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Race and crime

All black individuals are criminals. A sentence that may be shocking but is an example of an ecological fallacy that has become so ‘normalised’ within society; the concept that the white majority are less likely to be perpetrators in crime but victims. Most people have a belief that we all deserve to be treated with equal rights, equal punishments, equality; the story behind race and crime paints quite a different picture. Exploring the influence of ethnicity on criminality to help represent a voice for those who can’t speak, to raise the right questions and to allow a balanced argument to manifest.

Within the media, the public narrative of race and crime is predominately based upon stereotypes; racial minority groups are frequently portrayed as acting more criminalistic and are the cause of crime. The public’s views of the criminal justice system is heavily shaped through what is relayed from media sources (Gillespie & McLaughlin, 2002) and media reports must be of accuracy to prevent misreported information. Worldwide, the media has a similar influence on our perceptions of race- “the criminal stereotype of African Americans in the United States is an ethnic stereotype according to which African American males in particular are stereotyped to be dangerous criminals” (Young, 2001). Within British and European countries this bias continues- people defined as of an ethnic minority are more at a risk of crime victimisation than the indigenous population (Percy 1998; Clancy et al., 2001; Albrecht, 2000). Statistically this can be shown in England and Wales between 2006/7-2016/17 where “Black people were over 3 times more likely to be arrested than White people – there were 38 arrests for every 1″,000 Black people, and 12 arrests for every 1″,000 White people.” These statistics show that there is a large amounts of variation within racial groups that may have a detrimental influence on the way ethnic minorities are treated, leading to the potential of harsher sentencing and consequences into racial profiling within judicial systems.

Media frequently portrays that ethnic minorities are to blame for faults in society (an extreme example being Nazi Germany’s propaganda around the Jews) and that they should be approached with caution; disregarding of the influence that upbringing and social class plays in determining one’s transition to crime. On American television and cable network there is an overrepresentation of African Americans as criminals and Whites as victims (Dixon & Linz, 2000a, 2000b; Entman & Rojecki, 2000; Gilliam & Iyengar, 2000), where African Americans are most likely linked to crime; most likely affecting a viewer’s idea around social policy (Gilliam & Lyengar 1998; Valentino, 1999). A portrayal of racial groups, that is not factually correct may instil false conceptions into the mind of the public, who will not know any better. If the public is filled with false beliefs (such as all African American males are law-breaking criminals or all Hispanics are drug dealing), leading to unfair treatment of those groups. Although there is little research into the representation of other racial-ethnic groups, other than African Americans, on television, the evidence to support the inequitable treatment of African Americans shows a bias in a societies’ judgement of people different to themselves due to inaccurate ideas being reinforced from young ages; there is a significant difference between what is reported through the media to the general public and what is the factual truth regarding the risk of ethnic minorities.

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In the last 20 years, social media has become such relied-upon space for people of all ages to express themselves through multiple methods (photos, poems, art etc.), it allows information to be shared instantly around the world. Although this has many benefits to individuals and society, it poses a way of communicating false information and conveying personal feelings. Hate crimes have become an increasingly concerning part of social media, especially since the large controversy of Brexit, with fake accounts making damaging comments without fear. “The volume of racially aggravated hate crime referrals from police increased slightly from 10″,198 in 2016–17 to 10″,472 in 2017-18 – an increase of 2.7%”,” (Crown Prosecution Service); ethnic minorities are frequently victimised. Celebrities often play a part in this where Gigi Hadid, in 2017, (Victoria Secret Model) was photographed “squinting her eyes while holding up a Buddha-shaped biscuit”,” before a show in China. Impressionable, often younger audiences, will see this racial hate crime and may begin to join in due to the fact that it seems acceptable; potentially leading to incorrect beliefs about different ethnicities.

Reactions to this discrimination, by the law enforcement, in crime do not always reflect a moral and just way of how it should be responded to. Reports over the relationship between ethnic minorities and terrorism has lead to panic amongst the public and law enforcement which can be demonstrated in statistics of stop and search practises; to search for weapons or prohibited items and remove them as a threat. Overall there is a discrepancy with the number of searches being lower for white ethnicities than any other, in every year studied. 20 years ago, Theresa May made attempts to reduce the bias in the practise when a report was released discovering that black Britons were 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs than white people (regardless using illegal substances at a lower rate). Since that report was released stop and search practises declined 52% for white ethnicities but did not fall at all for black ethnicities; understanding of the need to be less biased may be there but with such great social fear of ethnic minorities, for example, ISIS radicals, increase in terrorism, has not facilitated a change. Currently, law enforcement respond to racial minorities as perpetrators of crime, a fear of what could occur without a control has lead to discriminatory practises.

Within the prison and judicial system there has been a recent switch to moving towards less discriminatory practices since the release of The Lammy Review. It seeks to independently identify and reduce the bias between white majority and Black, Asian and Minority ethnic individuals (BAME) within England; “Black people make up around 3% of the general population but accounted for 12% of adult prisoners in 2015/16; and more than 20% of children in custody;” an over-representation that is estimated to cost England and Wales £234 million per year. Although this has been identified to be a big problem, there is little/no evidence to suggest that anything is being done to change this. Reports show that nearly three-quarters of staff claims were acted upon, contrasting to only 8% of prisoners’ discrimination reports. Politicians, juries, law enforcement and the general public are all aware of the large discrimination within the prison system, this hasn’t facilitated any changes but it has drawn people to be more aware of the issues, as well as leading to The Lammy Review.

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Parliamentary policy makers are “more likely to oppose welfare payments or support “get tough” policies on crime, especially when blacks are the targets of such policies”,” due to the associations of ethnic minorities and negative impacts on the country; sentencing may get harsher and a zero tolerance policy may be implemented. Within American culture, white superiority is deeply embedded into the U.S. Constitution by the found fathers; African slaves being their property. After slavery was abolished, African Americans were given a new freedom where participation in politics grew, between 1867 to 1877, known as the black reconstruction. Since then, the representation of black politicians in congress has been less than 8 Black in Congress since the end of the Civil until the Nixon era (per Congressional period). However, Barack Obama became president of the United States from 2009-2017; the first black president of the New World. This became a turning point in the relationship between race and politics where the discrimination, although still heavily prevalent, became a lesser issue but only for a short period of time where “2010 mid-term elections that were as violent and as racially loaded as ever.” To summarise, the reaction of racial crime within politics is something in vital need of change, such a large component of the discrimination of ethnicities is not all about the colour of their skin, but it’s a power battle usually to support white supremacy through the concept of institutional racism.

Criminological perspectives of race and crime are able to identify and understand many different types of factors that cause crime, for example social factors. The bias exerted against ethnic minorities from through public narratives do not represent and complete view of the issues evident. A perspective that crime can occur regardless of race or ethnicity yet the beliefs of the public and what is represented through the media show no reference to this, that because of the colour of someone’s skin means they’re more likely to be tied to crime. It is understandable to believe that in certain groups within society that crime becomes more normalised behaviour and upbringing into this culture increases the risk of resorting to crime. However, professional understandings of the link between race and crime shows that arrest rates and reactions towards those of colour show an unfair treatment- in 2016 “black, Asian and mixed-raced people were over one and a half times more likely to be arrested than white people.” The media distortions conveyed to the public have fed the general public with implicit beliefs that do not represent professional understandings of the relationship between race and crime.

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One of the most important ways to build a constructive argument is to have adequate amount of research support, if findings do not support the comments being made then it is not accurate to comment upon. It is important to be able to analyse these findings to understanding whether they are biased in any sense (for example research from the government) or actually explain the point being made. It is important, as a criminologist, to take into consideration both sides of the argument equally, to avoid only addressing one point of perspective, to produce a balanced argument understanding that there are two sides to every discussion. Especially for crime, it is important to look at media accounts of the issues at hand so investigating the internet, newspapers, social media etc. is key in being able to reflect of the reasoning for the public beliefs. Lastly, it is quintessentially important to be able to look at the changes over time that has occurred in relation to crime; to be able to reflect on how society is adapting to new information and acceptability becoming a more crucial practice.

Criminological expertise reflects a large importance on being able to evaluate and investigate something in an unbiased way; criminal justice studies’ scholars are more likely to have more liberal positions on issues in society than the general public. The general public and professional understandings do not fully represent the whole truth, there is an inability to fully report on a topic without drawing any personal feelings into the message. It is greatly important that the facts are represented in an honest way, that takes into consideration of both side of the argument, allowing individuals to come to their own conclusions without being hindered by a personal argument. To be a successful criminologist it is important to remain unbiased while investigating the reasons behind people committing crimes, how to prevent it occurring in the future and being able to predict when it will take place.

To conclude, there is many different responses/reactions/beliefs regarding race and crime but without a doubt there is a large discrepancy between what is morally just and what occurs; rates of incarceration are so disproportionate between ethnic groups and the actions by law enforcement and politicians has not change this. There are many problems within society but to overcome this it needs to begin with a fair treatment of all individuals and not assuming that the colour of their skin has any implications on their actions.

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