Ethnicity and Crime

  • Created by: ammarahh
  • Created on: 04-10-19 16:01

Ethnicity and Criminalisation Statistics

  • Black people and, to a lesser extent, Asians are over-represented at every stage of the criminal justice system.
  • Black people make up just 2.8% of the population, but 11% of the prison population. Compared with white people, black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched and Asian people over twice as likely.  
  • Asians make up 4.7% of the population, but 6% of the prison population. Statistics from 2006/7 shows that Asians were over three times more likely to be stopped and searched than other people under the Terrorism Act.
  • By contrast, white people are under-represented at all stages of the criminal justice process.
  • Such statistics simply tell us about involvement  with the criminal justice system e.g. differences in stop and search may be simply be due to policing strategies or to discrimination by individual officers.
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Gilroy (1983)

  • Gilroy (1983) argues that the idea of black criminality is a myth created by racist stereotypes of African Caribbeans and Asians. In reality, these groups are no more criminal than any other. However, as a result of the police and criminal justice system acting on these racist stereotypes, ethnic minorities come to be criminalised and therefore to appear in greater numbers in the official statistics.
  • In Gilroy's view, ethnic minority crime can be seen as a form of political resistance against a racist society, and this resistance has its roots in earlier struggles against British imperialism.
  • Most blacks and Asians in the UK originated from former British Colonies, where their anti-imperialist struggles taught them how to resist oppression. E.g. through rioting. When they found themselves facing racism in Britain, they adopted the same forms of struggle to defend themselves, but their political struggle was criminalised by the British state.
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Criticisms of Gilroy

  • Lea and Young criticise Gilroy on several grounds:
    • First-generation immigrants in the 1950s and 60s were very law-abiding, so it is unlikely that they passed down a tradition of anti-colonial struggle to their children.
    • Most crime is intra-ethnic (both the victim and offender are of the same ethnicity), so it can't be seen as an anti-colonial struggle against racism.
    • Lea and Young argue that, like the critical criminologists, Gilroy romanticises street crime as somehow revolutionary, when it is nothing of the sort.
  • Asian crime rates are similar to or lower than whites. If Gilroy were right, then the police are only racist towards blacks and not Asians, which seems unlikely.
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Hall et al (1989)

  • Hall et al argue that the 1970s saw a moral panic over black muggers that served to distract from the crisis of capitalism.
  • Hall et al note that there was no evidence of a significant increase in this crime at the time. Mugging was soon to be associated by the media, police, and politicians with black youth.
  • They argue that the myth of the black muggers served as a scapegoat to distract attention from the true cause of problems such as unemployment. (the crisis of capitalism)
  • By presenting black youth as a threat to the fabric of society, the moral panic served to divide the w/c on racial grounds and weaken opposition to capitalism. 
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Criticisms of Hall et al

  • Downes and Rock argue that Hall et al are inconsistent in claiming that black street crime wasn't rising, but also it was rising because of unemployment.
  • They do not provide evidence that the public were in fact panicking or blaming crime on blacks.
  • Left realists argue that inner city residents fears about mugging aren't panicky, but realistic. 
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Lea and Young (1984)

  • Lea and Young acknowledge that the police often act in racist ways and that this results in unjustified criminalisation of some minority groups. But they do not believe that discriminatory policing fully explains the differences in the stats. (e.g. they note that over 90% of crimes known to the police are reported by members of the public rather than discovered by the police themselves. Under these circumstances, even if the police do act in discriminatory ways, it is unlikely that this can adequately account for the ethnic differences in the stats.
  • Lea &Young argue that we cannot explain the differences between minorities in terms of police racism. They conclude that stats represent real differences in offending, and that these are caused by marginalisation, relative deprivation etc. 
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Criticisms of Lea and Young

  • Lea and Young can be criticised for their views on police racism e.g. arrest rates in Asians may be lower than blacks not because they are less likely to offend, but because police stereotype the two groups differently, seeing Asians as passive and Blacks as dangerous.
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Bowling and Phillips (2002)

  • Bowling and Phillips (2002) point out that many officers hold negative stereotypes about ethnic minority as criminals, leading to deliberate targeting for stop and search.
  • They suggest that some crime stems from a lack of inclusion in society. Ethnic minorities are more likely to feel like outsiders in an mainly white society, and this can lead to crime because of alternative status and frustration in society.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the body responsible for deciding whether a case brought by the police should be prosecuted in court. Studies suggest that the CPS is more likely to drop cases against ethnic minorities. Bowling and Phillips argues that this may be because the evidence presented to the CPS by the police is often weaker and based on stereotyping of ethnic minorities as criminals.
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