The Color of Crime

George Zimmerman. Image Courtesy of The Washington Post

George Zimmerman. Image Courtesy of The Washington Post

One breezy evening last October, I celebrated my one month anniversary of living in New York City with a lovely dinner with friends and by getting mugged on my way home. I didn’t make it very hard for the perpetrator, practically handing my wallet and iPhone to him as I descended the steps into the subway entrance. All in all, it was a relatively painless mugging; I wasn’t hurt, everything he took could be replaced, I immediately canceled my credit and ATM cards and wasn’t held responsible for the $400 charged at Kennedy Pizza and Chicken. As I communicated with family and friends in the days following the attack, the second question they asked, after “Are you okay?!” was inevitably, “Was he Black?”

According to Comp Stat figures from the City of New York, there were 1710 robberies in the first four weeks of October 2012, down from 1750 in the same period last year. From January to September of 2012, there were 11,447 reported thefts of Apple products in NY, a 40% increase from the previous year. In desperate times, people resort to desperate measures. As our economy continues to stagnate, people are suffering from unemployment, underemployment, reductions in state and federal services and looking toward an increasingly unstable future. These issues affect people of all colors, yet the first assumption was that my attacker was Black. Black men between the ages of 30 and 34 have the highest incarceration rate of any racial or ethnic group, but the greatest percentage of all criminals and convicts are White. The stereotyping of Black people as criminals is so pervasive throughout society that “criminal predator” is used as a euphemism for “young Black male.” This common stereotype has served as a rationale for the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement, racial discrimination within the justice system and even extrajudicial murder.

Issues of Black versus White criminality are tied to much larger questions of race in the U.S. While conversations surrounding race can be difficult, I do hope that as a society we can open lines of communication and learn from one another. Only then will we be able to make the changes necessary to overcome legacies of race-based oppression.

Oh yeah, my mugger? He was white.

by Robin Pagliuco

Previous Post
Leave a comment

7 Comments

  1. Danielle T

     /  September 8, 2013

    I hear this question “was he black” all the time when discussing situations that deal with crime. Its quite saddening. To live in a city (NYC) that is so diverse there are many small minded people – not to say that is only a NYC issue. We really need to find a way to break this way of thinking. It starts with us – don’t let stereotypes rule your mind and educate our young.

    Like

    Reply
  2. angie c.

     /  September 8, 2013

    It’s difficult to read anecdotes like this in conjunction with the research and numbers that show the misrepresentation of criminal conduct based on who ends up in our court systems without feeling as though we are victims of brainwash. I just can’t fathom any alternative reasoning behind mass incarceration that doesn’t point towards institutionalized racism, and that grim prospect has turned me into a cynic that is also frustrated at the lack of uproar towards this. It’s unfortunate that the first question people have is “was he black?” – and it is even more unfortunate that it can be asked so casually without acknowledgment of the larger implications of the mindset that allows that to be an instinctual question.

    Like

    Reply
  3. Julia B

     /  September 19, 2013

    I agree with the previous two comments. Situations like this frustrate me. It really does start with us. The next time I hear a friend jump to assumptions about race, I’m going to be sure to take a moment to talk about why it is not acceptable to do so. It also takes personal reflection to make these changes sustainable. You can’t just inform your peers, you need to take a careful inventory of stereotypes you may hold. Thanks for this post, Robin!

    Like

    Reply
  4. Pascal R

     /  September 22, 2013

    Reading this post made me think about the situations I have encountered myself in the past. It is sad to me that no matter where I have lived in the United States there is always this misconception about criminals potentially being black. In this case, the mugger was white and not black. I do believe that many people just move on once they find out the mugger is white whereas if the mugger would have been black many people would have made a big deal about it.

    Like

    Reply
  5. Thank you for your post. We had a very similar situation in our neighborhood in Brooklyn. Out our back brownstone window, we observed someone with a dark cap jumping over fences from backyard to backyard early one morning. We called the cops, they came by to ask questions. When we said ‘he was white’, one of the two cops replied surprised, “Oh! He was white?!” Yes – that would be consistent with statistics, right?
    I appreciate how Julia above talks about how she is going to bring this up with her friends and take time to reflection personally as well. The change starts with us.

    Like

    Reply
  6. Samar S.

     /  September 23, 2013

    I just moved to NYC from Greece, and I agree with the previous comments posted. From a European’s perspective, America is considered to be the “land of the free” and of equal rights, which most other countries aspire to become. I too am shocked with the question and assumption of “was he black,” coming from one of the most multi-cultured and multi-ethnic city in the world. I hope that we will eventually be able to find a way to move beyond racial profiling and discrimination, and to a society that truly does see everyone as an equal and judges people on their individual merits irrespective of race or religion.

    Like

    Reply
  7. Jenna E

     /  September 26, 2013

    Unfortunately I feel attitudes like this are very prevalent, especially in communities and neighborhoods that are predominantly white. In the small town I grew up in, criminal=black is a common belief, I believe mainly due to the fact that the exposure people have to minorities is solely through media, tv, and movies, all of which tend to depict young, black men as criminals. What is scarier, and most frustrating, is moving from the idea that every criminal is a young black male to every young black man is a criminal. It is this mentality that encourages laws like stop and frisk and empowers men like George Zimmerman.

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: