Race, Ethnicity and Crime in America A Literature Review

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Race, ethnicity and crime in America: A literature review

In the criminal justice system of the United States of America, oneof the most contentious issues is that of the controversy witnessedin policing based on race and ethnicity. Since the times of the CivilRights Movement, various human rights groups have come forward todemand civilian review of the police activities as they cite racismin their operations. Given this, researchers have made efforts toexamine the causes and consequences of racial profiling as far ascrime is concerned. This is amidst raising concerns that there aredisparities in the manner in which justice is served to the citizens.The biggest question so far has been the role that race and ethnicityplay in criminality and criminal justices. Consequently, there hasdeveloped a great body of research, which has contributed to thegeneral understanding of race, ethnicity and crime. This discourseprovides a literature review assessing the influence of race andethnicity in crime in America.

Importanceof research

Despite the fact that previous studies in the field have helped toevaluate the effects of race and ethnicity in crime in America, thereare still some ambiguities that have not been resolved. For instance,there has been no single literature that has correlated somesignificant research questions in the field. This provides anopportunity for gaps in knowledge in the field. As such, there is aneed to have a literature review that not only assesses the issuesbeing faced in the study, but an analysis of the findings of thestudies that have been conducted by other researchers. Additionally,by conducting the study, there is ample evidence that is providedthat supports the existence of any racial injustices about to theAmerican criminal justice system. This helps to identify any biasnessin the system that may have been ignored or unintentionallyoverlooked. Also significantly, the paper is important in linking thefacts that have been identified by prior research, so as to avoidstereotyping any particular group.

This literature review covers the following questions:

  1. Does racial discrimination have an influence on criminal activities in America

  2. What are the regions of America greatly affected by racial violence

  3. What is the level of biasness among the police on certain racial or ethnic groups in the streets

  4. Is the crime among the blacks an exaggeration by the media

Racialdiscrimination’s influence on criminal activities in America

Burt, Simons and Gibbons (2012) carried out a research study toassess racial discrimination, ethical-racial socialization, andcrime. They used micro-sociological model of risk and resilience toevaluate the main theoretical explanations for racial disparities incrime, which was the major risk factor associated with race. Burt etal. used the model to consider the social organization of the AfricanAmerican culture, which was the main race that was associated withcriminal activities in their area of research. According to theresearch studies, Burt et al. (2012) found that racial discriminationwas positively correlated with increased crime in certain parts ofAmerica. They also found out that the effects of discrimination inthe criminal justice system could be reduced by preparation for bias.

Levin (2002) gives a historical context on the influence of racialdiscrimination in America. He says that African Americans have sincethe times of slavery been victims of racial discrimination, through apattern of exclusion and segregation. This was experienced both offormal and informal contexts. Since the times of slavery, the slaveswere considered as mere properties of their white masters. They weresubjected to harsh slave codes that barred them from exercising eventhe most basic of freedoms. For example, the administration did notallow them to own property or walk around without legal permission.All these activities were considered illegal and punishable by thelaw of the land. Levin (2002) explains how this injustice was carriedon past the slavery era, as courtrooms were enforced what was knownas the Jim Crow laws well into the mid-20th century.

Regionsin America greatly affected by racial violence

According to Hannon &amp DeFina (n.d), there is a remarkably highcrime rate amongst African American communities in the United States.Hannon &amp DeFina used data from research conducted in Cleveland, acity with a population of about half a million people. They chosethis location given that it had a remarkable neighborhood variationas per the key variables they used to conduct the research, whichwere racial composition and poverty rates. The violence crime dataobtained from the Cleveland Police Department showed that blackneighborhoods in the city had the highest levels of violence crime.This was majorly attributed to high poverty rates within theseneighborhoods and a number of other socio-economic factors such aslack of education and drug use.

Sampson,Morenoff &amp Raudenbush (2005) researched on the social anatomy ofracial and ethnic disparities in violence with the aim ofascertaining the regions that had the highest levels of racialviolence in America. They employed a multistage sampling procedurewithin neighborhoods, where they began with studying criminalviolence rates within these areas. While analyzing the data, Sampsonet al. (2005) formulated a multilevel logistic regressive model thatrepresented data clusters to evaluate variables and factors, with theaim of studying the trends of violence within these areas. Accordingto their findings, the odds for perpetrating violence amongst theBlack communities were 85% higher than that of the White communities.At the same time, the odds of perpetrating violence amongst theLatino communities were 10% higher than that of the Whitecommunities. Sampson et al. (2005) however did not provideinformation about the Black and Latino communities’ comparison.

Levelof biasness among the police on certain racial or ethnic groups inthe streets

Corell et al (2007) carried out a research to evaluate policeresponse amongst to various members of the community in terms ofaccuracy and speed on which they made the decision whether to shootor not to shoot while combating crime in the streets. In carrying outthe research, they used three samples of participants on a 100-trialvideo game simulation where armed and unarmed White and Black menappeared in a variety of background images. According to the gameinstructions, any figure they perceived to be armed had to be shot atwithout second thoughts. The outcomes of the research revealed thatboth illustrations were biased in decision-making. By settingdecision criterion lower for the black and higher for the whitetargets, there was an indication of biasness. The research study byCorell et al. (2005) was inspired by high-profile police shootings ofunarmed black men in the United States.

Brown &amp Frank (2006) similarly did a research to investigate raceand officer decision-making. However, they researched on the scope ofdifferences in arrest outcomes between black and white officers inthe United States. Brown &amp Frank (2006) used data from systematicobservations of police-citizen encounters from Cincinnati, Ohio.According to empirical research, Street-level police behavior wasdetermined by factors such as the officer’s race and ethnicity, thecommunity they came from and how they perceived people from otherraces. To avoid biasness in their research, Brown &amp Frank (2006)examined whether or not black and white officers made the same numberof arrests and whether or not the black and white officers used thesame criteria to encounter and made arrests. The data from the studyshowed that both the White and Black officers exhibited some levelsof bias while making street arrests. However, according to theirfindings, Brown &amp Frannk (2006) suggested that the commonlyaccepted viewpoint of officer and race biasness had to bere-examined.

Blackcrime exaggeration in the media

Isaacs (n.d) carried out research on the portrayal of AfricanAmericans in the media. Isaacs (n.d) asserted that television mediais one of the most powerful tools for passing on information to thepublic, through news and other interactive programs. Given, this, hecarried out research by examining the portrayal of the televisioncrime drama Law and Order to determine whether the mediaexaggerated its depiction of the African Americans in the media.Isaacs (n.d) noted that stereotypes were preconceived assumptionsthat were based on the characteristics and behavior of certain peopleof groups in the society. Based on this, he asserted that theportrayal of stereotypes of African-Americans in the media weremostly tied to a theory that individuals who frequently watched ratedtelevision content would begin to take the assumption that the realworld and the virtual world were intrinsically associated.

Isaac’s constructed a study over a nine-week period to analyze theBlack portrayal on the television show Law and Order. He choseepisodes at random and created samples from which he collected datafrom. The units of analysis were a random selection of episodes, raceof the characters involved in crime in the show and specificstereotypical portrayal of African-Americans in the show. Thedeterminant variables were race, role, appearance, behavior, speech,verbal and physical aggression and crimes committed. From the study,Isaac (n.d) found that there was a significant relationship betweenrace, character’s role, and crime. Results showed that the Whitecharacters were given roles that were not associated with crime suchas law enforcement and victims of crime, while the blacks had thehighest percentage of crime-committing characters. Isaac (n.d)therefore concluded that crime amongst the Black was exaggerated inthe media.

Welch (2007) conducted a research on black criminal stereotypes andracial profiling in the media. He described this issue as an enduringand unfortunate feature of the American Society, made worse by themedia. He however went further to explain that after the Civil RightsMovement, the linkage between the Black Americans and crime inAmerica became galvanized. This became so bad that the media to be acriminal predator stereotyped the young black male. Welch (2007)asserted that the media provided readily accessible deceptions ofcriminality through television programs and films. According toresearch in Chicago, the Blacks were found to be commonly portrayedas criminals in mug shots or videos being led by white policeofficers into jails. Additionally, Welch (2007) established that itwas more likely for a criminal character in the media to be portrayedby a young black male. This included criminal activities such asburglary, mugging, murder and verbal violence. Welch (2007) assertedthat these images were so widespread that it was not surprising tofind an average American citizen to accept that the visual portrayalof blacks as criminals to be a reality.

Conclusionand recommendations

This literature review has looked at some peer-reviewed articles thatanswer specific questions on the subject of race, ethnicity andcriminality in the United States of America. The empirical evidenceprovided by each of the researchers has been analyzed to providefacts to answer the research questions. All the articles reviewedadditionally have information that was collected from relevant areassuch as communities habited by different races and ethnicities, lawenforcement agencies, and statistical information. It has been foundthat the issue of race, ethnicity and crime in America still has manyareas that lack empirical evidence to prove or disapprove hypothesesin the field. Nevertheless, there is a plethora of information fromworks that have been done in prior researches that can provide firmground for the development of stronger studies in the future. It isrecommended that research that is more primary be conducted in areasof highest crime rates, as they provide an opportunity for theresearchers to investigate the correlation between factors such asrace and ethnicity in crime. Additionally, collaboration with lawenforcement agencies would help the researchers to obtain hardevidence to back up theories and hypotheses.


Brown, R.A. &amp Frank, J. (2006).Race and officer decision making: Examining differences in arrestoutcomes between black and white officers.Justice Quarterly,23(1): 96-126.

Burt, C. H., Simons, R. L., &ampGibbons, F. X. (2012). Racial Discrimination, Ethnic-RacialSocialization, and Crime: A Micro-sociological Model of Risk andResilience.&nbspAmericanSociological Review,&nbsp77(4),648–677. doi:10.1177/0003122412448648

Correll, J., Wittenbrink, B., Park,B., Judd, C.M., Sadler, M.S. &amp Keesee, R. (2007). Across the thinblue line: Police officers and racial bias in the decision to shoot.Journal of Personalityand Social Psychology, 92(6):1006-1023.

Hannon, L. &amp DeFina, R. (n.d).Violent crime in African American and White neighborhoods: Ispoverty’s detrimental effects race-specific?Villanova University CriminologyDept.1-29.

Isaacs, T. (n.d). Portrayal of African Americans in the media: Anexamination of law and order. Crime, Law and Justice. 158-174.

Levin, B. (2002), From Slavery toHate Crime Laws: The Emergence of Race and Status-Based Protection inAmerican Criminal Law. Journalof Social Issues,58:&nbsp227–245. doi:&nbsp10.1111/1540-4560.00258

Sampson, R.J., Morenoff, J.D. &ampRaudenbush. (2005). Social anatomy of racial and ethnic disparitiesin violence. AmericanJournal of Public Health, 95(2):224-232.

Welch, K. (2007). Black criminal stereotypes and racial profiling.Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. 23(3): 276-288.