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Race and Ethnicity

Black Americans And Crime

Throughout much of American history, black Americans were the most populated minority in the United States. In 2000, however, Hispanics slightly outnumbered blacks. The 2000 census counted thirty-five million black Americans or about 12 percent of the U.S. population, an increase from thirty million in 1990. Black Americans have played a particularly central role in the issue of race and criminal justice.

Los Angeles police officers search seven people arrested for selling narcotics. Violence in the black community escalated in the mid-1980s as drug trafficking and the occurrence of armed gangs increased. (AP/Wide World Photos)

Black Americans and other advocates of civil rights claim the black segment of U.S. society is the most policed and least protected group. Black Americans were much more likely than whites to be arrested, prosecuted, convicted, sent to prison, sentenced to death, and executed. Though blacks comprised just 12 percent of the population in 2002, over 34 percent of those arrested for aggravated assault, 34 percent for forcible rape, 50 percent for homicide, and over 54 percent for robbery were black. In addition, almost 48 percent of murder victims in the nation were black in 2002.

Black Americans were not only more likely to be a crime suspect, but the victim as well. Street criminals tend to victimize those in their own neighborhoods. Since the United States still had mostly segregated communities, blacks suffered at the hands of other blacks. Violent crime is a major public health concern among black Americans. Blacks in poor areas are seven times more likely than whites to be murdered.

Already a major problem, violence in the black community escalated in the mid-1980s as drug trafficking in crack cocaine and the occurrence of armed gangs increased. Law authorities estimated that twenty-six thousand gangs existed in the United States by the late twentieth century. One-third of their membership was black, though less than the 47 percent Hispanic composition. Only 13 percent of members were white.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawRace and Ethnicity - Race In U.s. Legal History, Native Americans, Black Americans And Crime, Policing And Minorities