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PBS Reporter on Riley Death: There’s a Leap from a Crime ‘to Fear of an Entire Group’

via PBS
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PBS captured a heated debate on the tendency to generalize criminal acts of individuals to entire groups, especially immigrant populations.

UC-Irvine Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society Charis Kubrin argued the crime of one immigrant wouldn’t have occurred if they weren’t in the country, the host acknowledged that was factually true but misplaced, as restrictive immigration policies wouldn’t significantly reduce overall crime given evidence that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates.

Amna Nawaz, the co-host of “PBS NewsHour” noted we don’t see the same leap made to fear entire native-born or white populations from crimes of individuals in those groups.

Nawaz said, “I’m sure you’ve heard this argument before, we’re hearing this again, which is that if this man had not been allowed to enter into the United States, if he’d not been allowed to stay, he couldn’t have committed this crime, and this young woman would still be alive today.”

“Are people making that argument wrong?” he asked Kurbin.

Charis Kubrin, answered, “Well, it’s not that that argument’s wrong, because, essentially, that is true, but I think it’s misplaced, because, at the end of the day, if we really do want to cut down on crime in general, absent this one horrific incident, making restrictive, exclusionary, and harsh policies aimed at immigrants is really not going to yield the benefits of reductions in crime that many people believe, largely because, as I just mentioned, immigrants are not the ones engaging in crime. I would point out also that there [have] been a lot of instances of violence on campus with young individuals getting killed, tragic events, most of which are occurring by native-born Americans. And so, I think we need to pay attention to broader factors that contribute to this kind of senseless violence, rather than simply aiming our targets at immigrants.”

Nawaz asked, “So, that leap from the crime of one person catalyzing to fear of an entire group or population, we don’t really see that, as you mentioned, with native-born Americans or white Americans more broadly. Is that something unique to immigrant populations?”

Kubrin agreed this singling out of immigrant status in crime reporting reinforces public perceptions linking immigrants to crime despite data showing the opposite.

Kubrin replied, “So that’s the interesting thing. I’ve never seen a headline, not once in my life, that has read, native-born American has engaged in this crime or that crime. And so, what happens is most of the stories identify a person’s immigrant status and link it with crime in headlines, in social media, in the news. That essentially reinforces the public perception that both go hand in hand, when, in fact, the data show just the opposite. So, it’s an uphill battle in terms of public perception.”

They concluded broader societal factors, rather than immigration status alone, better explain acts of violence.

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