Friday, July 10, 2020


Article Index

A. The Disproportionate Rate of Violent Black Offenders is Caused By Systemic Racism

While African Americans are more likely to be arrested for violent offenses, they are far more likely than whites to be victims of violent crime. "The overall likelihood of being the victim of a violent crime is 27 percent higher for blacks relative to whites." The racial difference in victimization rates is even larger for homicides. In the year 2000, "blacks were 6.2 times more likely to be murdered than whites." In 1991, at the peak of black homicide rates, "blacks were 7.2 times more likely to be murdered than whites." This is mostly attributed to black-on-black killings: "Roughly 94 percent of black homicide victims are murdered by a black offender." The main causes of these homicides are gang activity and drug abuse. The single largest predictor of violence is drug abuse, but this is related to gang violence. Gang violence accounts for nearly half of all violent crime in America. "Gang violence is interconnected with other underlying causes of violence stemming from drug abuse ... and concentrated urban poverty." Before erroneously assuming that African Americans have a greater propensity to engage in violence, it is vital to understand the broader social context from which these statistics originated.

The driving force behind America's support for getting "tough on crime" was conservative politics, which began a media campaign to sensationalize a fabricated "crime epidemic" in response to white people's fear of the civil rights' movement. "Capitalizing on an overwhelming public opinion in favor of more rigid crime control, conservative politicians at the national and state level stoked their constituents' fear of crime waves and endorsed policies designed to put more offenders in prison for longer periods of time." The general conservative reaction against the civil rights movement allowed Richard Nixon to capitalize on white voters' anxieties about racial issues, catapulting him to the top of the polls in the 1968 Presidential Election. "A deep unease with the virulence of some black activists and the extent of the changes taking place, coupled with an entrenched culture of outright racism in the lives of less progressive whites, led to a general reaction against the movement towards rapid racial equality." From the initial roots of Goldwater and Nixon's "law and order" rhetoric to Reagan's ability to ride his "tough on crime" reputation all the way to the presidency, the turmoil of the late-1960s was a key catalyst for the reorientation of national and state campaigning and policymaking toward criminal justice reform programs like mandatory minimum sentences that would be the driving forces behind the incarceration explosion. The politically driven "tough on crime" campaigns continued from the 1970s to the early 2000s--though this time, it was coined as the "War on Drugs." Despite decreasing levels of crime, the media created a false portrayal of an increase in violent crime rates and drug abuse. The War on Drugs is the root cause of the significant increase in violent crime. In fact, the War on Drugs "predated the remarkable levels of violence that now impact poor communities of color so disproportionately." The violent crime rate more than tripled from 1965 to 1995. The last time we saw such high levels of gun violence was during the Prohibition. "Indeed, without the War on Drugs, the level of gun violence that plagues so many poor inner-city neighborhoods today simply would not exist." Much of this gun violence can be attributed to the astounding incarceration rates that followed the War on Drugs and the flowing consequences such as devastation to African American families. The War on Drugs increased the funding for anti-drug activities of police departments, it enhanced the arrest rates and prosecutions for drug offenses, and it skyrocketed the incarceration rates for drug crimes. "[E]xtraordinary levels of incarceration create the conditions for extraordinary levels of violence." To explain, we must understand the policy behind the War on Drugs and its intended targets. The War on Drugs "created a brand-new market for illegal drugs--an underground market that would be inherently dangerous and would necessarily be regulated by both guns and violence." This disparately affects African Americans. "[P]olice drug surveillance is concentrated on inner-city drug markets because these drug arrests are easier: drugs are sold on street corners, through neighborhood networks, and a stranger appearing to buy drugs is a commonplace occurrence." This type of foot peddling, drug trafficking is extremely dangerous. "Since drug dealers are likely to be carrying large sums of money, they are at serious risk of robbery. Since they cannot rely on the police for protection, they must, to survive, protect themselves." Oakland, California is a prime example for how the concentration of police drug surveillance in the inner-city regions lead to intensified violent crime rates in those areas, while at the same time, insulating the more prosperous neighborhoods from violence. In 2001, the national murder rate was 6.1 homicides per 100,000 residents. In Oakland, the 2001 murder rate was roughly 20 homicides per 100,000 residents. "Nearly all of the higher-income residential areas in the Oakland hills and the more middle-income communities of north Oakland were homicide free during 2001. Conversely, the poor, predominantly black and Latino residential areas in the flats of east and west Oakland accounted for nearly all of the city's homicide count." As white households are largely insulated from violent areas, whites tend to be shielded from law enforcement drug surveillance because it is less focused on the suburban drug market. This Note will explain that the focus of drug surveillance on inner-city neighborhoods accounts for not only more African Americans being arrested for drugs, it also accounts for more African Americans being entrapped in a cycle of violence.

White people account for a large majority of drug users in the United States. Whites account for roughly 82 percent of drug users in the country, blacks account for about 17 percent. "In most US metropolitan areas, racial and ethnic minorities reside in central urban communities, while white households tend to reside in metropolitan area suburbs." Since there are far more white drug users in the United States than black drug users, combined with the fact that more whites live in the suburbs, the suburban drug market is larger than the inner-city drug market.

The War on Drugs was never concerned with the larger suburban drug market. "[T]o the extent that poor urban drug users consume drugs outdoors while wealthier suburban drug users consume in the privacy of their homes, police strategies that crack down on visible drug use will disproportionately net urban, poor, and largely minority drug users." Meanwhile, "[p]olice departments devote less effort in infiltrating the much larger suburban drug market because it is conducted by word of mouth, through stable workplace and social contacts, and therefore requires more intense investigatory effort." This partly explains why inner-city blacks are more likely to get caught up in violence than whites--including more assaults, robberies, and homicides. While many blacks are involved in the drug turf battle on the streets, most whites can sell drugs discreetly through safer, more stable markets.

Research Director Dave Kopel elaborates on the high risk of inner-city drug dealing culminating in violence:
When drug dealers engage in commercial transactions with each other, there is no Uniform Commercial Code and state district court for resolving disputes about the quality of goods sold. Disgruntled buyers, having no other means of redress, may resort to violence. Similarly, the addicts who sell drugs often end up consuming the drugs which should have been sold; because higher-level dealers have no legal means of handling salespersons who stole the merchandise with which they were entrusted, violence often results. Other drug users buy goods on credit, but fail to pay their debt. Since the seller has no lawful means of debt collection, violence again may result. In addition, when disputes are settled violently, they are often settled in the most vicious manner possible, for acquiring a reputation for being willing to "exert maximum force" may assist the resolution of future disputes. Why is it that so many poor African Americans live in inner-city neighborhoods? "In the 1950s, prosperity brought suburban growth, at the price of dilapidated inner-city neighborhoods." Inner-city ghettos were created by "two African-American migrations from the rural South and the abandonment of inner-city neighborhoods by new middle-class blacks for the more prosperous suburbs ..." This led to intensified segregation in inner cities. "With the absence of black-middle class center[s] for leadership, stability, and guidance, poor blacks found themselves stuck in the city ghettos without an effective political voice to address the problems of poverty, limited educational opportunity, single-parent families, unemployment, and--as a result higher crime rates." Subsequently, "large metropolitan areas have higher poverty rates, larger minority populations, and generally higher levels of black-white segregation." The high levels of segregation in inner-city communities are largely involuntary. Their causes stem from "three interrelated and mutually reinforcing forces in America: high levels of institutionalized discrimination in the real estate and banking industries; high levels of prejudice among whites against blacks as potential neighbors; and discriminatory public policies implemented by whites at all levels of government." Today, in most United States metropolitan areas, "racial and ethnic minorities reside in central urban communities, while white households tend to reside in metropolitan area suburbs." Additionally, "poverty rates tend to be higher in central urban-communities than in residential areas located on suburban fringes." The higher city-center crime rates imply that "minorities and [the] poor face higher neighborhood crime rates than do white households and nonpoor households." Stated differently, "black neighborhoods tend to have the highest crime rates, ..." Crime is more severe in predominately poor neighborhoods of urban areas, where blacks are more likely to reside than whites. What follows is an "ever-increasing number of police officers in inner-city neighborhoods." Where there are more police, there is more incarceration. Police target inner-city drug offenses, which are committed in areas where blacks are more likely to reside. This leads to extraordinary levels of incarceration in these inner cities, which create the conditions for extraordinary levels of violence. Thus, there is a perpetual cycle of inner-city violence.

Princeton Sociology Professor Douglas Massey argues that the perpetual cycle of inner-city black violence is unlikely to end as long as high levels of black segregation continue to exist in central metropolitan areas. He "links high rates of black crime to two features of U.S. urban society: high rates of black poverty and high levels of black segregation." He argues that this link exists because "segregation simultaneously victimizes blacks while giving whites greater incentive to maintain the residential status quo, leading to a vicious cycle whereby segregation promotes poverty among blacks, leading to behavior that hardens white prejudice and discrimination, which in turn promotes further socioeconomic damage to the black community, which leads to continued segregation." Professor Massey explains further that a major reason for the lack of change is that most Americans, particularly, whites, perceive themselves as benefitting from the social arrangements that produce racial segregation. If poverty rates are higher for blacks and if crime is associated with poverty, then, by isolating blacks in segregated neighborhoods, the rest of society insulates itself from the crime and other social problems that stem from the higher rates of black poverty. In short, he argues, "racial segregation persists in the United States because whites benefit from it." Due to the extremely high victimization rates faced by people who are entrapped in inner-city ghettos, many inner-city residents resort to violence themselves. "The cultivation of respect through the strategic use of violence represents a logical, instrumental strategy pursued by rational individuals as a means of adapting to the harsh conditions of daily life created by structural arrangements in American society that are beyond individual control." Not only do inhabitants of poor, inner-city neighborhoods pursue rational individual tactics to reduce their victimization--they also, quite rationally, resort to gangs. Gangs provide self-protection in the form of deterrence against victimization, while also providing benefits to their neighborhoods by controlling violence, deflecting it away from their own territories. "Gangs are more able to deter crime in their community than the police because gang members are distributed throughout the community and are able to identify strangers." While gangs, of course, do not eliminate violence, their formations are a rational response to the high victimization rates and poverty faced by people in inner-city neighborhoods. "The wave of crime in urban black America is not simply a product of individual moral failings; it is an inevitable outgrowth of social conditions created by the coincidence of racial segregation and high rates of black poverty."