Race and crime in the United Kingdom
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|Genetics and differences|
The relationship between race and crime in the United Kingdom is the subject of academic studies, government surveys, media coverage, and public concern. Under the Criminal Justice Act 1991, section 95, the government collects annual statistics based on race and crime.[n 1]
These statistics have highlighted differences in rates of crime between racial groups, and some commentators have suggested cultural explanations for these differences.
Robbery, drug use, and gang violence have been associated with black people since the 1960s. The Metropolitan Police has been accused of institutional racism on a number of occasions. One example often cited is the Mangrove Nine, a group eventually acquitted in 1970.
In 1995, the London Metropolitan Police commissioner Paul Condon said that the majority of robberies in London were committed by black people. Operation Trident was set up in March 1998 by the Metropolitan Police to investigate gun crime in London's black community after black-on-black shootings in Lambeth and Brent. In 2003, Lee Jasper, Senior Policy Advisor on Equalities to the London mayor, said drugs and gun crime were the "biggest threat to the black community since its arrival here".
In 2007, prime minister Tony Blair attributed a series of murders committed by black people to an affinity for gang culture: "the black community (...) need to be mobilised in denunciation of this gang culture that is killing innocent young black kids. But we won't stop this by pretending it isn't young black kids doing it." A similar sentiment has been shared in the Supreme Court, where Lady Hale stated "It must be borne in mind that many of these gangs are largely composed of young people from black and minority ethnic groups". Lady Hale went further as to use this as justification for "disproportionate" effects, in this case stop and search powers, had on minority groups, saying "put bluntly, it is mostly young black lives that will be saved if there is less gang violence in London and some other cities". Some from the black community criticised his remarks. Gang involvement in general is said to be a "continuing problem". Afro-Caribbean people are overrepresented in violent crimes.
The London Metropolitan Police Service is one of the few police forces which has collected statistics on gang rape. Filmmaker Sorious Samura compiled 29 such incidents involving young people from January 2006 to March 2009, and found that, of 92 people convicted, 66 were black or mixed race. Samura said he found it "impossible to ignore the fact that such a high proportion were committed by black and mixed-race young men".
England and Wales crime statistics
In June 2007 the Home Affairs Select Committee published a report on young black people and the criminal justice system of England and Wales. It said that young black people were over-represented at all stages of the criminal justice system. The Commission for Racial Equality and youth charities welcomed the report.
Ministry of Justice figures regarding race and the criminal justice system in 2018 are shown in the table below.
|White||Black||Asian||Mixed||Chinese or other|
|Stops and searches under Police and Criminal Evidence Act||59%||22%||13%||4%||2%|
In 2018 Sky News initiated freedom of information request to every police force in the country. The statistics showed that Afro-Caribbean people were over-represented in homicide convictions in London and the United Kingdom. Sky News noted that: ''Numbers for the rest of the country painted a different picture, with murder victim and suspect figures more or less proportionate to the make up of the population.'' However, the same homicide statistics published by Sky News showed the opposite, with Afro-Caribbean people in the UK as a whole being 4.33 times over-represented in homicide compared to the population, and in London 3.69 over-represented. The figures showed that 13% of murder suspects were black compared to 3% of the population of the United Kingdom (as of the 2010s), and in London 48% of murder suspects compared to 13% of the population.
Police officers have the power to stop and search individuals under a range of legislation. Statistics have consistently shown that black people are disproportionately more likely to be subject to stop and searches. In 2008/09 in England and Wales, more black people were stopped and searched under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act per head of population than any other ethnicity, and black people were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites. Between 2019 and 2020, black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched compared to a white person.
Black people were the subject of 14.8 percent of all stop and searches, compared to 7.6 percent of arrests and 6.7 percent of cautions. The disproportionate number of stop and searches is partly accounted for by the fact that 54 percent of the black population in England and Wales live in London, where 40.2% of London's population is either Asian, black, mixed or other in ethnicity, leaving nearly 59% of London's population as white, showing how disproportionate the rate of stop and search is in London. It is important to note that stop and searches are more common for all ethnicities in that area. In some police-force areas, there were more stop and searches per head of population of whites than of black people. From 2004/05 to 2008/09, there was an increase in the number of stop and searches of black people relative to whites. By 2016/2017, it was recorded that a stop and search was 8.4 times as likely to occur for a black person compared to a white person. Similarly, the rate of stop and searches in mixed ethnicity and Asian people was more than twice as likely, when compared with that of a person with a white ethnicity. More recently, between April 2019 and March 2020, the use of stop and search powers under Section 60 Criminal Justice & Public Order Act occurred 11,408 times, which was an increase of 19% from the year prior.
Stop and searches can also be conducted under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These searches are designed to deal with the threat of violence. Comparative analysis by researchers at the London School of Economics and the Open Society Justice Initiative has shown that, in England and Wales in 2008/09, black people were 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites. Asian people were 6.3 times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites. The OSI researchers stated that these figures highlighted that Britain had the widest "race gap" in stop-and-searches that they had uncovered internationally. Ben Bowling, a professor of criminal justice at King's College London, commented on the analysis, stating:
The police are making greater use of a power that was only ever meant to be used in exceptional circumstances and lacks effective safeguards. This leaves room for increased stereotyping which is likely to alienate those communities which are most affected.
There is strong evidence that, once stopped and searched, black people are no more likely than whites to be arrested, suggesting that they are disproportionately targeted. Black individuals who are arrested through stop and search are less likely to have further action taken against them (charged or cautioned), it is argued by Phillips and Brown that this would suggest the evidence used to amount to reasonable suspicion for the stop and search was weaker, as the arrest usually leads to nothing more.
Increases in stop and search powers
As can be seen, stop and search has consistently been shown to be used disproportionately against people of colour, however there have still been major pushes to increase stop and search powers afforded to the police. In 2020 Boris Johnson defended the use of stop and search powers saying “I do believe that stop and search, amongst many other things, can be a very important utensil in fighting knife crime”. This is echoed by the recent weakening of guidelines for s60 stop and searches, being both the lowering of the requirement from reasonably believing an incident involving serious violence “will” occur to “may” and allowing inspectors to authorise s60 instead of Senior officers. Justification for these changes arise mainly due to the increase in knife crime in London, which has reached around 15.6 thousand, which is roughly 5.8 thousand more than in 2015/16. Questions about the effectiveness of stop and search have been brought to question, especially in regard to controlling knife crime. Research into Operation Blunt 2 (which consisted of an increase in stop and search in select areas of London) conducted by McCandless, Feist, Allan and Morgan found that there was stop and search had very little effect on police recorded crime. This was further backed up by Tiratelli, Quinton and Bradford in 2018 where they found that although there may be some association between increase in stop and search and reduction in crime, the assertion that this is an effective way to control crime is incorrect. Furthermore, the main effect it has is on drug offences, calling into question the reasoning used by Boris Johnson of knife crime control.
In 2005-06, there were 6,439 recorded racist crimes in Scotland. 1,543 victims were of Pakistani origin while "more than 1000" were classed as "white British".
The British Crime Survey reveals that in 2004, 87,000 people from black or minority ethnic communities said they had been a victim of a racially-motivated crime. They had suffered 49,000 violent attacks, with 4,000 being wounded. At the same time 92,000 whites said they had also fallen victim of a racially motivated crime. The number of violent attacks against whites reached 77,000, while the number of whites who reported being wounded was five times the number of black and minority ethnic victims at 20,000.
Race and crime in London
Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that in 2007 an estimated 10.6 percent of London's population of 7,556,900 were black. Evidence shows that the black population in London boroughs increases with the level of deprivation, and that the level of crime also increases with deprivation, such that "It is clear that ethnicity, deprivation, victimisation and offending are closely and intricately inter-related".
In June 2010, through a Freedom of Information Act request, The Sunday Telegraph obtained statistics on accusations of crime broken down by race from the Metropolitan Police Service.[n 2] The figures showed that the majority of males who were accused of violent crimes in 2009–2010 were black. Of the recorded 18,091 such accusations against males, 54 percent accused of street crimes were black; for robbery, 58 percent; and for gun crimes, 67 percent.
Street crimes include muggings, assault with intent to rob, and snatching property. In 2010, black males accounted for 29 percent of the male victims of gun crime and 24 percent of the male victims of knife crime.
Between April 2005 and January 2006, figures from the Metropolitan Police Service showed that black people accounted for 46 percent of car-crime arrests generated by automatic number plate recognition cameras.
Young men, particularly young black men, are commonly stereotyped as engaging in criminal behaviour. Past research shows that the media misrepresents the picture of crime and that stories involving violent and sexual offences are over-reported beyond the official statistics. For example, the concerns over mugging in the 1970s were focused on young African-Caribbean men, and the inner city riots of the 1980s were blamed on young black people.
In December 2009 Rod Liddle in The Spectator referred to two black rappers, Brandon Jolie and Kingsley Ogundele, who had plotted to kill Jolie's 15-year-old pregnant girlfriend, as "human filth" and said the incident was not an anomaly. Liddle continued:
The overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community. Of course, in return, we have rap music, goat curry and a far more vibrant and diverse understanding of cultures which were once alien to us. For which, many thanks.
Liddle was accused of racism after his comments, to which he replied that his comments were not racism but a discussion of multiculturalism. In March 2010, the Press Complaints Commission upheld a complaint against Liddle, since "the magazine had not been able to demonstrate that the 'overwhelming majority' of crime in all of the stated categories had been carried out by members of the African-Caribbean community". After the publication of the crime figures in June 2010, The Sunday Telegraph claimed that Liddle was "largely right on some of his claims", but "that he was probably wrong on his claims about knife crimes and violent sex crimes".
Various explanations have been given for the disproportionate representation rates of arrest and imprisonment of black people. These have included the underachievement of black males (particularly of Caribbean descent) at schools, the lack of black male role models, and aspects of (the perceived) black culture often thought of as encouraging criminal behaviour. Another explanation given was poverty, with certain ethnic minorities being more likely to live "in areas of socio-economic deprivation."
The earliest explanations, in the 19th century, offered a racist framing, focusing on the perceived biological and psychological characteristics of offenders, which were particularly influenced by the work of Charles Darwin and other Darwinists.
In 2010, Diane Abbott, the member of parliament for Hackney said, "There is no question but that the continuing achievement gap between black boys and the wider school population has some bearing on the involvement of African-Caribbean boys in gangs."
Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, critically observed a tendency to focus on race rather than other demographics (e.g. male versus female) for which there is a far greater crime rate difference. He also observed that the police have a history of targeting black men.
Research published by the Home Office—based on the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey of 2003—found that:
"White respondents and those of Mixed ethnic origin were more likely to say they had offended, both on an ever and last year basis than other ethnic groups. This pattern held across offence categories and was also apparent for serious and frequent offending. Conversely, those of Asian origin were least likely to say they had offended."
The reports suggests that these differences are partly accounted for by differences in the age profiles of the groups. The Home Office published an updated version of the survey (using 2006 data) showing that once other variables had been accounted for, ethnicity was not a significant predictor of offending, anti-social behaviour, or drug abuse amongst young people. This research suggests that the differences identified in the 2003 study are "attributable to other characteristics of these sample members", rather than ethnicity. The factors controlled for included weak school discipline, parenting, strong parental guidance, socioeconomic class, local drug problems, weak local control, siblings in trouble with the police, household size, gender, and family type. Interestingly, in a survey done by Home Office in 2016/2017, asking people ages 16-59 if they had used drugs in the past year, it transpired that, of those asked, 20% of those of mixed ethnicity reported to have used drugs in the last year, followed by nearly 10% of those of white ethnicity admitting to using any drug in the last year. This is in contrast with the less than 5% of black people who had used any form of drug in the last year. However, it is important to note that some people may have been dishonest about taking drugs, by either saying they had not taken any drugs when they had, or by saying that they had when they in fact had not.
- Responsibility for this moved from the Home Office to the Ministry of Justice following changes in May 2007.
- The figures relate to those 'proceeded against', including those prosecuted in court, whether convicted or acquitted; those issued with a caution, warning or penalty notice; those the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to charge; and those whose crimes were 'taken into consideration' after a further offence.
- Criminal Justice Act 1991 – Section 95. legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
- Marsh and Melville, p. 166.
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- Young Black People and the Criminal Justice System, p. 10.
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- Jewkes, Yvonne. However, many more left leaning media outlets have tried to overbalance this by focusing on "racially motivated" crimes by whites. Indeed, the BBC in particular tends only to mention race when a non-white person has been the victim of a crime by a white. Racist remarks now receive more press attention than most murders. Student Handbook of Criminal Justice and Criminology. p. 68.
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