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Ethnicity and Crime

The media have reported, and continue to focus, on two “ethnic Chechen” brothers, who have lived legally in America for 10 years, as perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three persons and injured about 200 people last April 14.

The emphasis and interest on their “ethnic origin” has brought back memories of my PhD thesis. Based on survey of public perception, content analysis of newspaper articles and examination of police and prison statistics in Queensland, Australia in the 80s, I concluded that:

Newspaper reports on Asian criminality reflect public perception more than the official records (police and prison data) and that Asian-born migrants had lower crime rate than the Pacific Islander-born and the general Australian population.

(Media reporting should be socio-culturally sensitive, non-discriminatory and not contribute to negative stereotyping, prejudice and victimisation of law-abiding immigrants and refugees).

In the USA, there’s an over representation of African-and Spanish-Americans in the criminal justice system. There are economic, psychological and ideological reasons why an individual commits a crime. Members of immigrant and ethnic groups may not be more criminal than the majority in the population; however since they are more visible, they attract more police attention and their deviancy or criminality becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Studies have shown that social class is significant in any discussion of crime and ethnicity. For instance, ethnic minorities living in wealthy neighbourhoods with low crime have the same rate as the rest of the population whereas “white” people living in a lower class area tend to be as criminal as their ethnic minority counterparts. Unfortunately, ethnic minorities are more likely to live in lower class areas and are generally more socio-economically disadvantaged.

Crime threatens our safety and security. It refers to any behaviour that is socially unacceptable and causes harm to a person or a group of individuals, e.g. drink driving, illegal drug dealing, domestic violence, rape, theft, robbery, burglary, corruption, embezzlement, kidnapping, murder, etc.

Terrorism, an ideologically-motivated violence which is envisaged to create chaos and spread fear in the society, is another major threat to safety and security of individuals, families and our global community.

Each country has laws and statutes on crime, and the punishments for this are: jail (US: short-term incarceration), prison (long-term locked up in penal facilities), house arrest and electronic monitoring, fine (paying money to the State), restitution (paying money to the victims), probation (offender serves in the community instead of incarceration while adhering to conditions, such as reporting to the Probation Officer) and community service (doing work that benefits the public, e.g. cutting trees and cleaning the streets). Some States and nations apply capital punishment (death penalty) for crimes they consider heinous and dreadful, e.g. lethal injection in Texas, USA and public execution in Saudi Arabia.

But, how should we punish terrorism that kills and injures hundreds or thousands of people with just a single act?

(I use the word “ethnic” and not “race” because the latter is convoluted and misleading (multi/mixed race is more appropriate) whereas the former comes from the Greek word ethnos, which means “nation.” Ethnic groups are composed of people of similar genetic inheritances or who share identifiable traits and characteristics, such as culture, geographical origin, language and religion).

from my website BRolade Societal Blog - roladesocietalblog.com

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