?An Ethnic minority background increases your chances of arrest and conviction, some people argue that police racism in itself results in higher suspicion against black people in general. According to official statistics there are significant ethnic differences in the likelihood of being involved in the criminal justice system. Black and Asians are overrepresented in the system. For example black people make up 2. 8% of the population, but 11% of the prison population. Contrastingly whites are underrepresented.
However such statistics do not tell us whether members of one ethnic group are more likely than members of another ethnic group to commit an offence in the first place; they just tell us about involvement in the criminal justice system. For example differences in stop and search or arrest rates may be due to police racism, while differences in rates of imprisonment may be the result of courts handing down harsher sentences on minorities. There are other sources of statistics to reveal link of ethnicity and offending. Victim surveys ask individuals to say what crimes they have been victims of.
We can get information on ethnicity and offending from surveys when we ask what ethnicity of the person who committed the crime against them. For example in the case of mugging blacks are overly represented among those indentified by victims as offenders. Victim surveys show much crime is intra-ethnic; it takes place within rather than between ethnic groups. For example the British crime survey (2007) found 90% of where the victim was white; at least one of the offenders was also white. However while victim surveys are useful in identifying ethnic patterns of offending, they have several limitations. They rely on a victim’s memory of events.
Ben Bowling and Coretta Phillips (2002) found whites may over identify blacks, saying the offender was black even when not sure. They only cover personal crimes, which make up 20% of all crimes. They exclude under 16s; minority ethnic groups contain a higher proportion of young people. They exclude crimes by big business; thus tell us nothing of ethnicity of white collar criminals. Thus victim surveys only tell us about the ethnicity of a small proportion of offenders, which may not be representative of offenders in general. Self report studies ask individuals to disclose their own dishonest and violent behaviour.
Graham and Bowling (1995) found that blacks and whites had similar rates of offending, while Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis had lower rates. Similarly Sharp and Budd (2005) note that the 2003 offending, crime and justice survey of 12,000 people found whites and mixed ethnic origin groups were more likely than blacks and Asians to say they had committed offences. The Home Office have conducted nine self report studies on drugs since the early 1990s, all with similar findings. Sharp and Budd (2005) found 27% of mixed ethnicity individuals said they had used drugs in the last year, compared to 16% of blacks and whites, and 5% of Asians.
Use of class a drugs, such as heroin or cocaine was 3 times higher among whites than blacks and Asians. The findings of self report studies challenge stereotypes of blacks more likely than whites to offend, though they support the widely held view Asians are less likely to offend, however self report studies have their limitations in relation to ethnicity and offending. Overall the evidence of ethnicity and offending is inconsistent. For example while official statistics and victim surveys point to the likelihood of higher rates of offending by blacks; this is generally not the results of self report studies.
There are ethnic differences at each stage of the criminal justice process. To explain them we need to look at main stages of the process that an individual may go through, possibly culminating in a custodial sentence. Phillips and Bowling (2007) argue since the 70s there have been many allegations of oppressive policing of minorities, including stop and search, deaths in custody, police violence and failure to respond effectively to racist violence. Minorities are more likely to be stopped and searched by police. Statistics show Asians were three times more likely to be searched under this act.
Its thus unsurprising minorities are less likely to think police acted politely when stopped, or think they were stopped fairly. Phillips and Bowling (2007) argue these communities feel over policed and over protected and have limited faith in the police. There are three possible reasons for the disproportionate use of stop and search against minorities. Police racism; the Macpherson Report (1999) on the police investigation of the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence concluded there was institutional racism in the Metropolitan police.
Other have found deeply ingrained racist attitudes among individual officers. For example Phillips and Bowling point out that many officers hold negative stereotypes about ethnic minorities as criminals, leading to deliberate targeting for stop and search. Such stereotypes are endorsed and upheld by the canteen culture of rank and file officers. Ethnic differences in offending; an alternative explanation is that the disproportionality in stop and searches simply reflects ethnic differences in levels of offending.
However it’s useful to distinguish between low discretion and high discretion stops. In low discretion stops police act on relevant information about a specific offence, for example a victim’s description of the offender. In high discretion stops police act without specific intelligence. It is in these stops police can use stereotypes that disproportionality and discrimination are more likely. Demographic factors; ethnic minorities are over represented in the population groups who are most likely to be stopped such as the young, the unemployed, manual workers and urban dwellers.
These groups are all more likely to be stopped, regardless of their ethnicity, but they are also groups who have a higher proportion of ethnic minorities in them, so minorities get stopped more. Figures in England and Wales show that in 2006/07, the arrest rates for blacks was 3. 6 times higher than for whites. Contrastingly once arrested blacks and Asians were less likely to receive a police caution. One reason for this may be more likely to deny the offence and likely to exercise their right to legal advice. However not admitting the offence means they cannot be let off with a caution and are more likely to be charged instead.
The crown prosecution service is the body responsible for deciding whether a case brought by the police should be prosecuted in court. In doing so CPS must decide whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction and whether the prosecution is in the public’s interest. Studies suggest the CPS is more likely to drop cases against minorities. Bowling and Phillips (2002) argue 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.
When cases do go ahead minorities are more likely to elect trial before a jury in the Crown Court rather than the magistrates court, perhaps due to mistrust of magistrates impartiality. However crown courts can impose more severe sentences if convicted. Thus is interesting to note minorities are less likely to be found guilty. This suggests discrimination, in that the police and CPS may be bringing weaker or less serious cases against ethnic minorities that are thrown out by the courts.
In 2006/7 custodial sentences were given to a greater proportion of black offenders (68%) than white (55%) or Asian offenders (59%), whereas whites and Asians were more likely than blacks to receive community sentences. This may be due to differences in seriousness of the offences or defendants previous convictions. However a study of 5 crown courts by roger Hood (1992) found even when such factors were taken into account, black men were 5% more likely to receive a custodial sentence, and were given sentences of an average of 3 months longer than whites.
Another reason for harsher sentences id pre sentence reports (PRs) written by probation officers. A PRs is intended as a risk assessment to assist magistrates in deciding on the appropriate sentence for a given offender. However Hudson and Bramhall (2005) argue that PRs allow for unwitting discrimination. They found reports on Asian offenders were less comprehensive and suggested that they were less remorseful than white offenders. They place this bias in the context of demonising Muslims in the wake of 9/11 attacks. In 2007, one quarter of the male prison population was minorities.
Blacks were five times more likely to be in prison than whites. Black and Asians were more likely to be serving longer sentences. Within the total prison population all minorities had a higher than average proportion of prisoners on remand. This is because minorities are less likely to be granted bail whilst awaiting trial. There are similar patterns in other countries, for example in USA two fifths of prison population is black. There was large scale migration from the Caribbean and Indian subcontinent in the 50s, at this time it was agreed minorities had lower crime rates.
However by the 70s there was conflict between blacks and the police meaning “black criminality” became more of a problem. Contrastingly by the 90s Asian crime also became viewed as a problem. Events e. g. 9/11 cemented the idea that Asians were a threat to public order. There are two main explanations for ethnic differences in crime; left realism and neo-Marxism. Left realists Lea and Young (1993) argue ethnic differences in statistics reflect real differences in the levels of offending by different ethnic groups. Left realists see crime the product of relative deprivation, subculture and marginalisation.
They argue racism had led to economic exclusion of ethnic minorities who face higher unemployment, poverty and poor housing. At the same time the Medias emphasis on consumerism promotes a sense of relative deprivation by setting materialistic goals that many minorities are unable to reach by legitimate means. One response is formation of delinquent subcultures, especially by young unemployed blacks. It produces higher utilitarian crime to cope with relative deprivation. Furthermore as these groups are marginalised and have no groups to represent their interests their frustration is liable to produce non utilitarian crime such as rioting.
Lea and Young acknowledge police often act in racist ways and results in unjustified criminalisation of some members of minorities. However they don’t believe discriminatory policing fully explains the statistics. For example over 90% of crimes known to the police are reported by the public rather than discovered themselves. Under these circumstances even if police act discriminatory it’s unlikely it can account for ethnic differences in statistics. Similarly Lea and Young argue we cannot explain differences in minorities in terms of police racism. For example blacks are more criminalised than Asians.
The police would have to be selective in their racism for racism to cause these differences. Lea and Young thus conclude that the statistics represent real differences in levels of offending between ethnic groups and these are caused by real differences in levels of relative deprivation and marginalisation. However Lea and Young can be criticised for their views on the role of police racism. For example arrest rates may be lower for Asians because police stereotype them differently. Stereotypes may have changed since 9/11, explaining rising criminalisation of this group.
While left realists see official statistics reflecting real differences in offending between ethnic groups, other sociologists have argued differences in statistics do not reflect reality. These differences are the outcome of a process of social construction that stereotypes ethnic minorities as inherently more criminal than the majority of the population. The work of neo Marxists Paul Gilroy (1982) and Stuart Hall (1979) illustrates this view. Gilroy argues the idea of black criminality is a myth created by racist stereotypes of African Caribbean’s 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 came to be criminalised and thus to appear in greater numbers in official statistics. Gilroy argues ethnic minority crime can be seen as a form of political resistance against a racist society, and this struggle has roots in earlier struggle against British imperialism. Gilroy holds a similar view to that of critical criminology which argues working class crime is a political act against capitalism.
Most blacks and Asians in the UK originated from former colonies where their anti imperialist struggles taught them how to resist oppression, for example through riots and demonstrations. When they found themselves facing racism in Britain they adopted the same form of struggles to defend themselves, but their political struggle was criminalised by the British state. However Lea, Young and Gilroy are criticised on several grounds. First generation immigrants were very law abiding, so it’s unlikely they passed their anti colonialist struggle onto their children.
Most crime is interethnic, criminals and victims usually have similar ethnic backgrounds, so it can’t be seen as anti colonial struggle against racism. Lea and Young argue Gilroy romanticises street crime as revolutionary. Asian crime rates are similar to or lower than whites. If Gilroy were right then the police are only racist towards black and not Asians, which seems unlikely. Stuart Hall et al adopt a neo Marxist perspective. They argue the 70s saw a moral panic over black muggers that served the interests of capitalism.
Hall et all argues the ruling class can normally rule the subordinate classes through consent. However in times of crisis this becomes more difficult. In the early 70s British capitalism faced a crisis. High inflation and rising unemployment provoked widespread industrial unrest and strikes. When opposition to capitalism was growing the ruling class may need to use force to keep control. However the use of force needs to be legitimated or provoke more resistance. The 70s also saw a media driven panic of the growth of mugging.
In reality mugging was a new name for street robbery and Hall et al suggest there was no significant increase of this crime at the time. Mugging was soon to be associated by the media, police and politicians with black youth. Hall et al argues that the emergence of the moral panic about mugging as a specifically black crime at the same time as crisis of capitalism was no coincidence; the moral panic and crisis were linked. The myth of the black mugger served as a scapegoat to distract attention from the true cause of problems of unemployment, namely the crisis of capitalism.
The black mugger symbolised disintegration of social order. By presenting black youth as a threat to the fabric of society the moral panic served to divide the working class on racial grounds and weaken opposition to capitalism as well as winning popular consent to authoritarian forms of rule to suppress opposition. However Hall et al do not argue that black crime was solely a product of media and police labelling. The crisis of capitalism was increasingly marginalising black youth through unemployment and drove them to a lifestyle of hustling and petty crime to survive.
However Hall et al have been criticised on several grounds. Downes and Rock (2003) argue that Hall et al are inconsistent in claiming that black street crime was not rising, but also that it was rising because of unemployment. They do not show how a capitalist crisis led to a moral panic, nor do they provide evidence that the public were in fact panicking or blaming crime on blacks. Left realists argue inner city residents fears about mugging are not panicky but realistic. Until recently the focus of the ethnicity and crime debate was largely about the over representation of blacks in the criminal justice system.
However recently sociologists have studied racist victimisation of ethnic minorities. Racist victimisation occurs when an individual is selected as a target because of their race, gender or religion. Racist victimisation is nothing new, but brought into public view with the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and the subsequent Macpherson inquiry into the police investigation. Information of victimisation comes from two main sources; the British crime survey and police recorded statistics. These generally cover racist incidents, any incident perceived to be racist by the victim or another person.
They also cover racially or religiously aggravated offences where the offender is motivated by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group. The police recorded 60,000 racist incidents in England and Wales in 2006/7, mostly damage to property and verbal harassment. However most incidents go unreported; the British crime survey estimates there were 184,000 racially motivated incidents in 2006/7. The police recorded 42,600 racially or religiously aggravated offences on 06/7, mostly harassment. 10,600 people were prosecuted or cautioned for racially aggravated offences in 2006.
The risk of being a victim of any sort of crime varies by ethnic group. The 2006/7 British crime survey shows people of mixed ethnic background had a higher risk of becoming a victim of crime than blacks, Asians or whites. The differences may be partly the result of factors other than ethnicity. For example for violent crime factors such as being young, male and unemployed are strongly linked to victimisation.
Ethnic groups with a high proportion of young males are thus likely to have higher rates of victimisation. However some of these factors such as unemployment are themselves partly due to discrimination while the statistics record the instances of victimisation they don’t capture the victim’s experience of it. As Sampson and Phillips (1992) note racist victimisation tends to be over time with repeated minor instances of abuse with periodic physical violence. The resulting long term psychological impact needs to be added to the physical injury and damage to property caused by offenders. Members of minority ethnic communities have often been active in responding to victimisation.
Responses range from situational crime prevention measures such as fireproof doors to organised self defence campaigns. Such responses need to be understood in the context of accusations of under protection by the police who often ignore the racist dimension in victimisation and fail to investigate incidents properly. For example the Macpherson enquiry (1999) concluded the police investigation into the death of black teenager Stephen Lawrence was marred by incompetence, institutional racism and failure of leadership by senior officers. Others have found deeply ingrained racist attitudes among individual officers.
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