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Race and Ethnicity


In discussing who commits crime, any discussion of race and ethnicity is bound to arouse controversy because of the possibility of racial and ethnic stereotyping. But if we can say that men and younger people have relatively high crime rates without necessarily sounding biased against individuals who are male or younger, then it should be possible to acknowledge that certain racial and ethnic groups have higher crime rates without sounding biased against them.

Keeping this in mind, race and ethnicity do seem to be related to criminal offending. In particular, much research finds that African Americans and Latinos have higher rates of street crime than non-Latino whites. For example, although African Americans comprise about 13 percent of the US population, they account for about 39 percent of all arrests for violent crime (see Figure 8.4 "Race and Arrest for Violent Crime (Percentage of All Violent Crime Arrests)").



Figure 8.4 Race and Arrest for Violent Crime (Percentage of All Violent Crime Arrests)

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig08_004.jpg

Source: Data from Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2011). Crime in the United States, 2010. Washington, DC: Author.

Latinos also have higher crime rates than non-Latino whites, but lower rates than those for African Americans. Although racial and ethnic bias by the criminal justice system may account for some of these racial/ethnic differences in offending, most criminologists agree that such differences do in fact exist for serious street crimes (Walker, Spohn, & DeLone, 2012). [7]

Why do these differences exist? A racist explanation would attribute them to biological inferiority of the groups, African Americans and Latinos, with the relatively high rates of offending. Such explanations were popular several generations ago but fortunately lost favor as time passed and attitudes changed. Today, scholars attribute racial/ethnic differences in offending to several sociological factors (Unnever & Gabbidon, 2011). [8] First, African Americans and Latinos are much poorer than whites on the average, and poverty contributes to higher crime rates. Second, they are also more likely to live in urban areas, which, as we have seen, also contribute to higher crime rates. Third, the racial and ethnic discrimination they experience leads to anger and frustration that in turn can promote criminal behavior. Although there is less research on Native Americans’ criminality, they, too, appear to have higher crime rates than whites because of their much greater poverty and experience of racial discrimination (McCarthy & Hagan, 2003). [9]

In appreciating racial/ethnic differences in street crime rates, it is important to keep in mind that whites commit most white-collar crime, and especially corporate crime, as it is white people who lead and manage our many corporations. Just as social class affects the type of crime that people do, so do race and ethnicity. Wealthy, white people commit much crime, but it is white-collar crime they tend to commit, not street crime.




KEY TAKEAWAYS


  • Males commit more street crime than females, in part because of gender role socialization that helps make males more assertive and aggressive.

  • Young people commit a disproportionate amount of street crime, in part because of the influence of their peers and their lack of stakes in conformity.

  • The disproportionate involvement of African Americans and Latinos in street crime arises largely from their poverty and urban residence.



FOR YOUR REVIEW


  1. If we say that males commit more crime than females, does that imply that we are prejudiced against males? Why or why not?

  2. Write a brief essay that outlines social class and racial/ethnic differences in street crime and explains the reasons for these differences.

[1] Lindsey, L. L. (2011). Gender roles: A sociological perspective (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[2] Shoemaker, D. J. (2010). Theories of delinquency: An examination of explanations of delinquent behavior (6th ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[3] Laub, J. H., Sampson, R. J., & Sweeten, G. A. (2006). Assessing Sampson and Laub’s life-course theory of crime. In F. T. Cullen (Ed.), Taking stock: The status of criminological theory(Vol. 15, pp. 313–333). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

[4] Harris, A. R., & Shaw, J. A. W. (2000). Looking for patterns: Race, class, and crime. In J. F.Sheley (Ed.), Criminology: A contemporary handbook (3rd ed., pp. 129–163). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

[5] Stark, R. (1987). Deviant places: A theory of the ecology of crime. Criminology, 25, 893–911.

[6] Stark, R. (1987). Deviant places: A theory of the ecology of crime. Criminology, 25, 893–911.

[7] Walker, S., Spohn, C., & DeLone, M. (2012). The color of justice: Race, ethnicity, and crime in America (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

[8] Unnever, J. D., & Gabbidon, S. L. (2011). A theory of African American offending: Race, racism, and crime. New York, NY: Routledge.

[9] McCarthy, B., & Hagan, J. (2003). Sanction effects, violence, and native North American street youth. In D. F. Hawkins (Ed.), Violent crime: Assessing race and ethnic differences (pp. 117–137). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


8.4 Explaining Crime

LEARNING OBJECTIVES


  1. Understand social structure theories of crime.

  2. Explain the social bonding theory of crime.

  3. Describe the general assumptions of conflict theories of crime.

If we want to be able to reduce crime, we must first understand why it occurs. Sociologists generally discount explanations rooted in the individual biology or psychology of criminal offenders. While a few offenders may suffer from biological defects or psychological problems that lead them to commit crime, most do not. Further, biological and psychological explanations cannot adequately explain the social patterning of crime discussed earlier: why higher crime rates are associated with certain locations and social backgrounds. For example, if California has a higher crime rate than Maine, and the United States has a higher crime rate than Canada, it would sound silly to say that Californians and Americans have more biological and psychological problems than Mainers and Canadians, respectively. Biological and psychological explanations also cannot easily explain why crime rates rise and fall, nor do they lend themselves to practical solutions for reducing crime.

In contrast, sociological explanations do help understand the social patterning of crime and changes in crime rates, and they also lend themselves to possible solutions for reducing crime. A brief discussion of these explanations follows, and a summary appears in .



Table 8.2 Sociological Explanations of Crime

Major perspective

Related explanation

Summary of explanation

Functional (social structure theories)

Social disorganization

Certain social characteristics of urban neighborhoods contribute to high crime rates. These characteristics include poverty, dilapidation, population density, and population turnover.




Anomie

According to Robert Merton, crime by the poor results from a gap between the cultural emphasis on economic success and the inability to achieve such success through the legitimate means of working.

Interactionist (social process theories)

Differential association

Edwin H. Sutherland argued that criminal behavior is learned by interacting with close friends who teach us how to commit various crimes and also the values, motives, and rationalizations we need to adopt in order to justify breaking the law.




Social bonding

Travis Hirschi wrote that delinquency results from weak bonds to conventional social institutions, such as families and schools.




Labeling

Deviance and crime result from being officially labeled; arrest and imprisonment increase the likelihood of reoffending.

Conflict (conflict theories)

Group conflict

Criminal law is shaped by the conflict among the various social groups in society that exist because of differences in race and ethnicity, social class, religion, and other factors.




Radical

The wealthy try to use the law and criminal justice system to reinforce their power and to keep the poor and people of color at the bottom of society.




Feminist

Gender plays an important role in the following areas: (1) the reasons girls and women commit crime; (2) the reasons female crime is lower than male crime; (3) the victimization of girls and women by rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence; and (4) the experience of women professionals and offenders in the criminal justice system.

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