Meme Of The Day

A reader’s take on it:

#CrimingWhileWhite is basically white people copping to crimes they committed and either weren’t arrested for or were let off with relatively minor punishment. It’s been a bit watered down considering how long it’s been trending, but my point isn’t so much the hashtag as what it means about crime statistics.

Your recent Chart of the Day was designed to demonstrate that blacks “commit” crimes at lower rates than whites perceive, though still at a disproportionately high rate for their (our) population. I think what #CrimingWhileWhite suggests is that not only do blacks commit crime at a lower rate than perceived, but that they are arrested for “criminal” behavior at a much higher rate than whites. In short, white people can engage in behavior that is technically illegal and not get ticketed or arrested and therefore their behavior is not recorded as a crime for statistical purposes. Whereas black people, especially poor black people, who engage in similar behavior are rarely extended that courtesy and as such they do become statistics.

For example, the reported rate of marijuana usage of is virtually identical across ethnic groups at around 11-13%. In fact, among young people, 18-25 years old, blacks use marijuana at a lower rate than whites. However, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession 3.5 times more often than whites. In the District, the arrest rate for blacks is a staggering 8 times as for whites! It doesn’t take long to criminalize an entire group of people when the game is rigged like that.

So when you casually stipulated that it’s natural that police officers might be wary of young black men because they do tend to engage in criminal activity at a higher rate than non-blacks, keep these statistical realities in mind. What someone living in Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan might take for granted being able to do in peace, e.g. have an ounce of weed and a pipe, would result in a felony possession charge for a poor black kid in Baltimore. I don’t need to say more about the effects of a felony charge on a person’s future employment and economic prospects.

I know you’ve been an outspoken advocate of marijuana decriminalization and I applaud your efforts on that front. But the deck is stacked against black and brown people in America and has been since its very founding.

Update from a reader:

I hate things like #CrimingWhileWhite. They are as unscientific as Hannity using a web poll of his own viewers to show that he is right about something. You don’t know if the person is lying or not, you don’t know if their friend mouthed off or not, you don’t know if their friend was carrying more or not, and you don’t know if the friend already had a rap sheet. And mostly you don’t know about the times that a black person got off with a warning because the cop was tired, it was the end of his shift and he just wanted to go home. Or the number of times the white person didn’t get off with a warning for the same action.

On the other hand, I do like the data that shows that while whites smoke pot as much as blacks they don’t get arrested as often. That’s actual data that shows the same point. #CrimingWhileWhite just make people feel good and reinforces existing perceptions but isn’t anything one can base a reasoned decision on.