Crime and Racial Profiling by U.S. Police: Is There an Empirical Basis?

By Taylor, Jared; Whitney, Glayde | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Crime and Racial Profiling by U.S. Police: Is There an Empirical Basis?


Taylor, Jared, Whitney, Glayde, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


The disparity between public sensibilities and empirical data in the United States has become so extreme that certain topics can no longer be investigated without bringing down cries of "racism". The U.S. police have been accused of discrimination because they investigate a higher percentage of black and hispanic minority suspects than white or Asians. The facts are that black U.S. citizens commit violent crimes at four to eight times the white rate. Hispanics commit violent crimes at about three times the white rate, and Asians only one half to three quarters the white rate. Blacks are as much more criminally violent than whites, as men are more violent than women. Of the approximately 1,700,000 interracial crimes of violence involving blacks and whites, 90 percent are committed by blacks against whites. Blacks are 50 times more likely than whites to commit individual acts of interracial violence. They are up to 250 times more likely than whites to engage in multiple-offender or group interracial violence. Fifty-six percent of violent crimes committed by blacks have white victims. Only two to three percent of violent crimes committed by whites have black victims.

Key Words: Racial profiling, police, law enforcement, crime, rape

Crime and Racial Profiling by U.S. Police: Is There an Empirical Basis?1

Introduction

One of the strangest phenomena in contemporary criminology in the United States is the treatment of race and ethnicity. On the one hand there is a long history of academic attention to differences among racial and ethnic groups in involvement in various sorts of criminality (Hooton, 1939; Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985). On the other hand there today appears to be media and political pressure to avoid acknowledgement of the differences and possible consequences of the differences. Recently the New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Carl Williams was fired by Gov. Christie Whitman after he said in an interview that some minority groups were more likely to be involved in certain crimes (AP, 1999). The Governor is quoted as having said that Williams' comments were "inconsistent with our efforts to enhance public confidence in the State Police." The same article reports that Williams said he did not condone racial profiling, and has never condoned racial profiling, but at the same time he said "it is naive to think race is not an issue" in some sorts of crime (AP, 1999). While Col. Williams claims not to condone racial profiling, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported in June, 1999, that it was a widespread practice: "Citing police statistics, case studies from 23 states and media reports, the organization asserts that law-enforcement agencies have systematically targeted minority travelers for search... based on the belief that they are more likely than whites to commit crimes." (Drummond, 1999).

Although reports such as that of the ACLU which criticize the practice of racial profiling and criticize the "belief" that there may be race differences in criminality get wide media coverage, even being featured in national news magazines such as Time, (Drummond, 1999), other reports that deal with the actual incidence of crimes as related to race get short shrift. The nationally syndicated columnist Samuel Francis recently wrote:

Black Americans commit 90 percent of the 1.7 million interracial crimes that occur in the United States every year and are more than 50 times more likely to commit violent crimes against whites than whites are against blacks. These facts were the main findings of a study released earlier this month by the New Century Foundation, but they're not the really big news.

The big news is that the report, despite having been made available to virtually all newspapers and news outlets in the United States as well as to most major columnists and opinion writers, has been almost totally ignored by the national news media. The study was released on June 2 of this year. …

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