Why the Gigantic, Decades-Long Drop in Black Youth Crime Threatens Major Interests

Black Youth Crime RatesImagine that a time-liberated version of vigilante George Zimmerman sees two youths walking through his neighborhood: black, hoodied Trayvon Martin of 2012, and a white teen from 1959 (say Bud Anderson from Father Knows Best). Based purely on statistics of race and era, which one should Zimmerman most fear of harboring criminal intent? Answer: He should fear (actually, not fear) them equally; each has about the same low odds of committing a crime.

For nearly all serious and minor offenses, including homicide, rates among black teenagers nationally were lower in 2011 than when racial statistics were first collected nationally in 1964. Black youths’ murder arrest rates are considerably lower today than back when Bill Cosby was funny (long, long ago).

We don’t associate Jim and Margaret Anderson’s 1950s cherubs with juvenile crime—but that’s based on nostalgia and cultural biases, not fact. Back then, nearly 1 in 10 youth were arrested every year; today, around 3 in 100. Limited statistics of the 1950s show juvenile crime wasn’t just pranks and joyriding; “younger and younger children” are committing “the most wanton and senseless of murders… and mass rape,” the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency warned in 1956.

Since the sainted Fifties, America has seen rapid teenage population growth and dramatic shifts toward more single parenting, more lethal drugs and weapons, increased middle-aged (that is, parent-age) drug abuse and imprisonment, decreased incarceration of youth, decreased youthful religious affiliation, and more violent and explicit media available to younger ages. Horrifying, as the culture critics far Right to far Left—including Obama, who spends many pages and speeches berating popular culture as some major driver of bad youth behavior—repeatedly insist.

And after 50 years of all these terrible changes in American culture? Today’s young African Americans display the lowest rates of crime and serious risk of any generation that can be reliably assessed.

In the last 20 years in particular, the FBI reports, rates of crime among African American youth have plummeted: All offenses (down 47%), drug offenses (down 50%), property offenses (down 51%), serious Part I offenses (down 53%), assault (down 59%), robbery (down 60%), all violent offenses (down 60%), rape (down 66%), and murder (down 82%).

New, 2012 figures from California’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center reveal that the state’s black youth show the lowest level of homicide arrest since statewide racial tabulations were first assembled in 1960. Nearly every type of offense—felony, misdemeanor, and status—is much rarer among black youth today than in past generations.

The black youth crime drop is not due to “getting tough”—just the opposite. In 2012, a record-low 231 California black youth were locked up in state correctional facilities, compared to over 2,000 in the mid-1990s, and 800 in 1959, the first year numbers were kept. “Status crime” policing of black youth, reflected in curfew, loitering, and other non-criminal-stops, also has fallen to record lows. Little solid evidence connects policies to reduced crime, except maybe for the correlation with increased college enrollment.

You can see from these paragraphs why the huge improvements in behavior among America’s, and particularly California’s, African American teenagers over the last 20 to 40 years is a distressing development for so many powerful interests across the spectrum.

According to everyone’s pet theories and fine-tuned profit prospectus, this wasn’t supposed to happen. And so, on rightist Fox and liberal MSNBC, from President Obama and the local Tea Party legislator, from pundits reactionary to radical, any notion of praising young African Americans even for the most obvious and mammoth improvements in behavior is utterly taboo.

For example, FBI clearance and arrest tabulations now indicate black youths under age 18 account for just 2% of the nation’s homicides. See if you can find that vital perspective in any politician, expert, or major-media commentary.

Rather, the time period when all interests felt their headiest was the early 1990s. Police, pundits, politicians, and News@11 gushed with the terrors of the crack epidemic, “adolescent superpredators,” teenage “sociopaths,” murderous gangs marauding from inner city to suburb to Mayberry, and an ever worsening “crime storm” of dark-skinned zombies slavering to “murder, rape, rob, assault, burglarize, deal deadly drugs, and get high…so long as their youthful energies hold out.”

Indeed, the statistics of California in 1990 were alarming:

  •      221 black youths were arrested for murder,
  •  4,235 for drug offenses
  •  6,884 for violent felonies,
  • 22,441 for all felonies, and
  • 45,703 for all offenses.

In 2012, in a California black-youth population of similar size (around 250,000 age 10-17) and a similarly complete statewide crime report:

  •        20 black youths were arrested for murder,
  •  1,019 for drug offenses
  •  2,886 for violent felonies,
  •  8,288 for all felonies, and
  • 24,889 for all offenses.

How can this mammoth decline not be front-page news—especially to inform the ongoing Trayvon Martin and Fruitvale murder discussions?

The sad reality is that authorities, academic experts, politicians, and geriatric-media reporters (the average age of news consumers is well over 50) of 2013 simply do not know how to deal with a young black population that is not committing shootings, robberies, drug mayhem, and gangsterisms in mass numbers—let alone one that is dramatically less criminal than the older generations deploring them.

Listen to today’s media panels, politician speeches, even academic forums: the last 20 years never happened. Only young people commit crime and use and sell drugs, the commentariat herd recites. From CNN’s Anderson Cooper to First Lady Michelle Obama, young black men are always misrepresented as getting more violent.

Mike A MalesAmerica’s warped crime and social policy establishment badly needs black youth to be killers and thugs, to retreat into the comforts of 1990, nostalgia for a past that never existed, and smug, politically and fiscally profitable prophecies of demographic doom. In America of 2013, just as in 1913, feared scapegoats on which to blame social problems remain a hotter commodity than scientific analysis and effective policy.

Mike Males
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on August 17, 2013
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About Mike Males

Mike A. Males is a Senior Research Fellow at CJCJ. He has contributed research and co-authored numerous CJCJ publications, including on issues of drug policy, 3-strikes law, criminal justice realignment, and juvenile justice reform.

Dr. Males has a Ph.D. in Social Ecology from U.C. Irvine and over 12 years of experience working in youth programs. He is also content director of Youth Facts (www.YouthFacts.org)

Comments

  1. Darnel Cooper says:

    About time someone got the word out,…
    Arrests, by Race, 2011
    In 2011, 69.2 percent of all individuals arrested were white, 28.4 percent were black, and 2.4 percent were of other races.
    Of all juveniles (individuals under the age of 18) arrested in 2011 in the nation, 65.7 percent were white, 32.0 percent were black, and 2.3 percent were of other races.
    Nearly 70 percent (69.7) of all adults (18 years of age and over) arrested in 2011 were white, 27.9 percent were black, and 2.3 percent were of other races.
    White individuals were arrested more often for violent crimes than individuals of any other race, accounting for 59.4 percent of those arrests.
    The percentages of white adults and black adults arrested for murder were similar, with 48.2 percent being white, and 49.4 percent being black.
    Juveniles who were black accounted for 51.4 percent of juvenile arrests for violent crimes.
    Juveniles who were white accounted for 62.4 percent of juvenile arrests for property crimes.
    Of the juveniles arrested for driving under the influence, 91.6 percent were white.
    Juveniles who were white accounted for 72.9 percent of the persons under 18 who were arrested for arson in 2011.

  2. bloodshots says:

    Your figures are incorrect.
    The FBI tables that you link show that black teens commit more then 50% of crime yet they only constitute about 13% if the population meaning then that they commit about four times as much crime as white teens.
    I see this different, Black teens should be committing more crimes, not less crimes. The system is stacked against and discriminates unfairly against Black teens succeeding, if we are not part of the game we should not play by the rules.

    • Darnel Cooper says:

      LOL
      The Guy who works in the Center and Criminal Justice got then figures wrong and YOU John Q Public (bloodshots) Say the FBI tables show black teens commit 50% of the crime.
      TSK I’ve seen those stats for 2011 and 2012, Whites commit 70% of the crime in this country but we have folk like you in full blown denial.
      How about you post a picture of your link that shows that black teens commit 50% of the crimes hmmmn?

      • meonthissite says:

        He got it from the same place most people like him get the statistics of the number of gay men who die from STDs and Anal Cancer I hear so much from these bigots.

  3. I wonder why you didn’t mention that there are also powerful economic interests that benefit from crime scares, such as private prisons and prison guard unions.

  4. Black murder and arrest rates are down from a long time ago?

    OK, but, haven’t we always said, that when racism was far worse than it is today (the cops were white then, remember?), that many arrests were bogus? Today, with racism not nearly the issue it was, and minorities well represented in our police forces, lower arrest rates may be really a measure of less racism behind arrests.

    Also, last I checked, California is nearing bankruptcy… that municipalities are scrambling to keep afloat. Cities are declaring bankruptcy. The police are often running understaffed. If fewer arrests are being made… might that also be because police don’t have the resources they once had? I guarantee you, that if we defund the police entirely, black arrest rates will drop sharply.

    Next, since Obama took office, and is clearly against gun ownership, and also since the economic crash left people uncertain about crisis in general, people have been buying guns at an astounding rate… there has been over 45 THOUSAND applications to buy a firearm PER DAY since Obama took office. SIXTY FIVE MILLION applications to buy a gun, and nearly all are approved during Obama’s first term alone. During GW Bush’s first term, only 34 million applications. People are arming themselves, ready to protect their family, homes and property. If you try to rob someone, and someone flashes a gun at you, you might decide that line of “work” is not for you.

    If gun ownership by law abiding citizens (the kind that apply for a gun license) is thwarting more crimes (all studies show that it does)… then that could be making a dent in arrest rates too.

    If black crime is down… for real, then good. It’s long overdue. But one has to be very, very careful about how they measure… .

    I appreciate the author’s attempts to look a little deeper, and control for these effects… but it’s difficult enough a thing for social scientists to do, with very careful studies.

    In the end, I think it’s *mostly* real… and I think it’s mostly because of a change of outlook because a “black man” is president. You might think that’s a good thing.

    I don’t. It means that people commit crimes based on the color of the skin of the person that lives in the whitehouse. That would be a *serious* character defect. “I’ll be good, if the mayor is a woman”, or “I’ll not sell drugs, if my congressman is hispanic” is not the way a person should live their lives… in part because it means that when the skin color changes after an election… then we’d have to be prepared for crime to return to previous levels.

    People should be moral, ethical, and respect the rights of others because it is within them to do so…. not because of the skin color of a politician.

    So I hope that’s not what is happening here.

  5. Nick Cittadino says:

    Really positive news here. And I wonder why the rates have dramatically declined. It is probably a combination of factors including: tougher sentencing laws for re-offenders, better education through social programs, early intervention, available birth control for unwanted pregnancies, available child care, civil rights legislation including hiring priorities, and time . . for a population who had been so disenfranchised to reintegrate into the greater whole with full rights and responsibilities. The new generation of college students that I see may have short memories but they are filled with the promise of the future and not held back by the degree of past discrimination.

  6. The facts may speak for themselves but, without you, who would hear them? Thank you. This is a stunning reality check.

  7. Nice piece!

  8. I see all the positive talk paid off. I’m glad.

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