Commentary Magazine


Crime in America

To the Editor:

James Q. Wilson’s “What To Do About Crime” [September 1994] is a thought-provoking article by one of America’s great intellects. However, his comparison of U.S. homicide rates with those of other industrialized nations should be studied more closely.

On the surface it appears that Americans are more violent than Europeans. For instance, in 1992 Americans had 9.6 homicides per 100,000 population, while Britain had 7.4, Italy had 6.0, France 4.6, and Germany 4.2. Mr. Wilson attributes this, in large part, to the greater availability of firearms in the U.S. But . . . England, France, Germany, and Italy are more homogeneous societies than is the United States. In order to make a more accurate comparison, therefore, one should compare only the white population of the U.S. with the populations of these countries.

Here, sadly, African-Americans are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime, especially murders. For example, a recent statistic released by the Department of Justice shows that black males, ages 15 through 24, who comprise only 1 percent of the U.S. population, are responsible for 20 percent of the felonious homicides. Overall, African-Americans commit 55 percent of the homicides. Thus, if you factor out homicides committed by blacks, America’s murder rate is seen to be equal to, or lower than, those of England, France, Germany, and Italy. . . .

The press and many within academia tend to ignore the question of race and crime in American society. Perhaps it suits their agenda to do so. After all, aren’t crime studies comparing us unfavorably with Europeans just another form of America-bashing?

James J. Kouri
National Association of Chiefs of Police
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

James Q. Wilson writes:

James J. Kouri claims that the homicide rate in the United States is similar to that in several European nations once one allows for the racial diversity of this country. In particular, if one compares only white homicides here with homicides in white European countries, we discover that the U.S. is not an especially violent nation. There is, accordingly, no need to explain violence in America by reference to gun ownership, historical traditions, or any other distinctive factor.

I believe Mr. Kouri is wrong in his conclusion because he is wrong in his calculations. He claims that the homicide rate (crimes per 100,000 population) in 1992 was 7.4 in Britain, 6.0 in Italy, 4.6 in France, and 4.2 in Germany. I do not know where he obtained these figures. Perhaps he will tell me. The latest figures I was able to get from Interpol are for 1990. At first glance they seem to confirm Mr. Kouri’s conclusion: the murder rate in France was 4.5, in Italy 6.4, in Germany 3.9.

But it has long been the case that Interpol reports, in the column headed “Number of crimes known to the police,” the sum of completed and attempted homicides. In the next column it shows what percentage of all reported homicides were merely attempts (crimes that in this country would be reported as aggravated assaults) . To calculate the true homicide rate using Interpol data, one must first subtract the attempts. In many countries this is a very large number. Here are the Interpol data for 1990:

Country Homicides Reported Attempts (Percent) Completed
France 2,526 46.36% 1,353
Germany 2,419 68.20% 772
Italy 3,676 45.32% 2,011
Neth. 2,206 90.00% 206
Spain 963 12.46% 843
Sweden 603 60.00% 241
UK 1,145 47.60% 600
USA (all) 23,440 0 23,440
USA (whites) 11,300 0 11,300

 

Homicide Rate
Country All Completed Only
France 4.5 2.4
Germany 3.9 1.2
Italy 6.4 3.5
Neth. 14.8 1.4
Spain 2.4 2.2
Sweden 7.0 2.8
UK 2.3 1.1
USA (all) 9.4 9.4
USA (whites) 5.6 5.6

The estimated number of homicides committed by whites in the U.S. is at least twice as great as the total homicide rate in any listed European nation except Italy; the U.S. rate is 60 percent greater than the Italian one. Contrary to what Mr. Kouri suggests, there is much more to American violence than the composition of our population. If he has evidence to the contrary or believes that these Interpol data are wrong, I hope he will explain why.

_____________

 

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