Although much of the recent rhetoric on young black people and crime has been about their role as perpetrators, one of the lessons of the Home Affairs Select Committee report on ‘Young Black People and the Criminal Justic System‘, published last week, is that they are also more likely to be victims of crime.

Although black people are, overall, no more likely than white people to be victims of crime, this is not true of young black people (10-17). Some of the specific data is striking.

  • Overall, black people are 5.5 times more likely than white people to be a victim of homicide. Black males account for nearly two thirds of all murders of 10 to 17 year olds.
  • In the three year period ending in 2003-04, 31% of black homicide victims were shot compared with just 6% of white people. The black community makes up 2% of the population but one third of gun murder victims and suspects in England and Wales.
  • Black people in London are 10 times more likely than white people to be victims of a racist attack, seven times more likely to be homicide victims, three times more likely to be domestic violence victims, three times more likely to be raped, 2.6 times more likely to suffer violent crime and 1.6 times more likely to be victims of robbery. (From figures provided to the Select Committee by the Mayor of London’s office).
  • “Throughout the inquiry, it was emphasised to us that young black people primarily fear being attacked by someone of the same ethnicity.” The data supports this. Gus John told the Committee that “young black people’s fear of crime is typically to do with them being attacked by other young black people”.

One of the reasons for these numbers is because there is greater propensity to violence, especially armed violence and gang violence, within communities of young black violence. Lee Jasper of the GLA told the Committee that “we have, quite literally, a crisis in the black community among our young, black people.”  A number of experts argued that there was also media ‘demonisation’ of young black people.  The black academic Tony Sewell said this, for example:

“The media highlight certain crimes; for example, if someone from the City is attacked by a black youth it will be on the front page of the Evening Standard, and rightly so. One wants to report that, but how often do we hear of crimes where a black youth has been assaulted? It happens day in day out and we hear little of it.”

But it’s worth noting that qualitative research done for the Select Committee by Opinion Leader Research (Which is to be made available) suggests a more sophisticated public view of the media coverage. These interlocked issues, however, do suggest that any policy response needs to be sophisticated; it needs to match the complexity of the set of issues invoived.

One other data point identified by the report seems to have potential implications as an emerging issue. Home Office data suggests that 75% of the young black population will be on the DNA database – a far higher proportion than other ethnicities. The Committee’s view is worth capturing here:

It means that young black people who have committed no crime are far more likely to be on the database than young white people. It also means that young white criminals who have never been arrested are more likely to get away with crimes because they are not on the database. It is hard to see how either outcome can be justified on grounds of equity or of public confidence in the criminal justice system.