The Neighborhood-Level Effect

               For years, law enforcement officials have bemoaned the presence of violence in neighborhoods, but few have condemned the segregation of American cities for playing a part of this violence.

               Studies have shown that out of the six American cities with the highest violent crime rate, three also top the list of most segregated. These three cities are Milwaukee, Detroit, and St. Louis. In these cities, not only are communities geographically separated, but there are entirely different opportunities based on where citizens live.

               Sociologists call this occurrence the Neighborhood-Level Effect. Essentially, the neighborhood you live in determines how your life takes shape. Because segregation isolates communities, certain behaviors must be adapted by those in the communities. These actions include pressures too, be prepared to use violence, travel in groups, and fit into the street culture. While these may help young people fit in with their neighborhoods, these behaviors decrease success in academics and the labor force.

               Sociologists have also discovered that systemic segregation keeps certain aspects inside and others outside. They use the metaphor of a network, saying that things like violence or gang activity are abundant in isolated systems, while things like public transportation and professional networks are kept outside.

               Naturally, this creates a much more difficult path to success in employment, academics, or even health for people who live within this shut-off, segregated, networks. Through exploration of the topics, researchers have determined that segregation systemically creates the pockets of high violence and low social mobility that we deem the “inner-cities.”

               The creation of these segregated areas was not an accident. In fact, until 1948 African Americans could be denied housing simply because of their race and this pushed them into pockets of cities where real estate companies would allow them to access leases. In fact, until 1968, when the Fair Housing Act was first passed, real estate companies and banks could still discriminate based on, “race, color, religion, or national origin.”

               Turning toward crime, criminologists have come up with several theories as to why offenders commit crimes. There are six basic theories:

  1. Routine Activity Theory premises that criminals commit crimes within their daily routine, such as going to and from work, and that people do not go out of their way to commit crimes.

  2. Situational Crime Prevention Theory premises that crime can be reduced through public policy actions such as providing streetlights in dimly lit areas prone to criminal activity.

  3. Broken Windows Theory premises that violent crime occurs when crimes like petty theft or graffiti are not taken seriously. Thus, people learn to ignore the law over time.

  4. Crime Opportunity Theory premises that offenders look for a practical target. For example, a store they know has a weak security system.

  5. Social Disorganization Theory premises that crime is more likely to occur when community relationships and local institutions are not strong in an area.

  6. Crime Pattern Theory premises that geography, and the neighborhoods people live in, dictate their criminal behavior. For example, suburban areas without consistent security tend to have more burglaries.

               These theories all indicate that neighborhood determines crime. None of these theories speculate that crime occurs between neighborhoods, but rather, they attempt to explain why some areas experience different types of crimes at higher rates than others.

               If we live in communities disproportionately made up of those of our race, and commit crimes based on the opportunities and standards of those neighborhoods, it follows that crimes are committed intra-racially. This pattern of behavior and structure is where the concept of black-on-black crime is derived.

               Between the years of 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of black murder victims were killed by black perpetrators. In that same period, 86 percent white perpetrators murdered white murder victims. This data is consistent with the crime theories presented, and the data about neighborhood segregation. People commit crimes based on where they live, and people live with those who are the same race as them.

               Statistically, it is accurate that black-on-black crime exists, just as it is statistically accurate that white-on-white crime exists. So why have we heard so much about the first and so little about the second?

Catie Cheshire Staff Reporter