Monday, March 23, 2009

Minorities and Crime

When I was working in Korea as an intern in 2005, someone broke into my landlord’s apartment, located directly above my apartment. In a land that is almost completely ethnically homogenous (I’d say 99% Korean), it was pretty safe to assume that the perpetrator(s) of the crime was Korean. In a profound way, it was actually pretty refreshing to have race as a null point. When the landlord told me of the incident, there was no name calling or predictions of what the perpetrator looked like—he looked like us.
In America, the topic of crime has a shadow—race. You almost cannot separate the two. I cannot even count the number of times I’ve been in conversations where the person will say that his car was broken into and they will automatically assume “it was probably a black guy.” It has made me wonder if white people ever think that white people commit crimes.
As a criminal defense attorney in Utah County, I hear about a lot of crime. I have a lot of clients who have committed crimes. A friend asked me a few weeks ago, “So, are you defending all the Mexican gangsters?” I quickly responded that only a small percentage of my clients are Mexican. A few days ago when I went to go visit one of my clients in jail who had six criminal charges, each from separate incidents, another friend asked me if the guy was black. Confused that such a question would be asked, I replied, “Of course not! This is Utah County! There are no black people!” The assumptions that fly when you talk about crime are just astounding. You could be in lily white, middle of nowhere USA, (which I am) and people will still think that the criminal is a minority.
Having been born and raised in New York, I can tell you that all the crimes committed against me and my family were perpetrated by folks from all over the color spectrum—it really was a melting pot of crime. Without getting into too much detail: white women assaulted my mother and put her in the hospital, a black person stole my bike… while I was still riding it, Hispanic people shoplifted from my parent’s store more times than I have fingers and toes, and Asian people stole so much money from my parents’ business that they had to restart the business from scratch. So believe me, crime is not a race thing.
Yes, I know if we play the numbers game, I will lose. It’s statistics that will tell you that blacks and Hispanics disproportionately make up a lot of the crime; I can’t dispute that. But no matter what the statistics say, I’d rather not assume anything till I see the guy behind the ski mask.


  1. It is true that street crime is disaportionately committed by minorities, but if we consider white collar crime the crime scale is not so one sided. White collar crime has never received as much attention and the penelties has been more like a slap on the wrist compared to street crime. Educated hustlers behind a desk have caused just as much pain and destruction to society as anystreet thug.

  2. I haven't commented yet, but I've been following your posts and want to compliment you on the blog. It is very educational for someone, like me, who hasn't had to deal personally with most of these issues to learn about race from a trusted source instead of an ideologue who's income depends on making race an issue (or minimzing it).

  3. Racial profiling, Blacks & Latinos penetrate criminal system at a proportionate rate than Whites & other races...Blacks get the death penalty for sexual crimes committed against White women at a higher rate...sentencing legislation can be hugely racist 1)different sentencing guidelines for crack than cocaine 2)lower standard of search & seizure in "high crime areas" mostly predominantly non-White...Utah County...I think we were in this class together Jang but for undergraduate crim I went to interview a Provo police officer about racial profiling...he said it doesn't happen in Provo because they don't know who's driving down the street, i.e. they can't see who's in the car...then it dawned on me: We identify ourselves...paint color, Mexican flags, rims, tinted windows, you can come up with any example you choose, but we identify ourselves!

  4. meant disproportionate above!

  5. i just think people need to start moving their butt and start working instead of giving up on life and committing crime!!!
    and say no to drugs!

  6. Jung, you are right. White collar criminals certainly do not get the same kind of treatment as street criminals. While I'm not sure if the lack of attention or punishment has anything to do with race (class definitely a factor, however), it's certainly worth noting that people usually don't go around assuming every white man in a business suit is a criminal, where the same can't be said about blacks or hispanics.

    Jody, yes I remember that class. Racial profiling is a serious problem. There's no doubt that the justice system for minorities is not the same. However, personally, I have not experienced that problem because I've never been in trouble with the law and I don't think I've ever been pulled over because of my race, from what I could tell. I do have several minority friends who have gone through major ordeals with the police, through no fault of their own.

    Jihae, thanks for the encouragement to all the readers.

  7. I'm so glad I found this post! You have a very balanced view towards minority issues in the law. I did grow up in a place where segregation is still very real; only it was self-segregation. The white and the black kids didn't mix much at my school, and even though I had several black friends I always felt intimidated coming up to a group of unfamiliar black people. I think that racial stratification begins at a young age, so its not surprising that people who come from "lily white" Utah would first believe what is portrayed in the media and assume that those who are different from them (i.e. Hispanics, blacks) would commit crime. These people may have no positive experiences to draw upon. Fortunately, I do:)

  8. Jackie, I hope I can continue to be fair and balanced. Self-segregation is a very interesting social phenomenon. It happened at my school too; high school seems to be the starting point for this because I don't think I saw it as much in junior high and certainly not elementary school. While we can't forget the personal choice that is involved with the "self" in self-segregation, I do believe there are some external factors in play. I will elaborate more in a future post. Oh, and would you believe me if I said that I felt intimated approaching a group of unfamiliar white people?

  9. "But no matter what the statistics say, I’d rather not assume anything till I see the guy behind the ski mask."

    Now THAT is freaking racist, Jang! You know as well as I do that 93% of all skiers are white. So basically this comment suggests that the vast majority of criminals are white "guys".