The Sunday Telegraph today reports on the – unsurprising in many ways – revelation that:
“The Official figures, which examine the ethnicity of those accused of violent offences in London, suggest the majority of men held responsible for gun crimes, robberies and street crimes are black.”
On the back of these figures a debate arises as to the reasons for this situation. And sadly beneath the careful words there is a worrying tendency to promote the view that the situation exists because they are black. That somehow there is something in the nature of black men that leads them to crime and especially violent crime.
Mostly this racism is shifted one notch away from allegations of genetic inclination to criminality towards a “cultural” explanation. This argues that, somewhere in the prevailing mores of Britain’s Afro-Caribbean community is a dark truth of a violent culture. Such critics point to the popularity of music with violent lyrics, to the supposed importing of US gang culture – with its bling, drugs and guns – and to the criminal culture of Kingston, Jamaica’s capital.
Others – including black observers like Shaun Bailey direct our attention to welfare and to the fact that a frightening proportion of London’s black community exists on benefits. Here’s Shaun:
“Our children grow up trapped in the benefit system. They see benefit dependency as a ‘lifestyle’: the best one available other than becoming a criminal.”
There’s a point to this except that, in and of itself, benefit dependency does not make criminals – it is as likely to provide a cover for criminality as it is to be its cause. And it is in this fact – in the reality of economics that I think the ‘explanation’ lies. Black kids get involved in violent crime because it is – on the face of it – the rational thing to do. I know this sounds bonkers but allow me to elaborate.
There's a hint in the second half of the quote from Shaun Bailey – becoming a criminal seems to many kids (and not just black ones) a pretty rational option. They grow up surrounded by crime – from fiddling benefits and shoplifting to burglary and bag snatching – and most of those involved are not obviously economic failures (at least in the limited perspective of the kids looking on).
The crime industry on our estates – and elsewhere in our inner cities – is become the dominant private business. It has clear hierarchies, provides (fairly harsh) discipline and control, allows for low level entry and competes aggressively for business. And the leadership of the business promotes machismo as a key attribute because the willingness to conduct acts of violence is crucial to the continuing success of the business. And such violence – the guns, the knives and the testosterone-fuelled strutting – becomes attractive because it is directly associated with the most successful in business.
You will find no real difference if you turn to look at the criminality of white young men from the peripheral estates surround Northern cities or for that matter the same behaviour among Pakistani immigrants to those same cities. The precise nature of the business varies (although drugs are always involved somewhere) with some preferring burglary to mugging but the reality is that, across Britain, there’s a group – a socio-economic group not a racial or cultural group – for whom crime pays.