“What demographic commits the most crime?” asked my professor.
White people, I thought. I knew the answer, but I was hesitant to speak. I usually am in my political theory classes, choosing instead to absorb the discussion. I also assumed it was such a simple question that I wouldn’t need to answer it aloud because someone else would.
And soon after, a hand to my right rose.
“Blacks,” he said. And he sounded so sure.
I was almost sad for the kid, but you probably wouldn’t know it from how hard I was laughing at him. I didn’t mean to; it was how sure he was that tickled me.
Poor kid, I remember thinking because I understood that his answer was not from left field. It was a truth that he’d been taught, whether from the media, his upbringing, or any number of sources where minorities are painted as violent people.
He would be shocked to know that white people commit the most crimes. And to be perfectly honest it’s a trick question that I wouldn’t ask anyone. There are so many small factors that play a role in the correct answer.
But here’s the rundown:
White people commit the most crimes when you look at sheer numbers.
According to the FBI, in 2011, white people committed about 6.58 million crimes; blacks committed 2.7 million. It’s important to understand that these numbers include all forms of crimes, including violent and non-violent, such as property. It’s also important to note that these are crimes that law enforcement is aware of. Issues with this will be talked about in future posts.
So, blacks commit about 4 million crimes less. But then why are we seen as violent? Here’s where we get into the importance of understanding crime rates and the word: “disproportionality.”
White people make up about 80% of the American population, according to the United States Census. And black people account for about 13%. Yet, according to the same FBI table, blacks committed 28.4% of the crimes and whites 69.2%. Thus, our contribution to the “crime pie” is larger than our slice of the population pie- actually more than double.
To be painfully clear for those who may not understand statistics (but if you do, feel free to skip this), this doesn’t mean each black person is committing two crimes each. It means that the pool for crimes is much smaller than the pool for our population. And so when one person commits a crime they account for a small number in the population, but a bigger number contributing to the crime statistic.
If this still doesn’t make sense, try multiplying our population by a fraction that will equal 1. Then do the same for the crime population. You will see you need a much larger fraction to make it equal 1. Think of the increase in that fraction as the increase in size for that aforementioned pie slice. With the population, it was smaller so the slice was.
Because black people account for more of the crime statistic than we do the population, we contribute a “disproportionate” amount, meaning our pie slices are uneven. Conversely, white rates are a little more even. 80% of the population, versus a little more than 69% of crime.
It’s a very common misconception that black people commit more crimes. So common in fact, that many minorities actually believe it as well. As of now the FBI doesn’t include Hispanics/Latinos in data tables, but does intend to. I can’t wait to see if these rates, in addition to black crime rates, will be higher than whites.
So, What do you guys think? Want to place some bets now to see if it will be or won’t be? Or share you own stories about misconceptions on the black crime rate.
*These numbers are estimates done using numbers from the 2010 Census. I looked at the rate and multiplied it by the overall population to come to these numbers.