society with no rich and no poor, and with no involuntary unemployment, poverty and its associated hardships will be a thing of the past, and "street" crime will be vastly reduced. 

Those who try to argue that the cause of crime is a problem about black people, rather than poverty regardless of race, would say something like, "Sure, unemployment and poverty may be associated with a higher rate of criminal behavior no matter what the race, but black fathers far more than white fathers abandon their children, and this in turn causes a culture of poverty mainly among blacks that leads to prefering crime to honest work. How come black fathers do this more than white fathers? It must be something about being black." The famous Moynihan Report of 1965 (online here) headlined facts such as "Almost One-Fourth of Negro Families are Headed by Females" and "The percent of nonwhite families headed by a female is more than double the percent for whites" and linked this to high rates of youth criminality:

 

"Recent psychological research demonstrates the personality effects of being reared in a disorganized home without a father. One study showed that children from fatherless homes seek immediate gratification of their desires far more than children with fathers present.49 Others revealed that children who hunger for immediate gratification are more prone to delinquency, along with other less social behavior.50 Two psychologists, Pettigrew says, maintain that inability to delay gratification is a critical factor in immature, criminal, and neurotic behavior.51"

 

There are two points that these "the problem is blacks" people ignore.

 

First, while neighborhoods with more female-headed families (both white and black) tended to have higher crime rates, the association between female-headed families and crime is much less than the association between extreme poverty and crime. In the Krivo and Peterson study cited above, the correlation between crime and a high number of female-headed families was only .096 compared to .616 for the correlation with extreme poverty. (Correlation ranges from negative 1 to positive 1; negative values mean when one variable is low the other tends to be high, positive values mean when one is high the other tends to be high also;  zero means no association and 1 or negative 1 means the maximum possible association.)

 

Second, the evidence indicates that it is unemployment (or jobs that pay too little to support a family) that causes men to abandon their families, not the race of the man or anything unique to "black culture." During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the mainly white working class suffered the kind of terrible unemployment that still affects black men today. According to Frederick Lewis Allen's Since Yesterday: The 1930's in America, a 1940 survey estimated that as many as "1.5 million married women had been abandoned by their husbands." 

 

One account of this period says,

 

"By 1933 millions of Americans (we'll never really know how many) were desperate. Out of work and with his family depending on him, the breadwinner, the patriarch, the father/husband bore the brunt of the despair. When he couldn't provide for his family, he felt ashamed and humiliated. Many of these men abandoned their families and became what one has called 'a generation of wanderers,' vagabonds, or hobos. Unable to find work and seeing that each job they applied for had hundreds of seekers, these shabby, disillusioned men wandered aimlessly without funds, begging, picking over refuse in city dumps, and finally getting up the courage to stand and be seen publicly - in a bread line for free food."

 

In "Women during the Great Depression"  the authors write,

 

"In most of the pictures that I took the women look really sad and depress, and they have a reason to be I mean most of them needed too get jobs, plus all of the house work they had that was a lot of work, I think out of all of thing women were the strongest ones, because they had more rolls too play during this times, it was bad, kids and women took this so much worse because, men if they couldn’t take this any more, they would just leave and forget about it, but women had to go trough it no matter what they couldn’t really run away from life and reality and that’s jus the truth."

 

What happened to predominantly white working class families in the Great Depression demonstrates that high unemployment tends to drive many married men, regardless of their race, to abandon their families because they are ashamed that they cannot fulfill their role as provider. Men in the past left, and in the present leave, their families NOT because of their being in a culture that says they shouldn't provide for their family but, on the contrary, because of being in a culture that says they SHOULD provide for their family and being ashamed at not being able to do what they believed they ought to do. When the high unemployment (or lack of jobs that pay a family wage) lasts generation after generation, the negative effects are disastrous.

 

The people who say "the problem is blacks" also say that black people far more than white people like to sell drugs instead of doing honest work. What they don't want to admit is that the minimum wage dead-end menial jobs that are the best jobs many black youths can hope to ever get--jobs that are viewed with great disrespect by all of society including by blacks--are hardly going to seem attractive compared to the allure of dealing drugs, which seems to offer not only much higher pay but also high prestige and a chance to rise up in the "business."

 

The solution to the problem of crime is an egalitarian society with no rich and no poor, with an economy that is based on everybody being able to work who wants to, and providing everybody who is willing to work everything they need or reasonably desire for free (or equitably rationing scarce things according to need). In an egalitarian society no husband will ever be driven to leave his family for shame at not being able to provide for it. Nobody will feel trapped and forced to choose between abject poverty in a minimum wage dead end job or the lure of escaping poverty by criminal behavior. The crime caused by poverty will vanish and be remembered only as a problem of the past, like legal chattel slavery and explicitly racist Jim Crow laws.

 

-----------------------------------

For more hard data and analysis of the crime/race connection see the following:

 

"Incarceration & social inequality" (2010), published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which states:

 

"In the last few decades, the institutional contours of American social inequality have been transformed by the rapid growth in the prison and jail population.1 America’s prisons and jails have produced a new social group, a group of social outcasts who are joined by the shared experience of incarceration, crime, poverty, racial minority, and low education. As an outcast group, the men and women in our penal institutions have little access to the social mobility available to the mainstream. Social and economic disadvantage, crystallizing in penal confinement, is sustained over the life course and transmitted from one generation to the next. This is a profound institutionalized inequality that has renewed race and class disadvantage. Yet the scale and empirical details tell a story that is largely unknown.

Though the rate of incarceration is historically high, perhaps the most important social fact is the inequality in penal confinement. This inequality produces extraordinary rates of incarceration among young African American men with no more than a high school education. For these young men, born since the mid-1970s, serving time in prison has become a normal life event.

The influence of the penal system on social and economic disadvantage can be seen in the economic and family lives of the formerly incarcerated. The social inequality produced by mass incarceration is sizable and enduring for three main reasons: it is invisible, it is cumulative, and it is intergenerational. The inequality is invisible in the sense that institutionalized populations commonly lie outside our official accounts of economic well-being. Prisoners, though drawn from the lowest rungs in society, appear in no measures of poverty or unemployment. As a result, the full extent of the disadvantage of groups with high incarceration rates is underestimated. The inequality is cumulative because the social and economic penalties that flow from incarceration are accrued by those who already have the weakest economic opportunities. Mass incarceration thus deepens disadvantage and forecloses mobility for the most marginal in society. Finally, carceral inequalities are intergenerational, affecting not just those who go to prison and jail but their families and children, too."

 

 

This article is an extremely interesting discussion of ancient African history that helps to put any discussion of race in more realistic perspective.

 

 

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