Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 July 2009
no issue in criminology has received more attention than the nature and magnitude of racial differences in criminal behavior and criminal processing. Reviewers of the empirical literature often reach conflicting conclusions about the nature and magnitude of racial disparity. Some report major disparities across dispositional decisions, while others conclude that racial differences are overstated (see Walker, Spohn, and Delone 2000; Hawkins 1994; Wilbanks 1987; Georges-Abeyie 1984). Similarly, racial differences in official rates of criminal behavior have been attributed to a variety of sources, including selective police deployment practices in minority communities and a wide range of psychological, social, economic, and historical factors.
There is less dispute, however, about the overrepresentation of Blacks as both homicide victims and offenders. In fact, the magnitude of the homicide rate among particular segments of the Black population has led to its declaration as a public health issue. For example, homicide is the leading cause of death among Black males aged 15 to 34 (National Center for Health Statistics 2000). It is the third leading cause of death for White males in this age group. In spite of the concern generated by this problem both within and outside of the Black community, criminologists are not in agreement regarding an explanation for the level differences in homicide across racial groups. While both cultural and structural explanations have been employed to account for differences in violent crime rates between Black and White offenders, the majority of this research has been conducted at the aggregate level.