The Truth About Black Crime
by: R Jeneen Jones
Early last year, I wrote an article entitled "Who's Afraid of Black Men?",
which raised the issue of how society views black men as criminals,
regardless of their true nature. After posting the feature, I received tons
of email. While most African Americans praised my comments, many non-blacks
agreed that black men are generally violent and aggressive law breakers.
After all, one just has to look at the statistics. In all fairness, I decided
to do just that and discovered some very interesting details:
Among men, blacks (28.5%) are about six times more likely than whites (4.4%)
to be admitted to prison during their life. Among women, 3.6% of blacks and
0.5% of whites will enter prison at least once. (U.S. Department of Justice)
Based on current rates of incarceration, an estimated 7.9% of black males
compared to 0.7% of white males will enter State of Federal prison by the
time they are age 20 and 21.4% of black males versus 1.4% of white males will
be incarcerated by age 30. (U.S. Department of Justice)
Some have noted that more black men are in prison in America than are in
college. (The Black and White of Justice, Freedom Magazine, Volume 128)
Statistics on black crime are, on the surface, very bleak. There are,
however, some very important factors that help to influence the numbers.
Consider those and a strong case for a much different view unfolds. Since 62%
of persons admitted to Federal prison and 31.1% of those admitted to State
prison for the first time were sentenced because of drug offenses, let us
first take a look at the racial disparity in the war on drugs:
The National Institute of Drug Abuse estimated that while 12 percent of drug
users are black, they make up nearly 50 percent of all drug possession
arrests in the U.S. (The Black and White of Justice, Freedom Magazine, Volume 128)
According to the National Drug Strategy Network, although African Americans
make up less than one-third of the population in Georgia, the black arrest
rate for drugs is five times greater than the white arrest rate. In addition,
since 1990, African Americans have accounted for more than 75% of persons
incarcerated for drug offenses in Georgia and make up 97.7% of the people in
that state who are given life sentences for drug offenses.
In six California counties independently surveyed in 1995, 100% of those
individuals sent to trial on drug charges were minorities, while the
drug-using population in those same counties was more than 60% white. (The
Black and White of Justice, Freedom Magazine, Volume 128)
A CNN article in 1996 sited U.S. government figures that show more than 90
percent of all federal prosecutions for crack coc aine in 1995 were of African
American defendants. In addition, unlike convictions for powered coc aine and
other drugs (which wealthy, Caucasian defendants are more likely to use), a
conviction for selling crack coc aine can carry a lengthy prison term without
benefit of parole.
I know some people might think that African Americans are arrested so often
for drug offenses because police officers target drug dealers and most blacks
fit that profile. If that is indeed the case, why did an analysis by the
Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles find that 77% of the offenses
leading to the first conviction and 79% of the offenses leading to a second
drug conviction involved less than one gram of a controlled substance. In
addition, that same study found that 60% of the cases involved drug values of
less than $50. I'm sure Georgia isn't the only state in which such statistics
What about figures for other types of crimes? According to the U.S.
Department on Justice, property and drug offenses account for 76.4 % and
56.4% respectively of crimes by individuals admitted to Federal and State
prison for the first time. Most criminal convictions are, therefore, not for
violent crimes. Even still, there is evidence to suggest that race also plays
a factor in those types of cases:
In 1997, the American Bar Association observed that quite often public
defenders, who are most likely to be assigned to poor and largely minority
defendants, are inexperienced, underpaid, overworked, and largely indifferent
to their client's plight. (Philadelphia Bar Association Calls for Moratorium
on Death, A-Infos News Service, 12/19/97)
Even though it is illegal, throughout the nation, there are incidents of
local officials influencing jury selection to include mostly white males.
This is done mainly because local police and law officials are afraid that
randomly selected jurors will be more liberal and less likely to convict
defendants. (Prosecutors Object to New Method of Jury Selection, St.
Petersburg Times, 12/28/98 and The Race of Decision Makers, RSTL Study)
A 1990 study by The U.S. General Accounting Office, indicated that racial
bias has influenced prosecutors' decisions to charge a defendant with a
capital offense and/or to proceed to trial rather than plea bargain. (U.S.
General Accounting Office Report, Death Penalty Sentencing, 1990)
What do all of these findings suggest? For starters, we cannot conclude how
many African Americans or black males are actually guilty of committing
crimes. We can only obtain data on the number of black males who are arrested
for and convicted of a crime. While arrest rates are highly subjective, one
could argue that a conviction is a guilty sentence in the eyes of the law.
Though that is true, given the racial undertones and biases still present in
the American judicial system, it seems highly unjust to assume that black
crime statistics are a valid indication of the state of the entire community
of African American males.
Am I implying that African American males do not commit crimes? Not at all.
In my opinion, there is an equal distribution of criminals (and law abiding
citizens) among all racial and ethnic groups and blacks are no more likely to
be criminals than are whites. The data shows, however, that African Americans
more likely than others to be arrested and convicted. It is for that reason
that I propose we use our intelligence and humanity to look beyond the
numbers. Even though it has been shown time and time again that racial
discrimination still exists in almost every segment of our society, (Driving
While Black, Police & Civil Rights Leaders Sit Down to Build Bridges,
Painting Insanity Black, Avis Charged with Discrimination, The New Face of
Racism, Race & The Death Penalty, Bell Atlantic Sued for Discrimination,
Judge OKs Boeing Bias Settlement, Black Customers Sue Denny's) why do some
people find it impossible to consider that it also exists in our judicial
Will we ever be able to agree on the truth about black crime (or know the
real story on white crime) in this nation? I doubt it. I do hope we will
open the lines of communication and learn to discuss all of the facts. Only
then will we be able to make changes and overcome the tremendous effect that
race continues to have on the perception of black males in America.