VIOLENT CRIME IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY

Rachel Lacono, first year writing UNC Asheville student

Introduction

In the Burton Street Peace Gardens there are many pieces of art that express issues within the black community. One of these pieces is a stand with nerf/water guns with a stop sign next to it. This piece might be small but the issue that it represents is a huge problem in the black community. Violent Crime in the U.S is disproportionally skewed towards people of color as perpetrators and victims. Some reasons for this are individual, cultural, and social factors. In order to mitigate violent crime in high risk populations, all of these factors need to be addressed. 


The black population makes up 13.4 percent of the total United States population. (U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts) If the U.S crime rate was proportionate to the U.S population then 13.4 percent of violent crimes would be committed by African Americans but this is not the case. For example, in 2016 there were 6,676 total homicides.  Out of these 3,499 were white, 2,870 were black, and the rest are other or unknown. (Federal Bureau of Investigation) This means that 42 percent of homicide victims are black even though they only make up 13.4 percent of the population. Out of the total perpetrators 3156 were black, 3196 were white and the rest were other and unknown. Out of the 2,870 black victims, 2,570 of them were killed by black offenders. (Federal Bureau of Investigation) This means that 47.3 percent of the total offenders were black and 89.5 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders. Most victims are more likely to be killed by offenders of their own race but the other demographics have a homicide rate closer to their total population percentage. This means that African Americans are at a higher risk of committing and being the victim of violent crimes than other demographics.


Compared to the rest of the United States, Asheville’s crime rate is higher that the national average. There was a total of 558 violent crimes out of Asheville’s population of 89,121. This means that the rate per 1000 individuals is 6.26. The total national violent crimes in one year was 1,283,058 out of the 323,127,513 total U.S citizens. This means that the rate per 1000 individuals is 3.97. (Neighborhood Scout) It is not unusual for cities to have higher crime rates than the national average because there is a higher concentration of people per square mile than rural areas. However, the Ashville average is twice as high as the national average which is a huge difference. 


Cultural: Violent Crime in African American Communities

Some reasons why African Americans are more likely to commit these crimes is the correlation between poverty, drugs, and gangs. The competition between drug gangs can result in shootings and murders. In 2007 to 2011, 2,000 gang related homicides were documented. The total homicides during this time were 15,000. This means that 13% of all homicides are due to gang violence. Gang related homicides occur mostly in cities. (National Gang Center). People in poverty can become desperate if they do not make enough money to support themselves or their families. If they can’t get what they want legally, many people will resort to illegal means of meeting their goals. For example, armed robbery is considered a violent crime and a wealthy or well-off person would have no need to steal because they could save up and buy what they want. Another way of getting money illegally is selling drugs. Drugs are contraband so individuals won’t have to compete with the free market in order to make money. They can sell drugs for high prices and not have to compete with companies in order to do it. However, drug dealers do compete with each other and instead of making better products for lower prices, they will result to violence to monopolize an area. Since many African Americans are poor and live in poor neighborhoods, it is to be expected that they would have a higher crime rate than other demographics.


In Asheville, gangs are a prevalent problem. There are 20 different gangs currently active in Asheville that are located all over the city. These gangs are responsible for many different crimes but are rarely charged as gang members due to the need for other gang members to testify (Emert, J.). Since gangs are prevalent in Asheville, it is reasonable to assume that Asheville’s high crime rate is partially due to the presence of these criminal organizations. 


The major reason that gangs exists (especially in Asheville due to weed) is the drug trade. One way to get rid of many gangs would be to legalize drugs. One example of this working was during prohibition, when alcohol was made illegal which gave raise to violent gangs. In order to combat this problem, alcohol was legalized which put these gangs out of business. Gangs can’t compete with the free market and can only make money through contraband. If drugs are made legal and are distributed by companies, gangs won’t be able to compete and will be forced to disband. If gangs are disbanded then violence within the poor populations will decrease. This will help black communities by economically pressuring gangs to disband which will make these places safer. In order to encourage people to only use drugs in moderation, drugs could be highly taxed. A good example of this would be the cigarette market. High taxes generate revenue and dissuade people from using these substances without making its use illegal. 


Social: African Americans in Society

African Americans are more likely to be the victims of gun violence because of the correlation between wealth within a population and the increased risk of being exposed to drugs and gangs. Many poor neighborhoods contain gangs that are a huge part of gun violence. This would explain the increased correlation between black crimes and black victims/offenders. African Americans make up 19 percent of the working poor and only 43 percent of the black population own their homes (Results (n.d.). Most of a typical person’s wealth is held in the appreciation of their homes. If a person does not own their home then it will be very difficult to build wealth over generations. This keeps many African Americans in poor neighborhoods that have a high risk of gun violence. 


Another issue is that poverty is culturally reinforced and difficult to escape. From childhood, expectations are placed on children either by teachers or parents. Many children instinctually meet these expectations either good or bad. Many children of color have a low expectation placed on them and then meet these low demands. This means that equally intelligent children could have different expectations placed on them and end up in completely different places in life. This cultural expectation placed on people of color makes it less likely to move up in class which keeps them in poor neighborhoods with higher risks of gun violence.


Another issue that African Americans face is implicate bias in the work place. In order to gain wealth and escape high risk communities, people need jobs. However, people of color have a difficult time being hired compared to whites. The study titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal?” is a very famous study that set out to explore whether ethnic names will be less likely to be hired. The researchers put together resumes that were very similar in all aspects except the person’s name. These fake resumes were sent out to multiple cities over the U.S that were hiring. 9.65 percent of the resumes with white names received a call back and 6.45 percent of the resumes with black names received call backs. There is a difference of 3.2 percent just based on the resume’s name. (Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan) In order to escape poverty, people need to get a job and work their way up the social ladder. This can’t be accomplished if a person is unable to find a job. The implicit bias of people within the work place keep African Americans in poverty which keeps them in neighborhoods with higher violent crime risks.


In order to escape crime ridden neighborhoods or increase the safety within a neighborhood (increased lighting, demolishing abandoned buildings, and minimizing areas where a perpetrator could act unseen) people need to be able to make money. In order to do this, people need jobs and African Americans have historically been given the short end of the stick when it comes to employment. In 2010 the median income in North Carolina was $46,450 while Asheville’s median income is $42,333. This might seem like a small difference but this number is due to the fact that African Americans in Asheville make a median income of $30,000 (Urban News. (n.d.). In order to move out of dangerous neighborhoods, African Americans would need to be able to afford the higher income housing which isn’t possible if they only make $30,000. Neighborhood projects like installing street lights or demolishing dangerous buildings are funded by the taxes gathered from the residents of that neighborhood. If the residents are not making much money then the amount of money available to increase safety will be very limited. As long as African Americans stay in lower income environments, they will be at a much higher risk of committing or being the victim of violent crime. 


In order to decrease the probability that African Americans will commit/be the victim of violent crime is to remove them from high risk areas. In order to do this, African Americans need to be able to afford to move or increase the safety in their neighborhoods. One solution to this would be to make sure African Americans have equal opportunities to acquire paying jobs. Another possible solution is connected to legalizing drugs. In order to create changes in dangerous neighborhoods, the community needs money to follow through on possible solutions. One way to generate money would be to legalize drugs and heavily tax them. If drugs are heavily taxed it will discourage widespread use and generate revenue. This tax money could be used to help dangerous neighborhoods create community projects like installing street lights and demolishing buildings that would be criminal hotspots. This would create employment opportunities and if a neighborhood is made safe, it will be more likely to attract companies that would also create jobs. This would make high risk neighborhoods and populations safer and help African Americans find jobs and generate wealth. 


Individual: African American Families and Individual Goals

A person’s future is largely dictated by their childhood and the values that they are taught at a young age. Many African Americans that are raised in neighborhoods with a large gun violence presence, are more likely to have long lasting social and educational disparities (B., & J.). Childhood is the time when a person develops who they are and what they want out of life. Children learn by observing their parents and peers and are likely to repeat behavior that they observe. Because of this, many children who are born into poverty stay in poverty because they were taught that way of life by their parents. The “do what I say and not what I do” way of parenting is a notoriously ineffective way of teaching morals. Many poor African American parents try to instill positive morals like pursuing an education and going to college. However, many children will only copy actions that they observe. For example, if a parent tells a child not to touch a hot stove, they will still touch it because they learn by experience. 


Children are taught right form wrong at a young age. In impoverished places where violence is common place, some children grow up thinking that violence is an acceptable behavior because they observe it so frequently. It is the responsibility of the parent to teach their child that violence is an unacceptable behavior. This is much more difficult to do in poor neighborhoods. One reason is that 72 percent of African American children are born to single parents (Louis Jacobson and Lemon, D., & CNN). Supporting a household on a single salary is difficult enough, but providing for the emotional needs of a child is also a full-time job. In order to provide for their children, mothers take on long work hours which prevents them from dedicating time to their children. This also keeps many African Americans in poverty. Young women who have children before they get a degree won’t be able to go back to school in order to get a higher paying job. Single parents have to work long and hard in order to meet their child’s needs and don’t have an opportunity to save up and generate wealth. This prevents parents from being able to move up in class. Dept is also inherited by the child so a combination between disparity and lack of guidance leads to a person more likely to commit violent crimes. This also prevents people form being able to move to safer neighborhoods making them more likely to be a victim. 


Asheville is not acceptation when it comes to young criminals. In 2008, 1 in 34 black minors committed a crime while only 1 in 179 white minors committed a crime. This means that 1 in every 34 minors have a criminal record by the average age of 13.63 years old. (Urban News. (n.d.). This means that black minors are 5.26 times more likely to commit crimes than white minors. This is a huge setback for these children making it very hard for them to find a job and get an education. This keeps them in poverty and at risk for committing/ being the victim of violent crimes. Single mothers are very unlikely to make it out of poverty. In Asheville, 61% of single black mothers are in poverty (Urban News. (n.d.). This keeps them and their children in poor and dangerous neighborhoods. 


The best way to keep children out of trouble is to keep them in school. Education is hugely important to a young person and dictates the path that they will take in life. In order to decrease the probability that a child will grow up to commit a violent crime, they need to be taught that there are other solutions. Giving a child a high-quality education could allow them to stay away from high risk populations later in life. However, since many school systems are only given money that is collected through taxes from the surrounding neighborhood, these schools provide a very low-quality education. If schools were given an equal amount of money, education could be more uniform and give lower class children the same standard of education that other children receive. Single mothers have it the hardest and are at a high risk of being exposed to violence. In order to help single mothers, they need to be able to support their children and have enough time left over to provide for the social needs of the child (right from wrong). One way to solve this would be to help young women to learn how to use birth control so that they can plan when they want to have a child. Educating these women on birth control would help them be able to receive an education and build a career before they have a child. Programs to educate single mothers would also be beneficial so that they can build experience in order to get a job. If African American single mothers and children receive an education, they can move away from high risk locations and won’t have to result to crime in order to provide for themselves. 


Conclusion

Gun violence in African American communities is much more prevalent than any other demographic. In order to prevent this, cultural, individual, and social factors have to be addressed. Gang violence needs to be mitigated, people need to be able to find jobs, and children need to be raised to not fall into crime. There are many possible solutions to these problems but until those solutions become a reality, African Americans will continue to be at a much higher risk of committing or being the victim of violent crime.


References


A. (n.d.). Asheville, NC Crime. Retrieved from https://www.areavibes.com/asheville-nc/crime/ This is a table of Asheville crime rates. Unlike other tables, Asheville's crime rate is not documented by demographic.

Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2004, September). Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination. Retrieved from https://cos.gatech.edu/facultyres/Diversity_Studies/Bertrand_LakishaJamal.pdf This study tested whether there was a difference in hiring rate if the resume had an ethnic or white name. They tested this by sending out fake resumes with no differences except the name.

B., & J. (2016, August 11). Neighborhood Violent Crime and Academic Growth in Chicago: Lasting Effects of Early Exposure | Social Forces | Oxford Academic. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/sf/article/95/1/133/2427687This article compares neighborhood/education quality to crime rates in Chicago. 

Emert, J. (n.d.). SPECIAL REPORT: Charges rare despite gang violence in WNC. Retrieved from https://wlos.com/news/local/charges-rare-despite-gang-violence-in-wnc This is a news article about gangs within Asheville. It includes multiple first person quotes including one by Roy Leake, an ex-gang member.

Federal Bureau of Investigation, D. (2016). 2016 Crime in the United States. Retrieved October 18, 2018, from https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-3.xls This article is a table of homicides that took place in 2016. It covers demographic data of the victim and offender. This information was collected by the FBI.

Louis Jacobson and Lemon, D., & CNN. (2013, July 27). CNN's Don Lemon says more than 72 percent of African-American births are out of wedlock. Retrieved from https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2013/jul/29/don-lemon/cnns-don-lemon-says-more-72-percent-african-americ/ This is a news article talking about how a CNN reporter talked about the percent of African American children born to single parents and whether the reporter’s facts were accurate. They are.

National Gang Center (n.d.) National Youth Gang Survey Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/survey-analysis/measuring-the-extent-of-gang-problems This article reports the percent of homicides related to gang violence.

Neighborhood Scout (n.d.). Asheville, NC Crime Rates. Retrieved from https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/nc/asheville/crime This is a website that documents crime within Asheville and compares it to the national average.

Results (n.d.). The Racial Wealth Gap. Retrieved from https://www.results.org/issues/the_racial_wealth_gap This paper is about how African Americans are much less likely to be in higher social classes.

Urban News. (n.d.). MLK 2015 Event Photos. Retrieved from http://www.stateofblackasheville.org/ This website covers many topics within Asheville and how it applies to the black population.

U.S. Census Bureau (n.d.). QuickFacts: UNITED STATES. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045217 This is an overview of the various demographics that make up the U.S population.