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Homicide in black and white

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  • O'Flaherty, Brendan
  • Sethi, Rajiv

Abstract

African-Americans are six times as likely as white Americans to die at the hands of a murderer, and roughly seven times as likely to murder someone. Young black men are 15 times as likely to be murdered as young white men. This disparity is historic and pervasive, and cannot be accounted for by individual characteristics. Culture-of-violence and tail-of-the-distribution theories are also inadequate to explain the geographic and demographic pattern of the disparity. We argue that any satisfactory explanation must take into account the fact that murder can have a preemptive motive: people sometimes kill simply to avoid being killed. As a result, disputes can escalate dramatically in environments (endogenously) perceived to be dangerous, resulting in self-fulfilling expectations of violence for particular dyadic interactions, and significant racial disparities in rates of murder and victimization. Because of strategic complementarity, small differences in fundamentals can cause large differences in murder rates. Differences in the manner in which the criminal justice system treats murders with victims from different groups, and differences across groups in involvement in street vice, may be sufficient to explain the size and pattern of the racial disparity.

Suggested Citation

  • O'Flaherty, Brendan & Sethi, Rajiv, 2010. "Homicide in black and white," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(3), pages 215-230, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:juecon:v:68:y:2010:i:3:p:215-230
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Bjerk, David, 2010. "Thieves, thugs, and neighborhood poverty," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(3), pages 231-246, November.
    2. Robert Dur & Joël Van Der Weele, 2013. "Status-Seeking in Criminal Subcultures and the Double Dividend of Zero-Tolerance," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 15(1), pages 77-93, February.
    3. Magnus Lofstrom & Steven Raphael, 2016. "Crime, the Criminal Justice System, and Socioeconomic Inequality," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(2), pages 103-126, Spring.
    4. Carlos Medina & Jorge Andrés Tamayo & Christian Posso, 2013. "The Effect of Adult Criminals´ Spillovers On the Likelihood of Youths Becoming Criminals," BORRADORES DE ECONOMIA 010461, BANCO DE LA REPÚBLICA.
    5. Songman Kang, 2016. "Inequality and crime revisited: effects of local inequality and economic segregation on crime," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 29(2), pages 593-626, April.
    6. Cheng Cheng & Mark Hoekstra, 2012. "Does Strengthening Self-Defense Law Deter Crime or Escalate Violence? Evidence from Castle Doctrine," NBER Working Papers 18134, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. O’Flaherty, Brendan & Sethi, Rajiv, 2015. "Urban Crime," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.

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    Keywords

    Homicide Racial disparities Crime;

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