We’ve all heard the stats: Black Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of white Americans, and make up nearly 40% of the total prison population.
But here’s the thing the types of folks who would tell you that stat don’t want you to know: research shows that white people are just as likely to commit violent crimes as Black people.
So why are Black Americans being locked up at such alarmingly disproportionate rates? The answer lies in the current concept of “violent crime” and its roots in racism and white supremacy.
It’s time to face the uncomfortable truth: our criminal justice system is built on systemic racism, and even the very label of “violent crime” itself has become a tool for perpetuating it. The reality is that the current definition of violent crime is outdated and shaped by decades of racist policies, from the war on drugs to the “tough on crime” mentality. These policies have had a devastating impact on Black communities, leading to mass incarceration and tearing families apart. As well, white people have always had the power to define what is considered a crime, and what is considered violent. This means that the definition of violent crime is inherently racist, as it has been shaped by the biases and prejudices of those in power.
The result of this biased definition is that Black Americans are much more likely to be arrested, convicted, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for what white people would get away with.
The double standard is stark: white people who commit violent crimes are often seen as misguided or having made a mistake, while Black people who do the same are labeled as dangerous and in need of punishment.
As a society, we must acknowledge the role that white supremacy has played in creating the current concept of violent crime. Racism has always been at the heart of the criminal justice system, from slavery to the present day.
A path forward
One of the solutions to the outdated and racist definition of violent crime is to make culture a consideration when reforming the definitions. The current concept of violent crime is based on a Eurocentric perspective, which means that it does not take into account the cultural differences and experiences of non-white communities.
By making culture a consideration in the definition of violent crime, we can create a more nuanced and inclusive definition that accurately reflects the experiences of all communities.
For example, some indigenous cultures may have different ways of resolving conflicts that do not involve physical violence, but may still be considered violent by the current definition of the criminal justice system. By including cultural perspectives in the definition of violent crime, we can avoid criminalizing behaviors that are acceptable within certain cultures, and instead focus on addressing the root causes of violence.
Additionally, making culture a consideration in the definition of violent crime can help to reduce the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. When cultural differences are taken into account, it becomes easier to understand why certain behaviors are considered violent in one community and not in another. This understanding can lead to more culturally appropriate and effective solutions, rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach that disproportionately impacts communities of color.
Making culture a consideration in the definition of violent crime is an important step towards creating a more just and equitable criminal justice system — and it needs to happen sooner rather than later.
By recognizing the cultural differences and experiences of all communities, we can create a more nuanced and inclusive definition of violent crime that takes into account the cultural perspectives of all communities. This will help to reduce the racial disparities in the criminal justice system and create a more culturally appropriate and effective solution to addressing violence.
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