I’ve been told (and even preached to with a litany of studies and data) that black people as a race commit the most crime in this country. Proportionately, I don’t disagree with that contention in the least bit. Statistics are statistics. But in every discussion I have about race and crime, people ALWAYS seem to dismiss the role profiling usually plays in any given situation. The notion I present is a very simple one, yet often times ignored: When there is a presumption of guilt hovering over the heads of black people regarding crime (using empirical data like crime statistics as a predictor of behavior), one’s attention is fixed on those black people as likely criminals (i.e. profiling). When that happens, it stands to reason that the offenders who are caught will probably be the same people already assumed to be criminals in the first place. Basically, if you have tunnel vision, you should only expect to see certain things…while many other things fall outside of your view.
The following clip from ABC’s “What Would You Do?” series puts application behind my theory. Just to give you a quick introduction, ABC periodically airs segments like this; where actors play out certain scenarios and other people’s candid responses are recorded on hidden camera. Though this particular segment focuses on race and crime, there are many other segments focusing on other aspects of human interaction. You should check them out if you can. But for the sake of this post, let’s consider the process by which crime is often racialized.
One of the things I enjoy most about hidden camera experimentation is that the researcher generally receives pretty undiluted responses from the target sample. If the passersby knew they were being recorded, I suspect some – if not most – of the outcomes would have been dramatically different. The passersby would have been far less discriminate in how they responded to crime and would’ve treated each criminal the same; irrespective of their race (by calling the police, confronting them, or whatever type of intervention they considered appropriate). In the interest of wanting an equitable and “colorblind” environment (liberal buzz words tossed around during open discussions about race), the white kids would have received the same treatment as the black kids.
Fortunately for us, the cameras told a much more truthful story:
*As a side note (somewhat): I thought it was hysterical how black kids asleep in a car were somehow worthy of having 911 called on them.* But, I digress.
Getting back on point…
I’ll admit this study would have been even more compelling if we could see how the same person responded to both the white and black groups as they engaged in criminal activity. That kind of response would have provided VERY strong evidence either way supporting the connection (or lack thereof) between race and the motivatation people have as to how/when they report crime. But since crime statistics are not the direct product of a homoegenous population and its responses to black crime vis à vis white crime, neither should this study.
Now, some of you may be reading this saying “I would’ve intervened no matter what the kids’ races were.” Or “I would NOT have intervened no matter what the kids’ races were.” And that’s fine. I believe you. Seriously, I do. But your individual responses don’t tell the story for the entire population.
In the social sciences (and also in many hard sciences), we use inferential statistics to make predictions about a population based on data collected from much smaller and random samples. I guess you could say that on a more calculated, less visceral level, social scientists use their own method of profiling. So, based on the data randomly collected in this investigative reporting, a social scientist would be justified in concluding that whites commit as much crime as blacks, even though they are not reported with nearly the same frequency. It would also be justifiable to conclude that white passerbys are clearly more likely to feel threatened by black people than they are of whites who commit similar offenses.
Is that fair statement to make against white people? Absolutely not. But it’s also not fair that black people are more likely to get pegged as criminals…using as the basis of that argument data which could’ve been produced ITSELF as a result of some kind of profiling.
I say all this just to point out the obvious: it always comes down to the individual. Get to know him or her on a personal level. Leave the statistics and the probabilities alone. For while they may produce great research articles, sell books, or solidify arguments for or against certain policies, they don’t speak to spirit of the individual. At the end of the day, that’s what really matters, right?