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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences - Volume II
Whites in the highest income bracket ($75,000 or more) are the least victimized by crimes of violence, with a rate of 36.6 crimes per 1,000 persons; Blacks in the highest income bracket are the most victimized group, with a rate of 104 reported crimes per 1,000 persons (U.S. Department of Justice, 1996). As regards homicide, in 1995, there were 5.1 homicide victims per 100,000 non-Hispanic White men; by contrast, there were 57.6 homicide victims per 100,000 Black men—more than 10 times the White rate (Stone, 1998; Rose and McClain, 1990; Hagan and Peterson, 1995). This disparity in victimization extends to other violent crimes and gives rise to the oft-stated assertion that local, state, and federal governments would respond differently if Whites were hit as hard by criminality as Blacks.
At the same time, Blacks are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at far higher rates than Whites or any other ethnic or racial group. To note one of many disturbing statistical patterns, in the 1990s, the chance that a Black male born in the United States would go to prison for a felony was about 28.5 percent; the chance for a White male was 4.4 percent (Bonczar and Beck, 1997). Against this backdrop, it should not be surprising that frustration, anger, fear, suspicion, even paranoia have seeped into the perceptions of many observers of the criminal justice system across the racial and ideological landscape.
This paper explores racial controversies in three contexts—policing, jury service, and punishment—that have a broad impact on the daily lives of millions of Americans of all races. The goal is to frame the major debates under discussion in these areas, to describe governing law, and to posit the likely course of legal developments in the future.
This paper focuses almost wholly on Black-White conflicts, although racial controversies embrace a wide array of intergroup conflicts. Chris Stone, Director of the Vera Institute of Justice, correctly asserts, however,-that there is a remediable dearth of information about racial issues in the administration of criminal justice outside of the Black-White conflict (Stone, 1999).1 Careful analysis of racial problems in the United States would be overwhelmed if commentators were forced to deal comprehensively with all complexions of racial conflict anytime they discussed racial injustice. It is also true, however, that too much focus on the Black-White racial paradigm has sometimes led to a debilitating parochialism in analysis and imagination (Stanford Law Review, 1995).
The Black-White focus of this paper notwithstanding, much of what is analyzed is applicable to other points of friction along America’s varied racial fault-lines. Black-White conflict is placed at center stage here be-
For an example of the sort of study that is much needed, see U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, American Indians and Crime (February, 1999).