Ethnicity and crime

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Contemporary official statistics suggest what appear to be higher levels of criminality among some minority ethnic groups, particularly the black (African-Caribbean) population.

Ministry of Justice (2011):

Compared to white people, black people were...

  • Over twice as likely to be cautioned by the police.
  • Three and a half times more likely to be arrested.
  • If arrested, more likely to be charged, remanded in custody, and face court proceedings than to receive a caution.
  • More likely, if found guilty, to receive a custodial (prison) sentence and for a longer term.
  • Five times more likely to be in prison.

Asians compared to white people were...

  • More likely to be charged and face court proceedings than to receive a caution.
  • More likely to receive a custodial sentence if found guilty and for a longer term.

Explanations:

  • Offers a form of political resistance against oppressive white society and culture. 
  • Labelling, stereotyping and racism in the criminal justice system, e.g. racist canteen culture in police forces, stop and search, and institutional racism.
  • Poverty and social exclusion encourage the search for a powerful identity otherwise denied in a predominantly white culture.
  • Subcultures combined with marginality and relative deprivation provide support for crime as an alternative means of achieving mainstream goals that are otherwise blocked.
  • Marginality creates powerlessness and resentment.
  • Relative deprivation means young black people have a sense of injustice, intensified by racism, at lacking things others in society have.
  • Black crime is exaggerated to justify aggressive styles of policing and, in the 1970s, to reassert the power of the state, which was facing a crisis of hegemony. 

Neo-Marxist approaches: black crime as resistance: Gilroy argued that crime by black people, particularly in the 1970s, was a form of political action, representing a culture of resistance to inequality and oppressors in the form of police racism and harassment. He denied there was greater criminality among black people than whites, suggesting this was a myth created by negative stereotyping by the police and the media, who saw minority ethnic groups as untrustworthy, with African-Caribbean youth labelled as potential 'muggers' and Asians as potential illegal immigrants.

Neo-Marxist approaches: black crime and scapegoating - the crisis of hegemony and the creation of the 'black mugger': Hall et al argue that in the 1970s Britain was facing an economic and political crisis which threatened the dominance of ruling-class ideology in society - a crisis of hegemony. At the same time, there was growing conflict between the police and the African-Caribbean community. This was fuelled by selective publication of crime statistics showing black youth involvement in particular offences, including street robbery (theft with actual or threatened use of force, now commonly called 'mugging'). The media picked up on this, as making good headlines, and promoted the idea that black people were more prone to criminality than whites, and the media image of the 'black mugger' was born. A moral panic developed a media-fuelled exaggeration of the problem of black crime - with growing demands by the public that something should be done…

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