25 May 2011

Crime, Today and Yesterday

Stories of looting leaking out of tornado-stricken Minneapolis recently have brought to light this 2007 article from Minnesota Public News, revealing two salient points about her sister city St. Paul's African-descended population:

     1) 70% of all St. Paul's aggravated assaults the year before were 
          committed by this population, although they make up just 12% of the 
          city's inhabitants.

     2) Surprise is the correct reaction to this.

          Being of passing familiarity with this particular branch of American jurisprudential history, we imagined it of possible historical interest to present excerpts from the aforementioned article, alongside some voices from the past [all emphasis ours; list of works cited follows the text]:

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"St. Paul [Minnesota] Police Chief John Harrington determined that in 2006, 70 percent of all aggravated assaults in St. Paul, the most violent crimes on the books, were committed against African-Americans.  'Just like 70 percent of my victims are black, 70 percent of my suspects are black,' he says. [...]  'In the city where ten percent of the [population] is black, how can that be so out of whack?'"

On the first day of January, 1910, the total prison population of the United States was 136,472. [...]  In every section of the country the percentage of Negroes among prisoners and juvenile delinquents was much higher than their percentage in the general population. For the country as a whole the Negroes constituted 10.7 per cent of the total population, while they constituted 30.6 per cent of the prison population. In the South they made up 29.8 per cent of the population and 70.1 per cent of the prisoners; in the North they were 1.8 per cent of the population and 13.1 per cent of the prisoners; in the West 0.7 per cent of the population and 5.9 per cent of the prisoners. (Reuter, 1927)

"There are generations of African-Americans who haven't had two parents to show them the way. Harrington says their maturity has been stunted."

Huffman says that in 1894 more than one-fourth of the colored births in the city of Washington were illegitimate. Many prominent Negroes admit that above ninety per cent of both sexes are unchaste. A negro may be a pillar in the church and at the same time the father of a dozen illegitimate children by as many mothers. (Collins, 1918)

"As a result, he says, there's an overabundance of young men who are un- or under-employed, who have criminal histories and who rely on chemicals to deal with psychological or emotional pain, and young women who are unequipped to be mothers, wives or even girlfriends."

Innate modesty is not a characteristic of the American negro women. On the contrary, there is observable among them a willing susceptibility to the blandishments of licentious men, together with a widespread distribution of physical favors among their male friends. The great majority of them, to be sure, are not bold and avaricious like the abandoned women of other races, though they are becoming that, especially in the North. Nevertheless, the grossly depraved among them exhibit considerable animal affection, and readily yield to caresses that consciously lead them to destruction. (Thomas, 1901)

"'They want somebody that steps off when they step up on the corner. They see that as a sign of respect,' he says. But then he adds, 'I don't think that's a sign of respect; I think that's a sign of fear.'  Any sign of disrespect, however slight, can trigger an extremely violent reaction, says Harrington, because too many are unable to control their anger."

"Smyrna, Del., Aug. 9.  As has been the case yearly for a dozen years there was a fatal shooting affray at the Negro [Christian] camp meeting at Friend-ship last night. Howard Hollis, a Negro of Clayton, Del., was shot in both legs during the fight. ... It is not known who shot Hollis as bullets were flying thick and fast during the melee."
Baltimore Sun, Aug. 10, 1915. (Collins, 1918)

"'It is the behavior of a child who doesn't get their way,' he says. 'But it's being acted out by people who are six feet tall and 240 pounds. So when they have a tantrum, that tantrum ends up with broken bones and closed eyes and split lips, and sometimes ends up with people being buried.'"

According to Fouillée, one could easily add to citations of a similar nature on the unfavorable characteristics of the Negro. On the other hand, one can cite many which point to a favorable character. "The Negro is ... sensitive to praise, and even more sensitive to blame," says Von Hentig.  "The Negro also manifests a juvenile characteristic in his natural frankness and truthfulness." His kindliness, friendliness, and good humor are praised by many.

If one would express the general impression of those who know the North American Negro, then one would say: He is childlike. He does not look very far ahead, he is not very accurate, he is fond of bright colors and finery, is easily distracted. These characteristics may, naturally, be inherent, but this is not necessarily so." (Bonger, 1943)

"Yes, says [Reverend Darryl] Spence, there's a crime problem and yes, part of it stems from black teens not being anchored by a positive identity. But he says the media have to shoulder more of the blame for that."

In the city of Philadelphia the increasing number of bold and daring crimes committed by Negroes in the last ten years [1889-1899] has focused the attention of the city on this subject. There is a widespread feeling that something is wrong with a race that is responsible for so much crime, and that strong remedies are called for. One has but to visit the corridors of the public buildings, when the courts are in session, to realize the part played in law-breaking by the Negro population.  (DuBois, 1899)

"In contrast to some who believe the media tend to ignore black-on-black crime, Spence thinks they give it too much attention."

"Roanoke, Va., March 29. Drunken Negroes took charge of an excursion train between this city and Winston-Salem last night and as a consequence Sidney Wood of Winston-Salem is dead at Martinsville, and two-score other Negroes are more or less wounded.  Knives, razors, and pistols played prominent parts in the melee [...] The train was stopped several times by Negroes pulling the bell cord, and the train was cut in two several times, leaving a number of coaches behind with a second section following [...] The three coaches which were cut off were filled with white people [...]  When the train reached Bassetts, in Henry County, every Negro in two coaches was apparently in a fight. The screams of the terror-stricken women added to the excitement."

Baltimore Sun, March 30, 1910 (Collins, 1918)

"He also wonders why there's so much emphasis placed on black-on-black crime, but no one uses the term 'white-on-white' crime."

[Philadelphia] detectives Bond and O'Leary [...] arrested last night Sylvester Archer, of Fifth street, below Lombard, William Whittington, alias "Piggy," of Florida street, and William Carter, of South Fifteenth street, all colored and about twenty-one years of age, on the charge of assault upon and robbery of Mrs. Harrington Fitzgerald, wife of the editor of the Evening Item. 

The assault occurred on Monday at noon. As Mrs. Fitzgerald was passing Thirteenth and Spruce streets, a purse which she carried in her hand, and which contained $20, was snatched from her by one of three colored men. They took advantage of the crowd to strike her after the robbery had been perpetrated and escaped before her outcry was heard.  (DuBois, 1899)

"V.J. Smith, founder of the Minneapolis chapter of the anti-crime group Mad Dads, says African-Americans need to figure out a way to turn black-on-black-crime into black-on-black love, and he says some people are working on that, but not enough. Smith says the black community will accept any help it can get to combat crime, but it has to do a much better job helping itself."

"The large proportion of colored men who, in April [1893], had been before the [Philadelphia]  criminal court, led Judge Gordon to make a suggestion when he yesterday discharged the jurors for the term. 'It would certainly seem,' said the Court, 'that the philanthropic colored people of the community, of whom there are a great many excellent and intelligent citizens sincerely interested in the welfare of their race, ought to see what is radically wrong that produces this state of affairs and correct it, if possible. There is nothing in history that indicates that the colored race has a propensity to acts of violent crime; on the contrary, their tendencies are most gentle, and they submit with grace to subordination.'" Philadelphia Record, April 29, 1893; Cf. Record, May 10 and 12; Ledger, May 10, and Times, May 22, 1893. (DuBois, 1899)

"'When the Catholics had issues they started Catholic Charities,' he says. 'When the Lutherans had issues they started Lutheran Social Services. When the blacks had issues, we started riots. So we need to do something different.'"

 In 1809 [in Philadelphia] the leading colored churches united in a society to suppress crime and were cordially endorsed by the public for this action. After the war immigration to the city increased and the stress of hard times bore heavily on the lower classes. Complaints of petty thefts and murderous assaults on peaceable citizens now began to increase, and in numbers of cases they were traced to Negroes. The better class of colored citizens felt the accusation and held a meeting to denounce crime and take a firm stand against their own criminal class. (DuBois, 1899)

"According to St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington, more black leaders have to come forward to mobilize the community, even if it means taking political risks. Which is why Harrington was pleased when a prominent activist pleaded for witnesses to come forward in the wake of the June shooting in Minneapolis that killed 14-year-old Charez Jones.  'I was delighted, quite frankly, to see Spike Moss come out and call for the community to step up,' he says. 'I think that's what this takes. We need community leaders to come out and be willing to take unpopular positions.'"

Again, so often the Negro leaders of the Negro race are merely blind leaders of the blind, entirely lacking in breadth of view, often discouraging in their race what they should encourage and encouraging what they should discourage. (Collins, 1918)

"Harrington says there must be some kind of violence threshold that will cause the black community to rise up as one and demand that black-on-black violence be stopped. Unfortunately, he says, it doesn't appear that threshold has been reached yet."

THE present criminal status of the Negro [1918], and his criminal record since the Civil War as well, should cause every member of the race in America to hang his head in shame. (Collins, 1918)

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For those whom it may interest, representative historical tables of African-American criminality (1829-1938) may also be viewed here.


Bonger, Willem Adriaan. Race and Crime. Trans. Margaret Mathews Hordyk. New York: Columbia University Press, (Chapter III, 'Race and Crime, Case Studies: Negro Criminality', excerpts),1943.

Collins, Winfield H., The Truth About Lynching and the Negro in the South, New York: Neale Publishing Co., (Chapter IV, 'The Criminality of the Negro', excerpts), 1918. 

DuBois, W. E.B. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, (Chapter XIII, 'The Negro Criminal', excerpts), 1899.

Reuter, Edward Byron. The American Race Problem: A Study of the Negro. Ed. Seba Eldridge. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, (Chap. XIV, 'Delinquency and Crime', excerpts), 1927.

Thomas, William Hannibal. The American Negro: A Study in Racial Crossing. New York: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., (Chapter VIII, 'Criminal Instincts', excerpts), 1901.

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