Academic journal article Social Justice

The Criminalization of "Black Deprivation" in the United Kingdom

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Criminalization of "Black Deprivation" in the United Kingdom

Article excerpt

Is "BLACK DEPRIVATION" CRIME? THIS QUESTION SURFACED REPEATEDLY IN THE author's mind as she observed how the legalities of court proceedings constructed socioeconomic marginalization to be consistent with "blackness" and a condition through which a black person's involvement in crime can be comprehended. This scenario emerged following allegations of a drug offense for which 24 black [1] and 20 white defendants [2] appeared before a London Crown Court during a seven-month systematic observation of drug cases in 1991. It was more salient in drug trafficking offense trials where cases involving 15 black and 16 white defendants prominently produced a descriptive account of how deprivation was appropriated in the criminal justice rhetoric of prosecuting barristers (and judges) to represent a race phenomenon. [3] For this reason, the sample data used for analysis are derived from drug trafficking cases the author observed at the Crown Court. Although the article draws data from cases concerning defendants from black and white racial groups, the focus is not a comparative discussion o f a case outcome premised on race. Thus, the concern is not so much with the contentious subject of the court's racially based discriminatory practices, as notably reflected in sentencing outcomes (see, for instance, Home Office, 1992, 1994, 1998; Moxon, 1988; Hudson, 1989; Hood, 1992), as it is with how the court is established as a site where racial imageries and divisions are reproduced. The article does raise questions as to how courtroom discourse may affect a jury's decision-making regarding a defendant's conviction or acquittal.

In juxtaposing the socioeconomic position of white defendants with that of their black counterparts, deprivation is seen to constitute a theme through which race is subjected to a process of construction in the criminal justice discourse of drug trials. Defendants in both racial groups commonly shared a similar socioeconomic background. Almost all of them belonged to the lower class: they resided in inner cities where their arrests were initiated, lived in council or rented accommodation, were unemployed or in irregular self-employment, and received state benefits (see Kalunta-Crumpton, 1998). The dominant class composition of the defendants constitutes a crucial background element here in the sense that it mirrors the class of people commonly associated with crime, a predominance that is replicated in official crime statistics (see Coleman and Moynihan, 1996) and, by implication, in victim surveys (see, for instance, Hough and Mayhew, 1983; Mayhew and Maung, 1992). In academic literature, lower-class devianc e and criminality have similarly remained at the center of sociological and criminological discussions of deviance and crime, within which socioeconomic factors have notably been featured in crime-causation analyses or posited at the level of correlation.

The next section briefly explores how this academic theorization of deviance and crime within a class framework is mapped out as an initial angle from which to reason the relevance of deprivation in the courtroom narrative of a drug offense. Subsequently, theorizing the features of crime in the realm of deprivation is shown to particularly embrace race in the popular and academic discourse of crime. This intersection of race, class, and crime is empirically illustrated in a sample part of the research findings, which reveal that prosecuting barristers' (and judges') discursive response to a drug offense case entails tapping into knowledge that has as its vital components elements of racial awareness (see Kalunta-Crumpton, 1999). Thus, comparable conditions of black and white defendants that are supposedly congruent with socioeconomic deprivation were discursively constructed in their criminal link to a drug offense only in cases involving black defendants.

Class-Deprivation-Crime Theoretical Justification

Theories on crime are extensively covered in the academic literature; the intention here is not to provide an in-depth review or criticisms of the literature, but rather to piece together the lower-class context within which a range of prominent mainstream and contemporary sociological and criminological perspectives have perceived crime. …

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