I got a lot of e-mails from folks about this story yesterday, and frankly, I didn't know what to make of it:
The murder rate among black teenagers has climbed since 2000 even as murders by young whites have scarcely grown or declined in some places, according to a new report.
The celebrated reduction in murder rates nationally has concealed a "worrisome divergence," said James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University who wrote the report, to be released Monday, with Marc L. Swatt. And there are signs, they said, that the racial gap will grow without countermeasures like restoring police officers in the streets and creating social programs for poor youths.
The main racial difference involves juveniles ages 14 to 17. In 2000, 539 white and 851 black juveniles committed murder, according to an analysis of federal data by the authors. In 2007, the number for whites, 547, had barely changed, while that for blacks was 1,142, up 34 percent.
People are used to the idea of black people coming out on the truly horrific end of stats--and for good reason. We live poorer and die faster. Our SAT scores are lower and our dropout rate is higher, and so on. But that sense of black folks bringing up the rear, in addition to an uncritical allegiance to thin stats, is blinding and leads to fools talking super-predators and the Apocalypse. There's a thin line between understanding that black people are in a bad way, and believing every awful thing you hear.
I didn't know why someone telling me that homicide rate for black tens had jumped 34percent struck me as wrong--I just heard my bullshit meter going off. Somewhat predictably, So did Steven Levitt:
The numbers in The New York Times graphic and most of the James Alan Fox report fail to control for the change in the population of young black males over this time period.
According to U.S. Census data, the number of blacks aged 15 to 19 rose by about 15 percent between 2000 and 2007.
So even if any individual black teen's propensity for crime was unchanged over this time period, the aggregate amount of black-teen crime would have risen by 15 percent. In other words, in that New York Times graphic on perpetrators, just based on changes in population, the number of perpetrators would have been expected to rise from a little over 800 to nearly 1,000. Knowing that, the actual rise to roughly 1,150 doesn't seem that noteworthy.
I don't want to be glib about a very real problem. But the nature and tragedy of black on black crime doesn't excuse inflation and exaggeration. I've learned my lesson about this, after hearing people--black and white--parrot inane foolishness like "they're more black men in jail than college." Or better still the "70 percent out of wedlock" stat which every intellectual likes to whip out to show how gangsta rap destroyed the Negroes. Glib cuts both ways, you know.