Consider this dialogue if you will.
One evening a man in distress rushed into the sheriff’s office of a small southern town. The building was pretty much empty except for a dispatcher sitting at a desk.
The out-of-breath man exclaims, “Help! I need help! I was just robbed!”
“Oh no! What happened?” asked the dispatcher.
“I was at the gas station down the street getting gas, and then I felt something poke me in my lower back,” the man explained, “Then I heard a man talking through his teeth telling me to give him all of my cash.”
The dispatcher immediately asked, “Did you give it to him?”
“Hell yeah!” the man said, “After I saw the gun, I told him to take my wallet and that it was all I had on me. He then made some kind of a sound and took off running in the dark.”
“Did you get a look at him?”
“No, he had on a mask. I only saw his reflection in the window and what he was wearing as he ran away. I could tell that he was a colored fella through the eye and mouth holes. He was wearing a beige jacket, dark jeans, and dark tennis shoes.”
“Wait,” asked the dispatcher, “Are you sure he’s black?”
“Yes, I’m pretty certain,” the man replied.
“Well, we’ll have to refer this case to Deputy Boggs. He handles our black crimes. You know what they all say,” the dispatcher said.
The man questions, “No, what do they say?”
“The blacker the crime, the sweeter the noose.”
“Bah, we don’t really hang people here,” the dispatcher chuckled, “It’s just an expression.”
Is this bad dialog from an obscure movie set in the Deep South during the 60s? Did I include it for the sake of race bait or click bait? Or could this be extracted from a blog comment in the 21st century, reflecting the attitudes of an era that some believed to be dead and gone?
The question must be asked. What is black crime? This phrase is being used more often in recent years in conjunction with the terms ‘rate’ and ‘statistics’. A simple definition would be that black crime can be identified as any kind of crime committed by a person or persons who are of full or partial African decent and who identify as such. There is a greater focus on black criminals because of the disproportionate number of crimes relative to the general population within the lower income, urban communities where they are most active. This crime issue within black communities has been around for many, many decades. Leaders and activists within those communities have been screaming about it for years because of the lack of expertise and resources to tackle such a problem. The general public has only sporadically called attention to these issues over time. We happen to be within one of those brief incursions now.
It is a fact that there has been a very real problem with excessive crime in indigent black communities. What is most unfortunate is that narratives that originated from white supremacist and white nationalist groups deliberately misrepresent the historical and current realities of this crime for their own purposes. One such purpose is to convince other white US citizens, who may not share many of their ideologies, that a significant portion of the black population is deliberately targeting them, their sons, and their daughters. While such narratives can be easily refuted with basic facts and statistics, there are some who are easily swayed by these narratives. A small minority might take a violent course of action like Dylan Roof.
When it comes to crime in black neighborhoods. The statistics that come from the Department of Justice are accurate. A margin of error naturally exists because of misidentification and some agencies do not report racial breakdowns. The crime data is based on actual arrests, so even with the margin of error, it is the most accurate data we have. One particular violent crime that tends to be the most accurate is homicide, which is usually reported or discovered more often than other violent crimes. The statistic that can be easily extracted from the data is the fact that 52% of homicides between 1980 and 2008 were committed by suspects who were black. When this statement is printed, it is usually accompanied by a reference to the fact that black people only made up about 13% of the population during that time frame. This statistic is shocking and depressing at the same time.
The average Joe, let’s call him Joe Potato, will look at this statistic and make a statement like, “52% of murders in this country are committed by 13% of the population and they are all black.” Is Joe Potato wrong? Absolutely. Could you imagine what this country would look like if about 40 million people were running around killing people? Not to mention the fact that the 13% includes infants as well as elderly people. We all know that Dave Chappelle was the only person in the US directly threatened by a baby, and he lived to tell the story. Although it would be nice if Mr. Potato could understand why his statement of this statistic is wrong, the societal impact is minimal, even if Joe was to spam it in the comment section of some obscure blog. The impact usually comes from other sources.
Enter Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas. Around September of 2015 he made this statement during a radio interview, “The vast majority of our citizenry are law abiding. You know, 100% of the crime is committed, an estimate, by about 15% of the population.” This estimation was proven to be way off the mark by Politifact and even his own office admitted that the statistic was blown out of proportion. According to the FBI 2015 crime statistics, the total number of arrests for all crime, violent and non-violent, works out to about 2.5% of the population. It has been close to that rate for at least a decade. His office claimed that he was trying to make a positive statement about the number of people who are law abiding, and they do not know where the 15% came from.
The context of this statement was centered on the idea that people are directing anger and some violence at police because of the actions of a few. I happen to fully agree that no organization or group should be judged by the failings of a few. One of the essays in this series actually addresses this very issue. In making his point about police officers, Dan Patrick, was doing that very thing to people in the black community. Although he did not blatantly reference black people, it doesn’t take a genius to realize what influenced his inaccurate statement. It has been almost a talking point for some organizations that most violent crimes in this country are committed by 13% of the population. Again, this is not true. Of course, the renewed popularity of publications by people like Jared Taylor help to influence these ideas. The recently revised edition of his monograph, The Color of Crime, seems to be gaining more traction than it has in 2 decades.
A peddler of another version of this lie is Ben Shapiro, former Breitbart News writer and founder of the Daily Wire. On occasion he trots out this statistic during speeches and no one ever questions him on it. One notable example was during a panel discussion in Seattle with 3 other participants. During one of his rants, he demanded, “Explain to me why 13 percent of the population is responsible for 50 percent of the murder?”# I can’t find fault with Mr. Shapiro for doing what he does best. I fault the other panelists who did not call him on this and several other inaccuracies.
It should be noted that people who incorrectly present these statistics rarely consider the number of actual people who commit crimes or how serial repeat offenders factor in. Here are the actual facts regarding this statistic. At the end of 2015, an estimated total of 6,741,400 people were either incarcerated or under supervision by adult correctional systems. The US population at that time was 322,060,152. Before you even do the math, it is clear that the number you get when you consider suspects arrested for all crimes is much smaller than 13%. Calculating this, you will find that 6.7 million is only about 2.09% of the total population. Still we need to identify the total number of people who were incarcerated for murder. The population of people who are incarcerated is 2,173,800 which is much smaller and amount to only 0.67% of the population. It is safe to say that there probably aren’t millions of people on probation for murder, so most prisoners convicted of murder fall within this segment of the prison population. One might note that this isn’t the best way to express crime data, but the prison population data does represent an aggregate of people incarcerated over several decades, even factoring in releases. Those numbers are always greater than the number of offenders taken from stats at the end of a particular year.
Another source for very similar stats are the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting tables. According to the victimization data there were 13,455 murders committed by 15,326 known and unknown assailants in 2015. Of the total number of offenders, 36.7% were black. If we only count murder cases where the race of the offender is known, then 53.3% of them were black. The total number of black offenders in these cases is 5,620, which works out to about 0.0017% of the general population. Murders in this country are committed by a very small sliver of the US population. Even the portion of offenders who are black only represent 0.0121% of the black population. With that said, loss of life is something that we take seriously, and the goal should be to eliminate murder from our communities altogether. Instead of seeking viable solutions, we are left with the indictment of 13% of the population based on the actions of less than 0.002%.
There are some who don’t see a problem with blaming an entire race of people for over half of the homicides in this country. Several white nationalist groups have pushed this narrative with very specific goals in mind. Others may do so out of ignorance or might have other reasons. It is just as wrong to blame entire white race for the majority of mass shootings and rampage killings in this country. The problem is that some people start with a belief or ideology and then go out seeking specific data to support those beliefs. In reality, the process should go the other way around.
The most important fact out of all of this is that people who commit violent crimes within the US are a very small percentage (less than 0.2%) of the general population. What is troubling is the fact that a racial minority makes up a significant chunk of that subset. If one chooses to tackle this problem from the standpoint of statistics, it is important to be honest about them. The real stats are disturbing enough, so there is no reason to distort or misrepresent them. Moving past the statistics we have to remember that these numbers represent the lives of real people. Many victims pay the ultimate price, the offenders ruin their own lives, and the families of both suffer. The ones who suffer the most are children who have lost mothers and fathers to murder or incarceration. Anyone who is serious about helping to fix this problem should take a look at the many characteristics the offenders have in common in addition to race, instead of assuming that race is the driving factor. It is only then that we can make useful and lasting progress with this problem.