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Do Black Teens Need More Policing?

Why do the news media adore James Alan Fox? He's never been right. The Northeastern University criminologist perpetuates fossilized 19th century demographic dogmas that measure crime as a function of dark-skinned youth in the population, inflammatory racialized quips branding nonwhite teenagers as "sociopaths" and "superpredators," and 25 years of horrendously wrong crime predictions.

Now Fox and colleagues are back with another media-splashed study (conveniently unavailable for scrutiny at this writing) that seeks to create another panic over more murderous black youths. According to news reports, Fox is using the study to make an unabashed pitch to government funders for "a bailout for kids at risk"-that is, for more police and more programs.

Fox's study evidently reports that homicides by black youths rose by 40% from 2000 to 2007. Actually, FBI crime reports show black youths' homicides fell sharply and steadily from 1993 to 2003 to the lowest levels ever reliably recorded, then rose through 2007 to approximately where they had stood in 1998 and 1999-still well below historical averages.

In fact, 2007's murder arrest rate for black youths ages 10-17 approximates the rate back in 1965, the first year the FBI reported statistics by race. Indeed, incomplete statistics of the 1930s show "greatest generation" black teens were two to three times more likely to die from guns and homicide than black teens of the 2000s. Today's black-youth murder rate is just half the level of 1970, one-third the rate in 1990, and well below rates in every year from 1966 through 1998. Likewise, violent and property crime levels among black teens have plunged over the last 15 years to the lowest levels reliably measured.

Black youths account for around 3% of America's murders, FBI crime clearance estimates indicate. So, there are no grounds for panicky claims that we face a new wave of killer black kids. But it is true that African Americans of all ages, particularly those in impoverished inner cities, suffer waves of homicide victimization and arrest rates many times higher than do whites. At the peak teen age, 19, blacks suffer firearms murder rates 17 to 20 times higher than do whites.

So, what's the problem with Fox pointing to a genuine problem? Fox's destructive obsession with black teenagers and misdirected lobbying for more cops and programs that have proven ineffective in reducing murder rates results from his panic-driven style. If we want to reduce the high gun violence rates among poorer populations, the solution should center not on stuffing streets with more cops and gang workers, but solid programs to reduce high levels of inner-city poverty and unemployment as well as the epidemic of middle-aged drug abuse that creates markets for violent drug sellers. Unfortunately, confronting youth poverty doesn't benefit the interests Fox is lobbying for, and that's why the race-tainted teen-panics he continually raises remain a serious threat to reasoned crime policy.

Keywords: crime trends, interest groups, Mike Males, racial disparities

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice

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