Sociology: Ethnicity and Crime

Using material from Item B and elsewhere, assess explanations for apparent ethnic differences in involvement in crime (21 Marks) According to official statistics, ethnic minorities are largely linked to crime and their involvement if often over exaggerated. Item B shows that black people make up 11% of the prison population, despite the fact they make up just 2. 8% of the population. Whilst, Asians make up 4. 7% of the population yet 6% of the prison population.

These statistics emphasise that ethnic minorities are over-represented in the criminal justice system, and so the use of alternate sources of statistics may help show a more accurate picture. Victim surveys ask individuals what crimes they have been victims of and help identify the correlation between ethnicity and offending. They tend to show a great deal of intra- ethnic crime but also include several limitations as they rely on victims memory of events which could result in over- identifying certain ethnic groups as the offender.

Whereas, self- report studies ask individuals to disclose their own dishonest and violent behaviour. The findings of self- report studies challenge the stereotypes of black people as being more likely than whites to offend. However, self-report studies also have their own limitations as inconsistency is shown through the evidence of ethnicity and offending. There are ethnic differences at each stage of the criminal justice process. Policing is often seen to be oppressive, as members of ethnic minorities are more likely to be stopped and searched with Asians being twice more likely than blacks to be stopped by the police.

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As such, blacks were five times more likely to be in prison than whites while blacks and Asian offenders are more likely than whites to serve longer prison sentences. This is because ethnic minorities are less likely to be granted bail while awaiting trial. The official statistics on the criminal justice process shows striking differences between ethnic groups, and these patterns have been examined by left realists and neo- Marxists. Left realists, Lea and Young focus on the statistics which represent real differences in rates of offending by different ethnic groups.

They argue that crime is the product of relative deprivation, subculture and marginalisation whereby racism has led to the marginalisation and economic exclusion of ethnic minorities, who face a higher level of poverty and unemployment etc. In contribution to this, the media’s emphasis on consumerism promotes relative deprivation amongst ethnic groups, who are unable to attain these materialistic goods by legitimate means. This results into the formation of delinquent subcultures, most notable amongst unemployed black males.

Utilitarian crimes are most likely to come of this, such as theft and robbery as a means of coping with relative deprivation. As these groups are likely to be marginalised, it means they are also likely to express their frustrations through non-utilitarian crime such as violence or rioting- this explains the involvement with crime by ethnic groups. Lea and Young acknowledge that the police may act in unjust ways but they don’t believe that discriminatory policing fully explains the differences in the statistics.

Evidence to support this is that 90% of crime is reported to the police by the public rather than discovered by the police themselves. Lea and Young conclude their argument that the statistics represent real differences in levels of offending between ethnic groups, and that these are caused by real differences in levels of relative deprivation and marginalisation. Despite this, Lea and Young are criticised on several grounds that arrest rates for Asians may be lower than that of Blacks yet this isn’t because they are less likely to offend but because police stereotype the two differently.

On the other hand, neo- Marxism tends to view statistics as a social construct resulting from racist labelling and discrimination in the criminal justice system. Item B brings to light Gilroy’s argument over the myth of black criminality that “black criminality is a myth created by racist stereotypes of African Caribbean’s. In reality, this group is 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 criminalized and therefore appear in greater numbers in the official statistics”.

The item helps us understand the extent of stereotypes and its effects on ethnic groups, yet Gilroy furthers his argument by identifying working class crime is a political act of resistance to capitalism and a racist society. Lea and Young refute Gilroy’s argument, by suggesting that most crime is intra- ethnic, so it can’t be seen as an anti-colonial struggle against racism. Lea and Young also criticise Gilroy for romanticizing street crime as somehow revolutionary, when it’s nothing of the sort.

Moreover, Stuart Hall et al also adopts a neo- Marxist perspective and found that the 1970’s saw a moral panic over black “muggers” that served the interests of capitalism. As unemployment and strikes were increasing, the ruling class needed to use force to maintain social control. In their view, the emergence of the black mugger and the capitalist crisis was no coincidence, as the black mugger was used a scapegoat to distract attention from true causes of problems such as unemployment. By presenting black youth as a threat to society, the moral panic began dividing the working class on racial grounds.

However, Hall et al doesn’t argue that black crime was solely a product of media and police labelling. The crisis of capitalism was increasingly marginalising black youth through unemployment which resulted them into committing petty crime as a means of survival. Hall et al’s study of policing the crisis was criticised for not presenting how the capitalist crisis led to a moral panic, nor do they provide evidence that the public were blaming crime on blacks. During recent years, the focus of ethnicity and crime has largely been on the over representation of black people in the criminal justice system.

However, more recently there has been shift in other issues such as the racist victimisation of ethnic minorities. Racist victimisation was brought into greater public focus with the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence and the police handling of the case, where most information is brought to life by victim surveys such as the British Crime Survey. The British Crime Survey found that most crimes go unreported and found that the risk of being a victim varies by ethnic group, whereby statistics showed that people from mixed ethnic backgrounds had a higher risk (36%) of becoming a victim of rime than blacks, Asians and whites faced. While the statistics recorded the instances of victimisation, they do not necessarily capture the victims’ experience of it. Sampson and Phillips note, racist victimisation tends to be on going over time, with repeated minor instances of abuse and harassment interwoven with incidents of physical violence. This has led minority ethnic communities becoming more active in responding to victimisation, with situational crime prevention measures to organised self- defence campaigns taking place.

Such responses need to be understood in the context of accusations of under- protection by the police, who fail to record or investigate reported incidents properly. The Macpherson enquiry into the Stephen Lawrence case concluded that the police investigation into death of the black teenager was “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers”. Ultimately, we have learnt the differences in ethnicity and crime but have established ethnic minorities also becoming subjected to victimisation.

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