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Punitive Attitudes & Racial Typification – The Setting In Trend Of Racially Typifying Individuals In US

Racially Typifying

America is facing a lot of social issues these days, whether it’s the field of education or employment, the most critical issue is the racial typification and the punitive attitude of the American people towards these racially typified individuals.

 According to Letty Cottin Pogrebin,

 “America is a nation fundamentally ambivalent about its children, often afraid of its children and frequently punitive towards its children.”

 

The word “punitive” refers to inflicting punishment in a very severe or unfair way. Thus, the term “punitive attitude” means to have a punishing, severe or unfair attitude towards someone or something or some matter.

Racial typification, as a term, can be defined as the act of representing or typifying something; some act, attitude or characteristic on the basis of one’s race. It is one of the most critical issues of the American society.

Racial typification is generally used in terms of criminal justice system and the crime typification in the USA. According to a dissertation written by Kelly Welch in 2002, it is believed that the American criminal justice system is the most punitive justice system in the world.

According to her survey and research, the punishing policy adopted by the American criminal justice system is quite brutal. But the sad part is that the public seems to support these policies without any remorse.

In her research, she says that the general public seems to blame the black people for most of the criminal activities; the blacks are being typified as criminals. This typification is caused by a number of factors; media representation of the blacks as criminals on certain crime dramas or serials, punitive attitudes of the general public and their racial prejudice.

She says in her report,

“Findings support the initial hypothesis of this research. Those who typify blacks as criminals are significantly more punitive in their criminal justice policy preferences than those who do not share similar racial perceptions. The relationship appears to be especially relevant for whites, and particularly for whites who are non-Southerners, less racially prejudiced, less concerned about crime, perceive crime to be less violent, and conservative. “

She further explains,

“Results indicate that watching more local television news increases the black typification of crime for minorities, while whites typify crime as a black phenomenon more when they pay closer attention to television crime news. In addition, the present analyses show that media consumption is not indirectly associated with punitive attitudes through the racial typification of crime.”

The fragments of the report, give us an idea about the racial typification of crime and the possible causes behind this phenomenon, but they don’t fully elaborate the theory behind this punitive and biased attitude of the general public.

Racial typification not only affects the lives and future prospects of the community being typified but it also creates opportunities for the extremists to disrupt the peace and harmony of a state.

According to me, one of the most basic reasons behind this punitive attitude and racial typification of crime is racism or racial prejudice.

In order to understand the reason behind the punitive attitude of the people towards criminals or crime suspects and the racial typification of crime, we shall go through another research paper.

The Research was based on the results of an earlier research conducted in the nineties (Roberts and Doob, 1990; Surette, 1998).It focuses on the relationship between media consumption and the attitude of the general public.

Kelly Welch, in her dissertation paper, mentioned that “media consumption is not indirectly associated with punitive attitudes through the racial typification of crime.” This simply means that the relationship between media consumption and the attitude of the general public is direct; the more media consumption of criminological dramas and stories, the more will be the severity of the people towards crime issues.

The report starts with the statement that people get most of the awareness of crime and justice issues from the media. There are specified crime channels where only crime based dramas and series are run. People who watch news on the television or radio or are fond of watching crime and justice dramas are more aware of the dangers of the world. These people are more likely to develop a fear of crime and lead extra careful and cautious lives. The main focus of the paper is the impact of media consumption on one’s:

  • Fear of Crime
  • Punitive Attitude
  • Perception of police effectiveness.

According to the report,

“Employing OLS regression, the results indicate that respondents who are regular viewers of crime drama are more likely to fear crime. However, the relationship is weak. Furthermore, the results indicate that gender, education, income, age, perceived neighborhood problems and police effectiveness are statistically related to fear of crime. In addition, fear of crime, income, marital status, race, and education are statistically related to punitive attitudes. Finally, age, fear of crime, race, and perceived neighborhood problems are statistically related to perceived police effectiveness.”

We all have our unique fears. Some fears are as harmless as a fly while others are the fears about the gravest realities of life.

The research has proved that people who watch news or crime based dramas on a regular basis are more prone to developing a fear of crime.

Crime talks are also quite common in the western world. Crime dramas get more viewer ratings than any other genre. That is why it is believed that most of the awareness about crime issues comes from the media.

“Ignorance is bliss.” So goes the saying. People who don’t watch crime dramas are less likely to develop a cautious attitude towards their surroundings.

Media consumption also affects the public perception of police effectiveness. Generally there are two perceptions about the police. Crime dramas represent the police as honest and sincere officers who spend their entire lives trying to protect their fellow men. While the daily newspapers and broadcasts represent policemen as dishonest and incompetent officials. Although the general attitude of the people is quite positive and they seem satisfied with the police. Yet there are people who are not satisfied with the criminal justice policies.

Similarly, when it comes to racial typification, research shows that crime dramas have typified the black as the criminals. So the general attitude towards the minority has changed. And so the society adopts a punitive attitude towards the typified race.

Another issue with the media consumption is that the crime dramas seem so real and violent, that a person develops a fear of being victimized. Especially, if there is news about a crime in a particular area, the people living that area will take more safety precautions than those living in some other place. These days, people are more afraid of being sexually assaulted, beaten up or murdered especially if they live in an area where such crimes occur on a daily basis. The fear gets so high that people feel dissatisfied with the performance of the police.

If a particular racial or gender group is being victimized by the opposite gender or racial group, the former group will be typified as a victim while the later as a criminal. Thus, the conflicts between the two groups will rise and public will develop a more punitive attitude towards the suspected criminal.

According to this research,

“Police effectiveness, fear of crime and punitive attitudes are important aspects of public attitudes toward crime and justice in the United States. First, police strategies reflect departmental values, which reflect community values. Negative or positive attitudes towards the police may influence police policy making and strategy. Second, citizen attitudes toward the police may influence decisions to report crime. Third, both fear of crime and punitive attitudes may influence policy making and law making by government agencies, as public support or opposition may determine policy.”

The results of the report state a number of factors that determine the punitive attitudes of the people towards crime and justice policy of the United States of America and the public opinion of the effectiveness of the American police. For example, race, income level, gender, education level, location and media consumption etc.

“The results indicate that white, married, and low-income (15k to 30k) respondents are more likely to have punitive attitudes, whereas black, college educated, and respondents with low appraisals of police effectiveness are less likely to have punitive attitudes. The results also indicate that older respondents, males and respondents with low perception of neighborhood problems are more likely to have low fear of crime, whereas, younger respondents, female, Hispanic, college-educated and respondents with low appraisals of police effectiveness are more likely to fear crime. Finally, bivariate results suggest that Hispanic, African-American, urban, and younger respondents are more likely to have negative or low appraisals of police effectiveness. Conversely, respondents with punitive attitudes, with a medium income (30k to 60k), older, white, with low perceptions of neighborhood problems are more likely to have positive or high appraisals of police effectiveness. However, there may be a number of factors that mitigate or enhance the relationships. Thus, it is necessary to conduct multivariate techniques to further address these relationships.”

The report closes with the following conclusion:

“Regular viewers of crime shows are more likely to fear crime. Although statistically significant, the strength of this finding is minimal. In addition, there are a few limitations with regard to the measures of media consumption. First, the type of crime show that the respondent is viewing is unknown. There are numerous types of crime shows that may focus on different aspects of the criminal justice system. For example, crime shows may focus on police, courts, private investigators, defense lawyers and sometimes even the criminals. In addition, some shows are more realistic, while others routinely portray violence, and consistently misinform viewers about the nature of the criminal justice system and criminality. It would be prudent to know which dramas the respondents are viewing. Second, employing television hours watched is problematic, since there is no way of determining what type of programs the respondent is viewing. There are a number of different programs that may or may not address criminal justice issues and address them in substantially different ways. Finally, examining newspapers as the primary source of crime news suggests that only newspapers influence respondents. It would be naive to suggest that respondents are not affected by a number of sources; for example, respondents who receive their primary crime news from newspapers may also be affected by presentations of crime from other sources such as films, television and/or personal experiences.”

Conclusion:

What I understand from the above-mentioned reports is that punitive attitudes and racial typification rise from our fears of crime and victimization and our dissatisfaction with the justice policy. We need to understand that the acts of a person cannot be used to define his entire nation. Just as there are good white people, so are there bad ones too. Same is the case with other racial groups. Virtue cannot be attributed to a single class of people. The crime dramas represent the criminals as insensitive and monstrous people who get pleasure in hurting and killing others. That’s why people develop a feeling of fear and hostility towards the criminals or crime suspects. This fear and hostility is the main reason behind the punitive attitudes of the general public. We should remember that crime needs to be eradicated, not the criminals.

The most basic cause of these attitudes is racism. If there is no racism, there will be no fears of being victimized by the opposite racial groups. We should erase the concept of racism from our minds. The need of the hour is to define each other not on the basis of race or gender but on the basis of humanity.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr,

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”