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Photo by Adam Scraga

Valerie Wright, Cleveland State professor, speaks on race and crime on Sept. 24.


September 14, 2015

Sociology event explores relationship between crime and race

By Adam Scraga

Race and crime is a very topical issue in today’s society. In just the last three years African Americans Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Michael Scott and Tamir Rice have been killed during encounters with police, sparking national violence and discourse.

Dr. Valerie Wright, from the departments of Criminology, Anthropology and Sociology at Cleveland State, lectured on Sept. 24 on the topic of race and the criminal justice system at Cleveland State University.

Wright gave several historical examples from the 20th century where black men had been killed and their white attackers acquitted in court. These included Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black male who was killed in 1955 for reportedly whistling at a white woman and Rodney King, who was beaten at a traffic stop which led to the Los Angeles riots in 1991.

According to Wright, the media has shaped a lot of views on race and crime. For example, the headlines about the white suspect charged with felony homicide used terms such as “friend,” “teen,” “buddy” and “student” while the headlines about the black suspect used terms like “man,” “shootout,” “slaying” and “drive-by.”

Wright said the media also have used different images to contribute to how people see the issue of race and crime. In pictures of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, blacks photographed taking goods from stores were called “looters,” while whites photographed taking goods from stores were called “survivors.”

She also including statistics regarding receiving a call back after a job interview. For those without a criminal record, 34 percent of whites received a call compared to 17 percent of blacks.

For those with a criminal record, 14 percent of whites received a call compared to 5 percent of blacks.

“Race and crime seeps into every aspect of our life,” Wright said. “Even a black man with no record is less likely to be employed than a white man with a record. That is the marriage between race and crime — being a person of color is more harmful than being crime-free.”

Wright also showed a poll asking if the respondents believed the criminal justice system was biased against blacks. 70 percent of black respondents answered yes, compared to just 39 percent of Hispanics and 28 percent of whites.

It is these attitudes that may be leading to more violence, according to Wright.

“We see a lot of retaliatory violence because people are placed in situations where you need to handle it yourself because the police are not your friend — they are here to police us, not [to] aid and serve us,” Wright said. “So you see these types of patterns among inner city neighborhoods because people don’t trust the police. They don’t call people they don’t trust.”

Wright gave examples of what can be done to move toward equality in race and crime, including the promotion of legitimacy in the judicial system, accomplices in movements rather than allies, going beyond using #BlackLivesMatter, awareness of language used and acknowledging white privilege.

Wright closed her lecture with a quote from Justice Felix Frankfurter in the 1962 trial of Baker v. Carr, which spoke on the public’s confidence in the legal system, something she feels needs restored.
“The authority of the court system ultimately rests on sustained public confidence in its moral sanctions,” Wright quoted.

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