Three main sources of statistics on ethnicity & criminalisation:
Show ethnic differences in
the likelihood of being
involved in the criminal
E.g. blacks are 7 times more
likely than whites to be
stopped & searched & 5 times
more likely to be in prison
Victim surveys &
throw a more direct
light on ethnicity &
These ask individuals to say what
they have been victims of.
Sometimes they ask respondents to
identify the ethnicity of the person
who committed the crime against
them, e.g. in the case of 'mugging',
black people are significantly more
likely to be identified as offenders.
Rely on victim's memory.
White victims tend to
'over-identify' blacks as
Exclude under 16s.
Exclude crimes by
businesses, so they
tell us nothing
about the ethnicity
Ask individuals to disclose crimes
they have committed.
GRAHAM & BOWLING found that blacks &
whites had almost identical rates of
offending, while Asians had much lower
Other self-report studies show similar
patterns, discrediting the stereotype of blacks
as being more likely than whites to offend.
RACISM & THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM (CJS)
There are ethnic differences at each stage of the criminal justice
process. How far are they the result of racism in the CJS? Main
stages of the process an individual may go through:
PHILLIPS & BOWLING note that there have been
many allegations of oppressive policing if minority
Mass stop & search
Police violence & deaths in custody.
Failure to respond
effectively to racist violence.
The note that minorities are
more likely to think they are
STOP & SEARCH
Black people are 7 times
more likely to be stopped
& searched than whites.
Asians are over 3 times more likely to be
stopped & searched than other people under
the Terrorism Act 2000.
Only a small proportion of
stops result in arrest.
These patterns may be explained by:
ETHNIC DIFFERENCES IN OFFENDING
The patterns may simply reflect
the possibility that some ethnic
groups are more likely to offend,
& that police are acting on
relevant information about a
Members of ethnic groups may be
stopped more because of police racism.
In high discretion stops, police act w/o
specific information & are more likely to
Ethnic minorities are over-represented in the groups most
likely to be stopped regardless of their ethnicity e.g. the
young, unemployed & urban dwellers, so they get stopped
ARREST & CAUTIONS
The arrest rate for black people
is over 3 times the rate for
whites. By contrast, once
arrested, blacks & Asians are
less likely than white people to
receive a caution.
PROSECUTION & TRIAL
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
decides whether a case brought by the
police should be prosecuted.
The CPS is more likely to drop cases
against minorities than whites, &
black & Asian defendants are less
likely to be found guilty than whites.
When cases do go ahead, minorities are more likely
to elect for a Crown Court trial by jury, rather than a
magistrates' court, perhaps due to mistrust of
magistrates' impartiality. However, Crown Courts
can impose heavier sentences if convicted.
When awaiting trial, ethnic
minorities are more likely to be
EXPLAINING ETHNIC DIFFERENCES
LEA & YOUNG argue that ethnic
differences in the statistics reflect real
differences in the levels of offending.
They see crime as the product of
relative deprivation, subculture &
Racism has led to the
marginalisation & economic
exclusion of ethnic
Media emphasis on consumerism also promotes relative
deprivation by setting materialistic goals that many
members of minority groups cannot reach by legitimate
means because of discrimination.
LEA & YOUNG recognise that racist
policing often leads to the unjustified
criminalisation of some members of
However, even if the police do act
in racist ways, LEA & YOUNG
argue that this is unlikely to
account for the ethnic differences
in the statistics.
Similarly, police racism
cannot explain the much
higher conviction rates
of blacks than of Asians:
they would have to be
selectively racist against
blacks but not Asians to
cause these differences.
LEA & YOUNG thus conclude that:
The statistics represent real differences in offending between ethnic groups.
These differences are cause by differences in
levels of relative deprivation & marginalisation.
NEO-MARXISM: BLACK CRIME AS A CONSTRUCT
NEO-MARXISTS such as GILROY & HALL ET AL reject the view that the
statistics reflect reality. Rather, they are the outcome of a social
construction process that stereotypes minorities as more criminal that
GILROY: THE MYTH OF BLACK CRIMINALITY
GILROY argues that the idea of black criminality
is a myth created by racist stereotypes of
African Caribbeans & Asians.
In reality, these groups are no more criminal than any other ethnic group.
The CJS acts on these racist
stereotypes, minorities are
criminalised & therefore appear
in greater numbers.
CRIME AS POLITICAL RESISTANCE
GILROY argues that ethnic minority crime is
a form of political resistance against a racist
society, & this resistance has its roots in
earlier struggles against demonstrations.
Most blacks & Asians in the UK originate in former
British colonies, where their anti-colonial
struggles taught them how to resist oppression,
e.g. through riots & demonstrations.
When they found themselves facing
racism in Britain, they adopted the
same forms of struggle to defend
themselves, but their political struggle
was criminalised by the British state.
LEA & YOUNG criticise - 1st generation
immigrants were law-abiding; it's unlikely they
assed on a tradition of anti-colonal struggle.
GILROY romanticises street crime
HALL ET AL
Argue that the 1970s saw moral panic over
black 'muggers'that served the interests of
capitalism in dealing w/ a crisis.
Argue that the ruling class are normally able to rule
society through consent, but in times of crisis, this
becomes more difficult. In the early 1970s, British
capitalism faced a crisis: high inflation, unemployment &
The 1970s saw a media-driven moral
panic about the supposed growth of a
'new' crime - mugging - apparently
committed by black youth. In reality,
according to HALL ET AL, there was no
evidence of a significant increase in this
The emergence of the moral
panic about mugging as a 'black'
crime at the same time as the
crisis of capitalism was no
coincidence. The myth of the
young black mugger served as a
scapegoat to distract attention
from the true cause of society's
problems such as
unemployment - namely the
By presenting black youth as a threat
to the fabric of society, the moral
panic served to divide the working
class on racial grounds & weaken
opposition to capitalism, as well as
winning popular consent for more
authoritarian forms of rule that could
be used to suppress opposition.
However, HALL ET AL do not argue that black crime was only a
product of media labelling. The crisis of capitalism was increasingly
marginalising black youth through unemployment, & this drove some
into petty crime to survive.
They are inconsistent: they claim black street
crime was not rising, but also that it was
rising because of unemployment.
They don't show how the crisis led to a moral panic, or that the
public were actually blaming crime on blacks.
BOURGOIS: EL BARRIO
BOURGOIS studied El Barrio, a black & Hispanic community in
New York, 2000. He argues that discrimination has excluded
these groups from legitimate economic opportunities.
As a result of exclusion, they have created an
alternative economy that combine legal activities
w/ criminal ones, especially drug dealing.
In parallel w/ this, an oppositional 'street
culture' (or subculture) has developed. This
rejects mainstream values & provides people
w/ an alternative source of self-worth.
However, because this subculture also legitimises drug
use, it creates new addicts who turn to violent crime
to support their habit, & it undermines family life &
Thus exclusion from mainstream opportunities leads both
to crime to earn a living & to a culture that draws
individuals into crime though drug addiction.