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There Must be Other Reasons for a Race Relationship to Violent Crimes

Posted by plosmedicine on 31 Mar 2009 at 00:26 GMT

Author: Earl Smith
Position: Professor
Institution: Wake Forest University
Additional Authors: Dr. Angela J. Hattery
Submitted Date: May 30, 2008
Published Date: June 4, 2008
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

Dear Editors:

“There Must be Other Reasons for a Race Relationship to Violent Crimes.”
As sociologists with an interest in “race & crime” we feel there are several methodological questions that need to be asked about the very interesting article you published entitled “Association of Prenatal and Childhood Blood Lead Concentrations with Criminal Arrests in Early Adulthood” by Wright JP, Dietrich KN, Ris MD, Hornung RW, Wessel SD, et al. PLoS Medicine Vol. 5, No. 5, e101 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050101.

For starters, we need to know how the sample was generated (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva 2008)?

The authors indicate that pregnant women were recruited through pre-natal clinic visits. What was the refusal rate? Was there any tracking of refusals to determine how those women might be different? What, specifically, is the race and SES breakdown of the sample? We would imagine that one’s exposure to lead in housing structures, especially at the time of the study, is clearly shaped by one’s race, ethnicity & social class status, even within a sample that was composed only of people who were exposed to lead paint. Specifically, it is highly probable that among those living in neighborhoods with a high concentration of housing with lead paint, racial/ethnic minorities and the poor are likely to live in the housing with the highest levels of lead paint and/or that are the most dilapidated and which therefore have the most peeling paint and other conditions associated with increased exposure to lead. Similarly, data on exposure to crime and especially on profiling in terms of being arrested, charged with a crime, and incarcerated establish a strong link between race, and to a lesser degree social class and these experiences (Hattery and Smith 2007).

Thus, we know that race is a strong predictor of both exposure to lead and to the likelihood of being arrested for a crime, thus it is possible that the findings reported here are spurious. This cautions us as to the ability to assert a casual relationship between lead exposure and arrest in adulthood. We suggest that this type of research would be greatly enhanced using a control sample and in this instance a white comparative sample.

Since the research is “environmental” it begs the question as to why empirical research on toxins in segregated communities and the way race shapes residence in these communities was not consulted is of concern (Bullard 1990; Bullard, Mohai, Saha, and Wright 2007)?

Since researchers have long struggled to explain racial and ethnic differences in violence rates our questions posed here are especially important (Sampson, Morenoff, and Raudenbush 2005).

Is it race (and if so how was “race” determined?), and to a lesser degree is it social class (and if so how was class position determined?),or is it the exposure to lead in early childhood that produces these findings on the prevalence of violence among African Americans?

If so would replication of the study with a poor white sample produce the same results? This is a very important question in light of the conclusions deduced from the study.

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Bullard, Robert D. 1990. Dumping in Dixie : race, class, and environmental quality. Boulder: Westview Press.
Bullard, Robert, Paul Mohai, Robin Saha, and Beverly Wright. 2007. Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007. Cleveland, OH 44115: United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
Hattery, Angela J. and Earl Smith. 2007. African American Families. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publishers.
Sampson, Robert J., Jeffrey D. Morenoff, and Stephen Raudenbush. 2005. "Social Anatomy of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Violence." American Journal of Public Health 95:224-32.
Zuberi, Tukufu and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. 2008. White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology. Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

No competing interests declared.