Don Kates on Afro-American homicide rates
Don Kates sent the following -- he ran a book review on History News Network, got a reader query, and composed the following:
MURDER IN AMERICA: A HISTORY (Ohio State U. Press) by the Haverford College social scientist/historian Roger Lane:
Lane's MURDER IN AMERICA emphasizes industrialization as a violence-reductive factor in the Western World: the Industrial Revolution required and produced disciplined, orderly work forces.1 Current American murder rates are driven by the very disproportionate murder rates among some Afro-Americans.2 These disproportionate rates may be attributed to the virtual exclusion of Afro-Americans from major sectors of employment during the post-Civil War period which continued through the mid-20th Century. ]
AFRO-AMERICAN HOMICIDE RATES
As indicated in my article DO GUNS CAUSE CRIME?, murder rates seem to have diminished across Europe from the period before guns existed. The decline was particularly marked in Europe from the 18th Century on.
The major exception to this has been rates of homicide by blacks which are six to eight times higher than white murder rates in both the US and England. Reader Mark Clark (presumably not the general, who is long deceased) queries the reasons.
It should be noted that some studies have suggested that rates of black homicide and other violence are no greater than those of similarly situated (i.e., economically deprived) whites. See, Brandon S. Centerwall, "Race, Socioeconomic Status and Domestic Homicide, Atlanta, 1971-72," 74 AM. J. PUB. HLTH. 813, 815 (1984) (reporting results of research and discussing prior studies). See also Darnell F. Hawkins, "Inequality, Culture, and Interpersonal Violence," 12 HEALTH AFFAIRS 80 (1993). For a discussion assailing racist theories of the prevalence of violence see Jerome A.Neapolitan, "Cross-National Variation in Homicide; Is Race A Factor?" 36 CRIMINOLOGY 139 (1998).
The only time I have treated this matter at any length was in a never-finished article written a few years ago. Though large parts of it have been published elsewhere, the portion on black homicide has not, nor have I revised it here. In fact it is not my own research, but rather relies almost exclusively on the seminal work of historian Roger Lane (see below).
He emphasizes industrialization as a violence-reductive factor in the Western World: the Industrial Revolution required and produced disciplined, orderly work forces. Current American murder rates are driven by the very disproportionate murder rates among some Afro-Americans. Thus John DiIulio argues that "America does not have a crime problem; inner city America has a crime problem." John J. DiIulio, "The Question of Black Crime," 117 THE PUBLIC INTEREST 3 (1994) also quoting 1969 National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence to the same effect; id. at 5.
We have added emphasis to DiIulio's words to focus attention on the geographic limitation which refutes any notion that race per se is the factor underlying the Afro-American homicide rate. It is not Afro-American homicide per se that makes the American homicide rate so enormous, but rather "inner-city" homicide grossly distorts both American and Afro-American homicide rates. As we shall see, urban blacks actually have far less gun ownership than either whites in general or rural blacks. Yet the gun murder rate among young black urban males is 9.3 times higher than among young black rural males. Lois A. Fingerhut, et al., "Firearm and Non-Firearm Homicide Among Persons 15 Through 19 Years of Age: Differences by Level of Urbanization, U.S. 1979-89," 267 Journal of the American Medical Ass'n. 3048, 3049, Table 1 (1992). Obviously, neither guns nor race can account for the fact of homicide being so much less among the well-armed rural Afro-American population than among their relatively poorly armed urban compeers. The obvious lesson is that, whatever their race, the small fraction of (highly aberrant) people who want to murder find guns regardless of how prevalent guns may be in their general community.
Historically, disproprotionate black homicide rates may be attributed to the virtual exclusion of Afro-Americans from major sectors of employment during the post-Civil War period which continued through the mid-20th Century. Lane's seminal research has documented the role of racism in both promoting murder by Afro-Americans and excluding them from the violence-reductive effects of industrial employment: In the post- Civil War period though black murder rates were high, they were far lower than today ... and lower than those of their immigrant Irish competitors while Italian murder rates [when Italians began immigrating] soared well above those of blacks.
[ A]fter the [Civil W]ar both unions and employers, all over the country, combined to drive [blacks out of high paying trades]... [ F]actory work, all across the country was considered too good for black workers.
[ Black homicide is] another social-psychological [deprivation that] resulted from black exclusion from the regimenting effects of industrial and bureaucratic work. These effects are shown in the relatively rapid decline in homicide rates among Irish and Italian immigrants, two other ethnic groups with high levels of preindustrial violence, as their integration into the industrial work force demanded unprecedented levels of sober, disciplined, orderly behavior, which carried over into their private lives.
[ Later when they were] no longer shut out of the urban-industrial revolution, blacks were instead let in too late. During the 1940s and 1950s blacks in effect were piped aboard a sinking ship, welcomed into the urban industrial age just as that age was dying, with industrial cities losing population and jobs.
[ In late 19th Century Philadelphia] blacks consistently outscored their competitors on written tests of all kinds...  Even the white press generally agreed that black civil servants (and, a historian would add, blacks as a group) were overqualified for the [low level jobs to which they were confined] in this era, as a result of a general refusal to promote them to positions where they might have authority of any kind over white workers.
[ Blacks were acutely aware of the need for education and struggled heroically to attain it. B]lack literacy in the city soared from roughly 20 percent to 80 percent over the final thirty years of the [19th C]entury ...
[Philadelphia blacks included doctors, lawyers and other professionals -- graduates of Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. But] that was no guarantee that they could make a living. As whites would not hire them and blacks could not afford them, licensed black physicians were found working as bellhops.... In the early 20th Century not one of Philadelphia' black attorneys could make a living through his law practice alone.
The lesson blacks learned from this was that for them education had no economic value.
(NOTE: the quotes just given are taken from Lane's MURDER IN AMERICA, pp. 181-85, 298-300 and 327, as well as Roger Lane, "Black Philadelphia, Then and Now" 108 THE PUBLIC INTEREST 35, 42 (Fall, Summer, 1992) and Roger Lane, ROOTS OF VIOLENCE IN BLACK PHILADELPHIA: 1860-1900 (Cambridge, Harvard U.Press, 1986).