Sunday, January 31, 2010
Race and crime reporting posted by Richard SeymourI haven't written anything for the last few days because, to use a shopworn colloquialism, I have been swamped with work. Writing, mostly - I have a lot of new shit coming your way, so if you have somehow neglected to purchase and peruse Liberal Defence, you're about to get way behind in your reading. Anyway, I wanted to mention something. A while back, when Rod Liddle averred that young African-Carribean men were responsible for the overwhelming majority of violent crime in the capital, he had a host of reactionary defenders. They asserted that the statistics bore out his argument, (they did not), and that he was the real anti-racist because he was dealing with a serious issue without allowing it to be siezed upon by racists (this is easily refuted by having a quick look at the comments underneath the offending post, and subsequent efforts). Liddle was simply recasting an argument that has been a racist commonplace since significant numbers of Commonwealth immigrants arrived in the United Kingdom in the 1950s. (See Paul Gilroy's There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack for a detailed account of this.) The statistics are just so much fungible matter for the prosecution's rigged case.
One of the points I made at the time was that there are complexities in the construction, classification, reporting and prosecution of crimes that are simply ignored in the angry diatribes of the ageing white men who largely populate the commentariat. Official statistics tend to show that non-white people are over-represented in arrests, prosecutions and convictions in a number of crime categories. This is a million miles away from saying that young African-Carribean men are responsible for the "overwhelming majority" of rapes, robberies, gun crimes, etc. And there were some anti-racist bloggers who suggested that lots of defineable groups are over-represented in crime statistics - young people, poorer people, etc. Sociological commentary has tended to attribute the overrepresentation of black people in some crime categories to their overrepresentation among the poorest of the working class, the unemployed, etc.
That is a reasonable approach, in that it refutes the relevance of 'race' or some essentialised 'culture' in such debates. But it does also assume that the statistics are reliable, essentially accurate, and unlikely to be skewed in a way that is 'racially-laden'. And that assumption is not a safe one. The government occasionally gathers information about this sort of subject, though it is only selectively publicised. And the Home Affairs Select Committee did produce a report in May 2007, after a lengthy inquiry, that is worth digesting. This is the report. There is some intricate analysis, as well as a measure of arse-covering advocacy for the police. It is a study of black over-representation in certain crime categories, and while it sought to buttress the then Blair government's narrative concerning a crisis in black communities, its caveats are extremely interesting. Note what it says about the government's own findings with respect to the distribution of criminal behaviour among different ethnic groups:
Evidence from the Home Office's Offending, Crime and Justice survey suggests white young people and those of mixed ethnic origin are more likely to report offending behaviour than young males in other ethnic groups, including black young people. The findings from Home Office self-report surveys have been remarkably similar over time. The most recent sweep of the survey found white males aged from 10-25 were "far more likely" to have committed an offence within the last year than young males in other ethnic groups (28% compared with a range of 12% to 19% for other ethnic groups). The survey found that once young black people committed an offence, they were more likely to come to the attention of the police.
In fact, it should be said that even if they hadn't committed an offense, young black people were more likely to come to the attention of the police. Black people of all ages were three times more likely to be arrested, and six times more likely to be stopped and searched, by police. They are less likely to be given bail, or let off with a caution. And they are more likely to receive the most punitive sentences. There is more, of course, and I am sceptical of the broader thrust and conclusions of the report. But the above raises the question: even if Liddle's claims were close to accurate, even if they weren't manufactured on the basis of a half-remembered Daily Mail article, what would the statistics be evidence of? The Home Office's findings, quoted above, indicate that they would at least partially be evidence of the extent of racist discrimination by the institutions of criminal justice. In other words, the very evidence that the state continues to oppress ethnic minorities, not least young black men, is what would be being used to damn them.