The Color of Crime2016
By Edwin S. Rubenstein, M.A.
The past two years have seen unprecedented concern about racial bias in law enforcement. Deaths of young black men at the hands of the police led to serious rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Baltimore. These and other deaths gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has carried out hundreds of demonstrations across the country and even in Canada. It is widely assumed that the police and the courts are strongly biased—certainly against blacks, and probably against Hispanics. This problem cannot be fully understood by concentrating on a few cases, no matter how disturbing they may first appear. There were an estimated 11,300,000 arrests in the United States in 2013, the over-whelming majority of which were carried out properly. It is only in a larger context that we can draw conclusions about systemic police bias or misbehavior. This larger context is characterized by two fundamental factors.
The first is that different racial groups commit crime at strikingly different rates, and have done so for many years. The second is that crime, overall, has declined dramatically over the last 20 years. Only after considering these points is it possible to draw well-founded conclusions about police bias. In 2005, the New Century Foundation published “The Color of Crime,” a study of the relationship between crime, race, and ethnicity in the United States. The study was based on published government statistics and found that blacks were seven times more likely to commit murder and eight times more likely to commit robbery than people of other races, while Asians had consistently low crime rates. Hispanics appeared to be committing violent crime at roughly three times the white rate, but this conclusion was tentative because of social statistics often failed to distinguish between whites and Hispanics. The 2005 study also found that blacks were seven times more likely than whites to be in prison and Hispanics were three times more likely. It also concluded that high black arrest and imprisonment rates—often cited as evidence of a racist criminal justice system were explained by the black share of offenders.
There has been a very important change since 2005: Crime is down. This is clearly indicated by the broadest measure of criminality in the United States, which is the annual National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). In 2013, 90,630 households and 160,040 people were interviewed for the NCVS about their experiences as crime victims—whether re- ported to the police or not. A 20-year compilation of the survey’s findings indicates that both the number and rate of violent victimizations have declined steadily, albeit unevenly, for at least two decades (see Figure 1). Violent crime includes rape or sexual assault, robbery, simple or aggravated assault, and domestic violence—but not murder. Total violent victimizations in 2013 (the most recent year for NCVS data) were about one-third their 1994 level, which was a record high; the total number declined from 17.1 million in 1994 to 6.1 million in 2013.
This drop reflects an even steeper decline in the rate of violent crime (violent crimes per 1,000 people 12 years of age or older)—from 79.8 in 1994 to 23.2 in 2013. A second widely cited measure of crime, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), confrms that violent crime is in a decades-long decline (see Figure 2). The FBI’s statistics *Underlined words are hyperlinks. In electronic versions of this report, these links lead to sources. Readers of the printed version are invited to refer to www.amren.com/the-color-of-crime/
to see the electronic versions.
The evidence suggests that if there is police racial bias in arrests it is negligible. Victim and witness surveys show that police arrest violent criminals in close proportion to the rates at which criminals of different races commit violent crimes.
• There are dramatic race differences in crime rates. Asians have the lowest rates, followed by whites, and then Hispanics. Blacks have notably high crime rates. This pattern holds true for virtually all crime categories and for virtually all age groups.
• In 2013, a black was six times more likely than a non-black to commit murder, and 12 times more likely to murder someone of another race than to be murdered by someone of another race.
• In 2013, of the approximately 660,000 crimes of interracial violence that involved blacks and whites, blacks were the perpetrators 85 percent of the time. This meant a black person was 27 times more likely to attack a white person than vice versa. A Hispanic was eight times more likely to attack a white person than vice versa.
• In 2014 in New York City, a black was 31 times more likely than a white to be arrested for murder, and a Hispanic was 12.4 times more likely. For the crime of “shooting”—dened as ring a bullet that hits someone—a black was 98.4 times more likely than a white to be arrested, and a Hispanic was 23.6 times more likely.
• If New York City were all white, the murder rate would drop by 91 percent, the robbery rate by 81 percent, and the shootings rate by 97 percent.
• In an all-white Chicago, murder would decline 90 percent, rape by 81 percent, and robbery by 90 percent.
• In 2015, a black person was 2.45 times more likely than a white person to be shot and killed by the police. A Hispanic person was 1.21 times more likely. These gures are well within what would be expected given race differences in crime rates and likelihood to resist arrest.
• In 2015, police killings of blacks accounted for approximately 4 percent of homicides of blacks. Police killings of unarmed blacks accounted for approximately 0.6 percent of homicides of blacks. The overwhelming majority of black homicide victims (93 percent from 1980 to 2008) were killed by blacks.
• Both violent and non-violent crime has been declining in the United States since a high in 1993. 2015 saw a disturbing rise in murder in major American cities that some observers associated with “depolicing” in response to intense media and public scrutiny of police activity.