the valley of the shadow of death: social disadvantage and homicide involvement

When you first glance at the percentage of offenders/victims by race, it seems that the proportions of Whites and Blacks for both offending and victimization are relatively similar; however once the percentage of population and disparities are calculated, a much more intriguing picture appears. The racial disparity exhibited for both Black offenders and victims is exorbitant compared to other races.  As we well know, there are no genetic differences between races that would instill implicit criminality in one over the other, so a major task within the social and legal sciences is to investigate why Blacks are so highly overrepresented among offenders and victims, and in the criminal justice system as a whole.

homicide off. vic by race

Among homicide offenders, Whites comprise 45.7% with a disparity measure of .59, and Blacks constitute 50.8%, but with a substantially larger disparity of 3.80.  These statistics show that Blacks are considerably overrepresented among murderers in America.  There are many factors, primarily structural and subcultural, that contribute to this concerning trend.  Statistically, more Blacks reside in urban neighborhoods with a higher level of homicide.  These neighborhoods are often characterized by poverty, danger, vacant property, unemployment, and substandard educational opportunities – all factors that contribute to an increased likelihood of criminal offending.  These neighborhood conditions, referred to as structural disadvantage, have been shown to increase levels of criminal involvement.  Living under a constant fear of victimization, experienced by so many in dangerous neighborhoods, is also linked to heightened levels of offending. Minorities also experience the effects of hundreds of years of systematic oppression on a daily basis, with racism in hiring, lending, and the criminal justice system.  There are also a larger number of single-parent homes in urban communities, contributing to a lack of guardianship for a larger percentage of Black youth in these neighborhoods.  Because a higher percentage of Blacks reside under these daily strains, there is a higher likelihood of Black offenders in the criminal justice system.

There is also a subculture of violence evident in many crime-ridden neighborhoods, which encourage violent responses for perceived slights or acts of disrespect.  Retaliation is often the only acceptable response within this subculture, which also increases fear of victimization and subsequently escalates likelihood of offending.  Many of the factors that contribute to the disproportional representation of Blacks among homicide offenders, also lend themselves to the extraordinarily high disparity of Blacks among homicide victims.

Among the victim demographics, Whites have a disparity measure of .64, while the disparity of Blacks is a colossal 3.57.  As with offenders, there is increased victimization in neighborhoods characterized by structural disadvantage, leading to the overrepresentation of Blacks among victims, as well.  As previously mentioned, living under conditions of structural disadvantage has an intensifying effect on aggressiveness, contributing to the high rate of Black victims of homicide.  Living in close proximity to crime also increases an individual’s probability of violent victimization.  As with offending, a high number of single-parent homes in urban communities contributes to victimization due to a lack of guardianship and increased criminal opportunity.  These structural disadvantages must be addressed and corrected in order to make a widespread and lasting effect on the number of Black lives damaged by violence.

-celeste

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