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The Problem With the “13/50 & 13/90” Statistics:

 The numbers 13/50 and 13/90 have often been used to depict Black people as an inherently violent community. “13” refers to the percentage of the US population that is Black. “50” or “52” refers to the alleged percentage of all murders committed in the US by Black people. This statistic is often based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting System, which comes from arrest rates, not actual crime rates (since 48% of violent crimes are not reported) or conviction rates. Similarly, arguments against BLM claim the number 90 when referring to the percentage of violent interracial crime allegedly committed by Black people. This statistic only serves to perpetuate the stereotype that Black people are criminal in nature. White supremacists often cite the 1994 National Crime Victimization Survey produced by the Justice Department as evidence for these percentages. However, this figure does not show up in the survey itself and, consequently, is not considered an accurate one. You may come across it on social media or in everyday conversation.

Before we start, let’s begin to understand generational poverty.

When many Black Americans moved northward, they tended to move to the same areas, often within cities. This is common among minorities and immigrants, because for those who are affected by racism, having a community can ease the pain and increase safety. The governmental practice of redlining made it exceedingly difficult for the residents of these areas to get mortgages, setting the stage for wealth inequality in America. 

Crime is a result of social conditions, such as poverty. In areas where people are not able to access the resources they need to survive, crime occurs at higher rates. Crime also creates poverty, making the problem cyclical. When confronted with figures showing racial bias in the criminal justice system, the law-and-order crowd often puts the blame on “culture.” The more data found, the more it appears that they might be right — but less about Black culture, and more about blue, or police culture. When discussing statistics such as the 13/50 one, information about generational poverty and the following points should be in your toolbox.

1.) Black neighborhoods are overpoliced.

These neighborhoods are, and have been for decades, policed much more heavily than white neighborhoods. Of course Black neighborhoods will “have more crime”, since there are way more people looking for crime there. The only way to fix this long term is with broad systemic socioeconomic support that we’ve seen to work in third-world countries, such as India. The number of police you commit to an area will never fix crime, so please refer to our section on defunding the police for more information.

Imagine 2 neighborhoods: a Black one and a White one. The Black neighborhood is the poorer neighborhood, and poorer neighborhoods tend to commit more crime, so the police chief decides to direct more police and resources to the Black neighborhood. It may seem as the Black neighborhood commits more crime, as the police are now there to catch more crimes.

2.) Police are more aggressive in Black communities.

Police are faster to assume criminality in Black people, so they search harder for a reason to arrest. They’re also quicker to arrest a Black person on the basis of “resisting”, which creates an arrest record and makes it harder for the arrested person to find a job. Remember, if the only charge is resisting an arrest, there would be no arrest if the cop hadn’t gotten involved in the first place.

3.) Police are more likely to search Black motorists at a traffic stop, even though White motorists are more likely to be in possession of illicit drugs or weapons.

It’s highly unlikely, if not impossible, for this disparity to occur without involving racial bias.

4.) Black people are arrested at disproportionate rates compared to White people for the same crime.

The consumption of recreational cannabis amongst White and Black people is at the same level, but Black people are 4 times more likely to get arrested for the illegal possession of weed. 

5.) There may be a higher amount of crime, even when accounting for over-policing. But there's a reason for this.

Since Black men are most at risk when it comes to arrest rates, Black neighborhoods have higher rates of mother-only houses. Growing up in a single-parent household creates many problems. As more Black males are getting arrested or killed, a new generation grows up without having a second parental figure, which disproportionately leads to more crime, mental health issues, or poverty. It's a vicious cycle. Children in fatherless homes have higher rates of dropping out of high school, homelessness, juvenile detention, substance abuse, and suicide. The mentally ill are more likely to be victims of crime. Drug addicts and the mentally ill are also more likely to commit crimes, but systemic racism is what pushed these problems onto the backs of Black people in the first place.

6.) There are many people who benefit at the expense of Black Americans.

It’s important to analyze the interests of the people in power in this situation. The owners of private prisons want to keep their prisons filled in order to maximize profit, since they get paid per bed filled, and sending Black men to jail is an effective way of doing this. These prison owners have taught us to feel that being “tough on crime” keeps us safer, when its main impact is to line their pockets. This means that more Black people are locked up and the community continues its cycle of impoverishment. 

7.) The usage of “White” drugs prompts lighter sentences than the usage of “Black” drugs.

First, the terminology. Generally, the drug used by White people is powder cocaine, which will be referred to as “coke” throughout this section. Black people are more likely to use crack cocaine, which will be referred to as “crack”. There is no significant chemical difference as they are both forms of cocaine, and they both affect the user in similar physical and psychological ways. So why, in years past, would a person possessing one gram of “crack” receive a sentence 100 times longer than someone possessing one gram of “coke”?

Let’s think about the type of person we imagine snorting “coke” --- a rich, White, college student. Now let’s think about who we imagine using “crack” --- a crackhead, an addict, junkie, low-income, maybe non-White. Now, guess which drug would get people sentenced for longer. It’s crack cocaine. The reason for the racialized separation of these two drugs is mainly that coke is much more expensive, and that crack saw an increase in distribution in urban areas, with much more proximity to people of color. 

In the 80s, a person in possession of five grams of crack cocaine would receive a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, while someone in possession of powdered cocaine would need five hundred grams to receive that same sentence. The usage of crack doesn’t even have worse health effects than powdered cocaine, despite what many people think. This disparity is alarming. The Fair Sentencing Act was signed into law in 2010 by Obama. This was an improvement but fails to achieve full sentencing equality. In addition, Black and Hispanic crack users continue to remain overrepresented in those arrested for crack offenses.

All of these points go to show that despite the 13/50 numbers being touted by many, they can not be accepted as a testament to the supposedly violent or criminal nature of Black Americans. Remember that there are real, systemic reasons why Black people are overrepresented in crime statistics.

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Haarika Karlapati


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