It’s a legitimate question–widely debated and honestly, difficult to answer. Making matters more difficult, many statistics gathered on the topic appear to have been compiled with underlying motives based on what the researcher wanted to find.
One also has to make sure to find percentages as opposed to outright numbers, since the U.S. is a predominantly white country. Numbers without respect to each race’s population are relatively useless.
After pouring over a strange combination of ignorant forums and well-researched blog posts, I found that several sites listed extraordinarily conflicting statistics with little, if any documentation. I did not at all feel comfortable including any of these in this blog post.
Instead, I opted to look at the FBI’s statistics on arrests and compare it to the racial breakdown of people who actually end up in prison.
In 2010, 7,066,154 whites and 2,846,862 blacks were arrested for some reason or another. In the U.S. in 2010, the population included 223,553,265 whites and 38,929,319 blacks, meaning that 3.16 percent of whites were arrested in 2010 while 7.31 percent of blacks were. Bottom line: blacks were around 2.3 times more likely to be arrested than whites.
For a breakdown of which group was more likely to be arrested for which crime, check out the FBI’s crime report.
It is also important to note that non-violent crimes, such as drug possession, were included in the report. Assumptions about the violence of one race over another cannot be made strictly based on who is arrested more often, or even who is convicted more often. One would have to delve further into statistics regarding violent crimes only.
So who is more likely to end up in prison?
Statistics from 2009 showed that, per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same gender and race, 708 were white and 4,749 were black. These statistics allow for an easy comparison: blacks are almost seven times more likely to end up in prison than whites.
There is undeniably disparity between the amounts of whites and blacks arrested and ultimately imprisoned. Now, back to the debate. Here is what I deduced to be some of each side’s primary explanations for these statistics (I am not attesting to the factuality of these explanations, merely that these are the points repeatedly made by each side):
Blacks commit more crimes:
- The most crime-ridden cities are continually cities with large black minorities or even black majorities.
- Because of this, there are more cops patrolling these areas, leading to the inevitability that more blacks will be “stopped and searched.” (This is meant to combat the other side’s argument of racial profiling.)
- Blacks are more likely than whites to become involved in violent cultures such as gangs.
- Poverty cannot be considered to have a positive correlation with crime, because in places like West Virginia, for example, there are high rates of poverty but low rates of crime, as well as a mostly white population.
Blacks are more likely to be punished:
- Black people are more likely to receive longer sentences than those handed out in nearly identical cases with white defendants.
- Also, they’re more likely to be subjected to “stop and search,” be picked up as a suspect from a vague description of an offender just for being in the area and be identified by a victim even if innocent.
- There is still an underlying fear in society that blacks are often criminals–not only exemplified by concepts like driving while black and shopping while black, but also in the way that, for example, whites sometimes shy away or get nervous when they’re walking alone at night and a black male is walking toward them.
- The media–and not just the nightly news, but movies and shows like Cops as well–are far more likely to show black men committing or being suspected of committing crimes, perpetuating the stigma.
- The motorists utilizing Maryland’s highways at this time were approximately 78 percent white, 17 percent black and about 5 percent other minorities
- From 1995 to 1997, the number and race of people stopped and searched by police was recorded
- About 77 percent were minorities, and 70 percent of that were black. The remaining 23 percent were white.
- Additional data collected included how many of the drivers who were stopped and searched did not have drugs. 67 percent of the drivers in this category were black.