Ethnicity and Crime

The whole debate about ethnicity and crime stems from ethnic differences in crime statistics. The stats show that ethnic minorities (Black and Asian) are more likely to commit a crime than a white person. Sociologists began to look deeper into  the matter and found that the stats were basically an exaggeration. But there were other sociologists who were in support of the statistics. Then the question that always stirs up emotions was born:

Are ethnic minorities actually commiting more crimes or do the stats simply reflect discrimination?

Let’s start with the argument that supports the belief that ethnic minorities are commiting more crimes. Left Realists Lea and Young argue that crime is the result of three factors: marginalisation, relative deprivation and status frustration. They argue that ethnic minorities are more likely to experience these than whites. This is caused by racism which makes them feel marginalised and these racist attitudes can sometimes prevent blacks and Asians getting jobs leading to relative deprivation and poverty. Then you got the media spitting out images of goods they can’t afford but they are told they need making them frustrated with their current status.

They then go on to say how this causes ethnic minorities, males in particular, to join gangs in order to raise their status. If you can’t gain respect by working in a bank, you can sure get some by stealing from one! It’s also a two-birds-one-stone situation because you can use that stolen money to buy a Ferrari Enzo and mansion so you feel less deprived. Happy days! But if money can’t shift all that anger built up inside, Lea and Young say ethnic minorities will vandalise or riot to express the frustration of being marginalised.

This is why ethnic minorities are heavily represented in crime stats. But what about the police that will arrest a brother for walking wrong, do I hear someone ask? To that, Lea+Young respond that 90% of recorded crimes are reported by a member of the public rather than a police arrest. This negates the whole racist arrest argument… or does it? Victim surveys conducted in England and Wales found that victims would identify their offender as a black man even if they were not sure. In my sociological opinion, this is because the media and police force have successfully joined forces to label blacks as inherently criminal. The public believe it and therefore report more crimes committed by ethnic minorities despite an uncertainty. The police see it as approval of their belief so they target ethnic minorities and the vicious cycle continues.

Hence why other sociologists are critical of Lea and Young’s theory. The first argument that supports discrimination in the criminal justice system focuses on how cases with ethnic minority offenders are treated at different stages within the system. Bowling and Phillips found that the police had ingrained negative stereotypes about ethnic minorities – probably heightened by their canteen culture. Figures showed that blacks were 3.6x more likely to be arrested than whites. However, when these cases reached the Crown Prosecution Service are vast majority were dropped and for the few that actually got to court, the jury were less likely to find the offender guilty – 60% of white offenders were found guilty as opposed to 52% of blacks and 44% of  Asians. The figures suggest two options: a) ethnic minorities are somehow bribing juries or b) the police are targeting and arresting ethnic minorities on weak, racist grounds that are of little or no value in a court of law. (I’ll let you decide which option’s more likely…)

Neo-marxists agree and argue that the stats do not reflect actual levels of crime. Instead they see crime stats as a social construct that shapes ethnic minorities as inherently more criminal. Gilroy sees ethnic criminality as a load of rubbish and argues that ethnic minorities aren’t committing crimes but are simply protesting against a racist society. Remember how the West charged into Africa, burned down homes, tore families apart and forced everyone to work on farms? Well, the previous generations of ethnic minorities were a part of the anti- imperialist actions against this injustice. Gilroy argues they would pass these beliefs onto their children. So when these second-generation ethnic minorities began to experience oppression and racism, they rioted or vandalised against it. A good example would be the riots caused by the Mark Duggan shooting. The big hole in this theory is intra-racial crime. What point is an Asian making by shooting another Asian? Surely the previous generation would have taught them about loyalty to your own kind?

Therefore, Hall offers an alternative argument. They argue that the whole “black criminality” scandal serves the interest of capitalism. In the 1970s there was a capitalist crisis that led to high unemployment, high inflation, widespread strikes and intense student protests. Sound familiar, Cameron? Well, before all this happened the state was able to  keep control and power through consent – pump out some malarky that some people are leaders and others followers or some other nonsense. But the public wasn’t buying it anymore. They were beginning to realise that the real source of their problem was…dare I say it?…CAPITALISM! And that scared leaders more than anything. So they had to find a way to restore control but it had to be done with force rather than consent. That’s when, quite suspiciously, the state pronounced there was currently a sharp rise in this “new” crime called muggings. I put “new” in quotes because in reality this crime had been around for ages but simply had no official name and, while we’re on the topic, showed no signs of an increase whatsoever. But the media, politicians and police pooled their resources together to successfully associate muggings with blacks.  Black muggings soon became the symbol of the social disorder caused by capitalism. Blacks became the state’s scapegoat. The public began blaming the blacks in their midst for their problems which led to a public divide which in turn weakened opposition to the state. Miraculously, the state had been able to restore power over the masses and even find support for policies that gave them greater control, all by labelling blacks as criminals.

Now for the rounding argument: actual crime or discrimination? In my opinion, it’s a mixture of both. I think ethnic minorities are more likely to commit crime mainly because all that frustration from discrimination has to go somewhere. But discrimination in the criminal justice system has led to the actual difference becoming distorted. However, that is just my opinion, what do you think?

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Primary and Secondary Deviance

Primary and secondary deviance is best explained through examples, so I’m going to use the character of Tommy to explain what Lemert means by primary and secondary deviance.

So Tommy is five years old and his mother has taking him to WH Smith. Now everyone knows that WH Smith has a pick and mix stand and Tommy loves his chocolate. So when mummy isn’t looking, Tommy takes some chocolate mice and carries on like nothing happened. Unfortunately, the clerk saw him eat the chocolate and he gets into trouble with mummy.

This is primary deviance. The clerk doesn’t call the police because it’s justified as childhood behaviour. When Tommy gets older, he would describe it as a “moment of madness”. No one has labelled Tommy as a thief. It is not affected his status or how society views Tommy, therefore according to Lemert primary deviance is pointless to study as it has no effect on the individual or society.

However, as Tommy gets older he continues to steal and at the age of 18 Tommy steals a car from the local Mercedes dealership. Tommy gets caught and sent to prison for 10 years but when he comes out he is still viewed as “that thief”. This makes it hard Tommy to get a job and because he needs money to survive, Tommy joins the neighbourhood gang and once again reverts to crime.

This is what Lemert calls secondary deviance – crime caused by a societal reaction. Society viewed Tommy as nothing more than a thief, so “thief” became Tommy’s master status. This puts Tommy in a self-concept crisis because he doesn’t know how he fits into society any more – no one likes him, he cannot get a job – therefore self-fulfilling prophecy occurs and Tommy fulfils his label. He joins neighbourhood gang in order to be around people who accept his master status. Therefore, Tommy reverts to crime because of his label.

6 Arguments for Secularisation

1. Rationalisation

Weber argues that the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther in the 16th Century led to rational ways of thinking replacing supernatural beliefs. It led to the belief that God simply created the world and does not intervene in it. This is known as disenchantment and it contributed to secularisation as people began to view and understand the world scientifically.

Possible critique(s): The theory only focuses on the West and Catholocism.

2. Structural Differentiation

Structural differentiation is the process of speecialisation that occurs through the development of industrial society. Parsons argues that this led to religion being being disengaged from modern society. Before the Industrial Revolution religion was the main source of education and social welfare but these functions have been lost to a secular state and religion is now a privatized part on religion that is personal choice. This is shown by the number of countries that keep religion and the state seperate such as USA, France and Britain.

Possible Critique(s): Northern Ireland is an exception. It is modern and industrialised but the Church js closely linked with the state.

3. Social and Cultural Diversity

Wilson and Bruce argue that the Industrial Revolution led to secularisation. It caused the break up of small, close-knit communities that often expressed themselves through their religion because therecwas a need for the workforce to geographically mobile (move around easily). This meant that new people with various backgrounds and religious beliefs were entering these communities. This reduced the plausibility of religion as everyone’s belief could not be true. The lack of a dominating religion also made it difficult for people to remain religious as it is easier to believe in something if many people practice it as well.

Possible critique(s): Despite the cultural diversity, people may use religion as a form of identity – this links to Huntington and the Clash of Civilisations. Also some religions have created ‘imagined communities so that they feel more connected in a globalised world, e.g televangelism.

4. Religious diversity

Berger argues Catholicism held a monopoly on truth and society was under a ‘sacred canopy’ (basically one belief system). After the Protestant Reformation, the rise of Protestants and other sects that broke away from the  Church led to a ‘plurality of worldviews’ – varying interpretations of the truth. This led to a crisis for credibility and secularisation.

Possible Critique(s): Berger changed his mind later on and now argues that religion can stimulate interest and participation – links to spiritual shopping and religious market theory. Beckford argues that religious diversity has the ability to strengthen faith not always weaken it.

5. Cultural Defence & Cultural Transiton

Bruce argues that religion is used for either cultural defence or cultural transition. Cultural defence is when religion is used as a way defending a culture that is under threat. For example, in Poland Catholicism was a key part of Polish culture that was being oppressed by a Communist state. However, some people still practised their religion in secret as it was a way of expressing their culture. The Catholic church eventually played a key part in overthrowing the state which is another example of religious social change.

Cultural transition is when religion is used to help with the transition to a new society – mainly used by ethnic minorities. E.g when migrants enter the Uk, Bruce argues they will uses places like Mosques or Synagogues as a meeting place where they can make mini communities, find out about job/housing vacancies or feel connected to their culture.

Although it seems to disprove secularisation, Bruce shows religion only thrives when it provides a function to the individual that is more than relating to the supernatural. If you look at Poland, now that they are free to practice their religion, church attendance has fallen.

Possible critique(s): What about the people who are not migrants and are not under threat that practice religion continuosly?

6. A Spiritual Revolution?

Heelas and Woodhead had a theory: Traditional religion is declining and being replaced by New Age spirituality such as crystal healing, aromatherapy, self help books etc. They tested this theory and found out the following:

In Cumbria there were two types of groups – the congregational domain (traditional religion) and the holistic milieu (New Age). Traditional religion was in decline and they argued that this was  because it demanded high discipline and objective which did not fit into post modern society that places importance on the individual. Hence why the New Age and Evangelical churches were growing in Cumbria, they had a subjective view encouraged self-growth and healing.

Despite this, Heelas and Woodhead found that the rise in the New Age was not equal to the fall in tradition. So the New Age was not replacing traditional religion.

Possible critique(s): The study is based one country which means that it is not representative and therefore cannot explain the world.