Saturday, May 19, 2012

Part V: The Crime Report examines race and crime

This is the fifth in a regular series of posts derived from Ted Gest's article Crime and Justice Trends in America: How We Got Here; Where We Go Next on cutting edge evidence-based crime fighting practices posted at The Crime Report.

Race and Crime--Jeffrey Fagan, Columbia University.

Fagan began by wondering why many criminologists don't talk about racial issues, even when it is clear there are many racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Some may rationalize that disparities can be explained away by the fact that crime rates are higher for blacks and Latinos. Fagan traces the history of race and the U.S. criminal justice system back to "slave patrols" of colonial days. Later there was "weird science" that suggested the racial inferiority of minorities.

There were racial factors behind the first major U.S. anti-narcotics law, the Harrison Act of 1914, and the Kerner Commission report on the many urban riots of 1964-68 exposed the racial animosity of primarily white police forces toward black inner city residents.

Today, the prison population is disproportionately minority, and so are arrests. Fagan cited research showing that while young males of all racial and ethnic groups used drugs at comparable rates, the likelihood of arrest was twice as high or more for blacks and Latinos.

Non-white suspects are more likely than others to be handcuffed, searched, have weapons pointed at them, and be subject to officer force.

Some of the racial disparities in criminal justice are due to overt bias; others can be blamed on factors like "social organization of crime" (for example, laws targeting gangs) and structured sentencing like laws setting higher penalties for crack cocaine--more often used by blacks then powder cocaine.

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