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