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The Myth of Black Criminality
In an article that appeared on Useless Knowledge on August 11, titled “The Correlation of Blackness and Crime in American Cities,” the author suggests that the high black crime rate is due to a predisposition of blacks to such behavior. He bases this assumption on the correlation between cities with large black populations and high crime rates. In fact, in his own words, he says, “This is absolute proof that there is an infallible correlation between how black a city is and how high its crime rate is, at least in the US.” I found his theory to be simplistic and superficial, but then I thought, “What if the same level of pseudoscientific analysis was applied in reverse – to whites?”
First, let me say that if his theory were true, these numbers would reverberate around the world. Blacks in America are descended from African blacks, so wouldn’t African countries have ridiculously high crime rates?
High crime in the inner city can be blamed on many things, but not on cultural predisposition. Yet this misguided assumption has been held for decades and is not necessarily racist. The idea that blacks are more likely to be violent and criminal “is one of the most easily evoked contemporary stereotypes about blacks…and contrary to racial attitudes to the principle of equal treatment, there is evidence that the association of blacks with crime …is deeply rooted in the collective consciousness of Americans, regardless of the level of prejudice or personal belief.” (1)
Using population data, it can be assumed that the victims of this “black crime wave” are black. FBI data shows that so-called “black-on-black crime” is no more prevalent than white-on-white crime. Crimes committed by whites (suburban, rural, or elsewhere) tend to have white victims. Why? Because most crimes are committed near the offending party’s home, that means those who live in black communities are more likely to prey on their black neighbors.
So if I take the author’s assumptions about race and crime and apply them in reverse, I can conclude that whites are prone not only to random acts of violence, but to crimes that affect large numbers of people and cut across racial lines. For example, the vast majority of white collar criminals are WHITE. The Enron, Tyco, and Dynergy scandals, which not only defrauded shareholders but in some cases looted their employees’ pension funds, were not run by blacks. None of the Keating 7 were black. But these crimes have a far greater impact than the crime of a black man running a liquor store.
Even worse, the Government Accountability Office reports that these white-collar thieves are avoiding paying hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution. They transfer assets to relatives, give businesses to their minor children and then hire them as paid employees, transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars into trust funds for their minor children, or give a home to a relative and then rent it back (all of which constitute fraud – another crime). “GAO studied five unidentified federal cases in which executives and business owners found guilty of fraud were ordered to pay a total of $568 million to investors and shareholders. Only about $40 million, or 7% of what was owed, was collected.” (2) Additionally, 43% of those charged with fraud are never prosecuted(3), so whites not only commit these crimes, they get away with it!
Still, some critics say the sentencing of white-collar crimes goes overboard because the punishment is harsher than some drug crimes and murders. But while the latter are undoubtedly heinous, white-collar crimes can involve hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars. This has an impact on the victims’ current living situation – and in the case of Enron, where pensions were lost – their future.
I know what you’re thinking, such far reaching cases are rare – and on that point I agree. However, the majority of financial crimes of a lesser and more frequent nature (including banking, computer and identity theft) are also committed by whites (4).
Now let’s deal with the more common crime of murder: The estimated murder rate in this country, excluding all those committed by blacks, is more than three times that of the other six major industrialized nations. (5) So whatever makes white Americans kill other people makes blacks kill much faster. (6) But at the extreme level, whites make up the vast majority of serial and child killers. Gacy, Bundy, Dennis Rader (the BTK killer), the green river killer and co. They weren’t black. And in the second group, who can forget Charles Stuart and Susan Smith – both of whom blamed the deaths of their children on black assailants. What about Andrea Yates, the Houston woman who drowned her five children? For other crimes against children, look at internet pornmeisters and booty bandits, boy rapists in the Catholic Church. How many of their faces are black?
And who are these right-wing fanatics (terrorists) who bomb abortion clinics and murder doctors for performing a legal act? And wasn’t crazed assassin/child killer Timothy McVeigh white? Weren’t the inventors of drive-by and other organized crime white? Who was behind lynching in the 19th and 20th centuries? Who commits most hate crimes?
Here is another crime that is the domain of whites – TREASON. Aren’t these FBI, CIA, and military agents selling secrets to the Russian and Chinese governments black? What about “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh? They are men who will endanger the security of the country for a few dollars.
Do you see how dangerous it is to play with the facts?
The author of “Correlation” probably doesn’t, as he wrote, “What I don’t like, though, is lying. For decades I’ve heard people deny, minimize, justify, and trivialize black crime.” Then he says that poverty is no excuse.
For starters, I’ve never heard anyone justify criminality at any level. But whether you want to admit it or not, high crime rates can be related to high poverty rates. This is not the only reason for such behavior. You state rather forcefully that “…there is very little real poverty in the United States. Anyone who thinks there is, should visit the slums of Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, or Bangkok. Then they will see what poverty really is.” Compared to what? While poor people in this country may not be sleeping in mud huts, going days without food or drinking water, it doesn’t make their poverty any less “real”, especially when compared to America’s immense wealth.
White bias in police, prosecutors, and courts also plays a role in black crime rates, as do character weaknesses (caused by the lack of a strong social organization like the church), single-parent households, and the residual effects of slavery (Wilson). Other factors include “the ecological concentration of poverty in ghettos, racial segregation, population fluctuations, and unemployment . . . major changes in the urban structure of minority communities in the 1970s may hold the key to understanding the recent increase in violence.” (7)
This article was written for two reasons: (1) To offer some reasons for the concentration of crime in certain areas, not just the black community. In fact, one can reject both the author of “Correlation” and my own argument regarding racial predisposition to criminal behavior. (2) To paraphrase an old adage, sometimes numbers are used the way a drunkard uses a lamppost: For support rather than illumination. My point is that anyone can crunch the numbers to suit their own needs and “validate” the stereotype. This is the author’s fault in my opinion. I wanted to show him that a knife like this could cut both ways and was therefore a very dangerous tool.
(1) Devine, PG and AJ Elliot. 1995. “Are Racial Stereotypes Really Disappearing? The Princeton Trilogy Again.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 21 (11): 1139-50
(2) Richard Willing, “Study: White Collar Criminals Avoiding Fines,” Richard Willing, USA TODAY, March 3, 2005
(3) Howard Gleckman, BusinessWeek, “Where White Collar Criminals Belong: A Career in Prison,” January 2, 2002
(4) Randall Kennedy, “Race, Crime and Law”, (New York: Pantheon), 1997, p. 145
(5) James Q. Wilson, The Hoover Institute, “Crime”, (Hoover Press), p. 115
(6) Neil Weinberg Mary Ellen Egan, “Is Sentencing White Collar Crime Going Overboard?” Fornes.com and MSNBC.com, April 21, 2004
(7) Robert J. Sampson and William J. Wilson. 1995. “Toward a Theory in Race, Crime, and Urban Inequality” in Crime and Inequality, J. Hagan and R. Peterson (eds.), (Palo Alto. CA: Stanford University Press), Pp. 37-54.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Report, 2003
Lincoln Quillian and Devan Pager, “Black Neighborhoods, Higher Crime? The Role of Racial Stereotypes in Evaluations of Neighborhood Crime”, American Journal of Sociology, November 2001, p. 717
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