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.

Subcultural strain theory

Subcultural strain theories

Cohen focuses on the deviants among working-class boys. He found that the educational system is extremely middle-class. Take English Literature for example, do you remember those times when teachers would be talking about different books they have read like David Copperfield and Great Expectations? Do you also remember how teachers expected you to have read these types of books? For those of us that have been privileged to have access to these books, we manage on all right but there are also people who are culturally and materially deprived and haven’t been given opportunities to access the type of reading. This is what Cohen means when he says the working class are in a middle-class dominated school system. The deprivation felt by working-class poor is gives them a very low status within education and because of the importance of education in the real world, their low status transfers into wider society. When this happens Cohen argues that it creates status frustration. The boys will reject mainstream middle-class values by forming or joining a delinquent subculture.

Status frustration = it is when you are frustrated with your current status whether it is your fault or the fault of others

The values of the subculture would be an inversion (the complete opposite) of mainstream values. So bad was good; good was bad. The boys would have made an illegitimate opportunity structure in which the boys’ status within the group can be improved by delinquent actions. Think of when a group of friends dare you to do a naughty thing and if you do it you are seen as brave but if you don’t you’re a coward.

Small critique: like Merton, Cohen assumes that working class people all strive for middle-class success goals – some don’t really care.

Cloward and Ohlin: three subcultures

Cloward and Ohlin agree with Cohen that when people face strain they can turn to subcultures as a way of responding to it, but Cloward and Ohlin try to explain why different subcultures respond to strain in different ways. They argue that it is not just unequal opportunities in a legitimate society but unequal opportunities to enter an illegitimate subculture. Depending on the neighbourhood you went to, there were different opportunities to start a criminal career. This created three deviants cultures:

The criminal subculture – this occurs in neighbourhoods that have a long-standing and stable criminal culture with a hierarchy of professional adult crime where young people can become apprentices for a career in utilitarian crime. A very good example is the Italian mafia. (I strongly suggest readers watch the Godfather and/or this video on the Gambino Family)

The conflict subculture – when there are a lot of people in an area it is hard for stable, professional criminal career networks to develop so all that is left on loosely organised gangs. They used violence to release their status frustration and improve peer status by winning or protecting turf from rival gangs. Think of the postcode wars in England and street wars in America.

The retreatist subculture – members of the subculture have failed in trying to achieve their goals legitimately but have also failed at trying to have an illegitimate career. Therefore they “dropout” society and become alcohol abusers, drug abusers, vagabonds…