Ethnicity and Crime: Neo-Marxist Approaches

Neo-Marxism draws on aspects of Marxist and Interactionist theory in order to explain the criminalisation of ethnic minorities by the media and the state.

The classic study from this perspective is Stuart Hall’s Policing the Crisis (1979) in which he examined the moral panic that developed over the crime of mugging in the 1970s. Despite sensationalist newspaper reports that claimed there was an increase in mugging, particularly among young black men in London, Hall’s own research showed that it was actually growing more slowly than in the previous decade.

Hall argued that a moral panic over black criminality at the time created a diversion away from the wider economic crisis – ‘black youths out of control’ being the headlines rather than ‘Capitalism in Crisis’ – hence the title of the book ‘Policing the Crisis’ (of Capitalism).

Hall broke his analysis down into several stages – focusing firstly on how Capitalism caused crime, and then on how the media, state and the police responded to this, and finally on the further reaction of the criminalised black youth:

  1. A major economic recession in the mid-1970s increased unemployment and lead to wider civil unrest – such as mass strikes.
  1. Capitalism faced a ‘legitimation crisis’ – it appeared not to be working – government needed a scapegoat to divert attention away from the failing Capitalist system.
  1. Fortunately (for the Capitalist Class and the government) the recession also lead to further social and economic marginalization of black youth which lead to an increase in street robbery.
  1. The media picked up on these street robberies, creating a ‘moral panic’.
  1. The government responded to this by putting more police in areas with increasing crime rates.
  1. This lead to higher arrest rates which the media of course reported.
  1. The end consequence of all of this is that the public’s attention is firmly focused on the problem of black criminality, rather than the deeper problems of the capitalist system which both causes crime in the first place and then further criminalises certain people (young, black and working class).

Evaluations

  • Stuart Hall seems to contradict himself – On one hand he claims that black crime is exaggerated; on the other hand he states that crime is bound to rise because of factors such as unemployment. If crime rates do rise, then it isn’t a moral panic but a real event.
  • The association between criminality and black youth has continued since the economic crisis of the 1970s, so it’s not clear that this is the ultimate cause of the ‘moral panic’.
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