Political and media discourse often focuses on the myth of ‘black-on-black crime’, or the supposed threat of young Black men to safety of the perceived law-abiding majority. Peter Mambo gives an in-depth analysis of problems facing young black men in the UK and critically analyses the facts vs the myths.
Not a week passes by without some tragic news of the murder of yet another young person by a knife or gun, devastating families and communities. If it's in London, the majority of cases are of young black boys killing other young black boys.
Some commentators have argued that the issue of black people and crime in the UK is hidden away or downplayed and that the fear of accusations of racism contributes to this. In 2003, Lee Jasper, a race advisor to the then London mayor, Ken Livingstone said, drugs and gun crime were the "biggest threat to the black community since the beginning of mass immigration. Some still argue that this is still true today with gangs and knife crime rampant in the black community.
Before going into the data let us look at the demographics of Black British people to provide some context to the crime statistics versus the black population.
In 2011, 87.2 % of the total population of the United Kingdom were White British. Black British citizens, with African and/or African-Caribbean ancestry, were the largest ethnic minority population, at 3% of the total population. Indian Britons made up 2.3% of the total UK population whilst Pakistani British citizens were said to make up almost 2% of the UK population. The latter two groups combined with other Asian British from Bangladeshi, Sri Lanka and Chinese, make up about 8% of the population.
Black boys and young men are overrepresented in the youth and adult justice systems in England and Wales. Despite the Lammy Review (2017) into the treatment of, and outcomes for Black, Asian, and minority ethnic individuals (BAME) in the criminal justice system, the disproportionate numbers of Black boys and young men at all stages of the system continue to rise.
According to the 2020 Equality Human Rights report:
rates of prosecution and sentencing for Black people were three times higher than for White people, 18 black people per thousand population compared with six people per thousand population for White people
for sentencing, it was 13 per thousand population for Black people and 5 per thousand population for White people
in England and Wales, ethnic minority children and adults are more likely to be a victim of homicide
the homicide rate for Black people was 30.5 per million population, 14.1 for Asian people, and 8.9 for White people
In June 2010, through a Freedom of Information Act request, The Sunday Telegraph obtained statistics on crime, broken down by race from the Metropolitan Police Service.
The data showed that most males accused of violent crimes in 2009–2010 were black. Of the recorded 18,091 such accusations against males, 54% accused of street crimes were black; for robbery, 58%, and for gun crimes, 67%. Amongst the general black group cited, African-Caribbean males in particular are over-represented.
After the release of the Metropolitan Police report, London Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey said: “The black community has to look at itself and say that, at the end of the day, these figures suggest we are heavy – not causally – involved in violent crime. We are also involved in crime against ourselves – and we regularly attack each other."
Whilst this statement suggest that the black community are to blame, it is imperative to look closely at some of the culture in black communities.
Criminal Justice System
When it comes to the criminal justice system, rates of prosecution and sentencing of black people were three times higher than those of white people as shown above.
An interesting factor that might account for blacks getting longer sentences than other groups, according to the Labour MP David Lammy’s report, there is a ‘particularly striking’ difference when it comes to cooperating and pleading guilty before arriving in court.
Black men and boys are 50% more likely than their white counterparts to plead ‘not guilty’ in court. This lack of responsibility for their crimes, even when the evidence is overwhelmingly beyond reasonable doubt, inevitably, leads to longer sentences when they are found guilty. I do not believe that all the causes of overrepresentation lie in the system, some of it lies in the culture and also lack of trust by ethnic minorities in the justice system, which prevents them from working collaboratively with it.
The reasons that are often given in relation to the high number of black boys and young men committing crimes and levels of imprisonment are:
The police and the justice system are racists
Austerity, poverty, and lack of investment in black communities
The closure of local youth clubs
All of these are not unique to the black community yet the statistics are disproportionately higher for blacks for certain crimes. It is not surprising therefore that law enforcement such as the Metropolitan Police can justify operations such as Trident, a unit targeting black-on-black murders and violent crime, while other police forces see it as justification for targeting a disproportionate number of black men under stop and search powers.
According to the 2011 Census: within each ethnic group monitored, the percentage of family types of single parents with dependent children were as follows: black (24%), mixed-race (19%), ‘other’ and white (10%) and Asian (8%). Black households had the highest percentage out of all ethnic groups for single-parent households.
Statistics on single parenthood families, predominately absentee fathers, are useful at looking at the bigger picture. Personally, I never let statistics dictate my views. Statistics have their place, but at the same time, they are broad and not based on individual cases. Undoubtedly, boys need their mothers, however, there is a significant stage in teenagers' development, especially of young men, where fathers are of particular importance. Statistics show a higher number of boys raised without fathers in the black community especially in African-Caribbean families.
When Dr. Tony Sewell, CEO of the charity Generating Genius, visited a youth offending centre in 2019 and questioned the black boys about knife crime, nearly all pointed to the absence of their fathers as a recurring theme in their lives. If you do a quick search of “boys raised without fathers” on google you will find a lot of disheartening statistics on black boys being:
More likely; to be excluded or drop out of school
More likely to develop drug or alcohol problems
More likely to be imprisoned or to end up in gangs
There is a culture among some black men of siring children without taking responsibility. Inevitably, these children end up paying the price. This is not to say that dysfunctional families – or absent dads – are a unique problem among Black-British families, but the statistics among them, especially the Black-Caribbean community are alarmingly high. This is given as a prevalent factor impacting the high number of African-Caribbean pupils as a group being excluded in British schools.
There is also a widespread consensus in that young person's who are excluded from school are at far greater risk of a variety of negative outcomes, including poor educational attainment, leading to prolonged periods of unemployment, poor mental health, and drug use and involvement in crime, and gangs.
The fact is, without a father or a male role model in their lives, boys inevitably tend to look to their peers for belonging, sometimes this leads to (gangs) and this is where it starts to go horribly wrong.
A recent article by Wade Horn, PhD., the President of the National Fatherhood Initiative, wrote about adult elephant modelling to young adolescent elephants in a National Game Park. When younger elephants miss the 'civilising' influence of their elders as nature intended, the younger elephants were seen to terrorise other animals in the park. In natural circumstances, the adult bulls provide modelling behaviours for younger elephants, keeping them in line therefore, it is not far-fetched to stand to reason that without male adults to regulate their behaviour, young black boys run amok in their neighbourhoods, terrorising their communities.
As a black man, I believe that we as a [black] community need to do more in some instances, by taking ownership of our children and holding ourselves accountable for our responsibilities, and moving away from always seeing ourselves as victims. Only then can we hold the government accountable for the gaps we cannot fill.
The problem for us in the community is that, not only are our black boys more likely to end up in prison, but they are also more likely to be the victims of crime or perpetrate a crime against their own community. The 2010 Metropolitan Police report shows that black men are twice as likely to be victims of crime. Of those statistics, 29% of the male victims of gun crime and 24% of the victims of knife crime were black, so we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and wait for someone to resolve these pertinent issues for us.
I will leave you with this quote from: David Robbins from his book Tarnished Vision: Crime and Conflict in the Inner City,
The fact is that the incidence of persistent patterns of criminality is a measure of the extent of the failure of the community, its leaders, and its organisations to meet the hopes of young people. When hopes are wasted, and there is little sense of co-operation, people prey upon each other, and children are condemned to grow up in a social nightmare.
About Peter Mambo
Peter Mambo is a blogger who covers in -depth analyses of Africa, Black African /Afro-Caribbean in the UK. Covering a wide-range of current affairs issues,his aim is to breakdown complex issues and give a broader point-of-view of topics that include crime, employment, education and more. Visit the [The African Conversation].