The Necessary Context on Black Crime Rates
'European Awakenings' and Dead German Tourists

Yet More Context for Black Prison Population

In response to a few comments on the last post, here are a few graphics from a major recent paper on black crime rates in the USA. The full citation is: Steffensmeier et al., 'Reassessing Trends in Black Violent Crime, 1980-2008: Sorting out the 'Hispanic Effect' in Uniform Crime Reports Arrests, National Crime Victimization Survey Offender Estimates, and U.S. Prisoner Counts. Criminology, 2011; 49 (1): 197 DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2010.00222.x.

The problem with some American crime statistics is they lump in Hispanic offenders with whites. A part of the abstract reads:

We argue that prior studies showing a shrinking Black share of violent crime might be in error because of reliance on White and Black national crime statistics that are confounded with Hispanic offenders, whose numbers have been increasing rapidly and whose violence rates are higher than that of Whites but lower than that of Blacks.

The paper later explains why failing to separately count Hispanics may distort the true size of the Black-White gap in violent crime:

Because most Hispanics identify as White (approximately 93 percent) and few as lack (approximately 4 percent) and because crime-reporting programs typically record Hispanic arrests as White arrestees, failing to separate ethnicity from race—in particular, failing to separate Hispanics from non-Hispanic Whites—not only limits understanding of ethnic involvement but also hides the true disparity between Whites and Blacks. Rates that blend Hispanic origin across race inflate White rates and deflate Black rates, making 1) the disparity between the two groups seem less extreme than when Hispanic ethnicity is considered (Demuth, 2002, 2003; Hartney and Vuong, 2009; Steffensmeier and Demuth, 2000) and 2) possibly creating an illusion of Black–White convergence or a shrinking Black proportion of overall violence.

The authors then apply a corrective for this problem, and report the results:

1. A small-to-moderate increase in the Black fraction of homicide from 57 to 65 percent (vs. virtually no change [49–50 percent] in the confounded Black fraction).

2. A small increase in the Black fraction of robbery, from 67 to 70 percent (vs. a small decline in the confounded Black fraction from 60 to 57 percent).

3. A small increase for aggravated assault, from 42 to 44 percent (vs. a small decline in the confounded Black fraction, 37 to 34 percent).

4. A large decline in the Black fraction for rape, from 54 to 42 percent (vs. an even larger decline in the confounded Black fraction, 48 to 33 percent).

As with all modern survey, the authors consider both arrest and victimization rates, as well as other measures. Here are some relevant graphics from the paper:

Pages from Steffensmeier et al reassessing black criminality for hispanic effect criminology 2011So, as you can see, Blacks make up 12.6% of the US population, but according to the revised statistic in this paper, account for over 63% of all arrests for homicide. Even under the old, confounded number the percentage was 51%, still far in excess of their representation in the population. The authors then provide graphics for the multiple of how much higher black v. white crime rates are for specific crimes:

Pages from Steffensmeier et al reassessing black criminality for hispanic effect criminology 2011So these charts show how many times greater the Black crime rate for various crimes is than the white crime rate. The Black murder rate is about 11 times higher than the white murder rate, the black robbery rate is about 15 times higher. The gray lines are from victimization surveys, which as might be expected differ somewhat from arrest-rate surveys.

This study isn't the last word -- what study is? -- but it's well-respected and frequently cited. It shows no matter how you calculate it that rates of violent crime among Black Americans are significantly higher than those among White Americans. Since violent crimes such as these are the most likely to be punished with prison sentences, this information is essential to any assessment of potential racial discrimination in the US justice system. Any comment on the US justice system that leaves it these data is much, much worse than useless.

This is not to deny discrimination in the US justice system -- many studies show Black and Hispanic offenders receive 10-15% longer sentences than Whites for comparable crimes, and of course the imprisonment of non-violent drug offenders is heavily racially-loaded. But the huge disparities between Black and White violent crime rates shown above are doing a lot of the work explaining the over-representation of Blacks in US prisons. And I'm sure that the statistics of crime and incarceration rates for non-ethnic Germans in Germany probably would reveal similar trends.

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