Right-wing commentator Ann Coulter appeared on Hannity last night to discuss her views on the gun control debate. While discussing her recent trip to England, she said that they had “not bought into this whole diversity enthusiasm.” (Calling it a lack of ‘diversity enthusiasm’ is a convenient way to brush aside Europe’s documented issues with xenophobia.) She went onto say, "If you compare white populations, we have the same murder rate as Belgium.”
Okay ... but can you compare white populations?
Let’s first take a look at the murder rates of both countries. These numbers are taken from the U.N. Global Study on Homicide (2001). The methodology and data can be found here.
This data shows that the murder rate is considerably higher in the U.S. than it is in Belgium. Still, all criminal reporting mechanisms have their limitations. This data set is no different. Intentional homicides can be defined differently from country-to-country and not all intentional homicides are represented in this data sat. It would be unwise draw comparisons or conclusions where reporting guidelines may vary.
Ann’s statement is also problematic because she alludes to white people in Belgium as if they are a homogenous group. They aren’t. There are several ethnic and linguistic differences throughout the country. These differences contribute to Belgium's murder rate. See the map below:
Let's break down America's murder numbers and arrests for murder. In 2010, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation-Uniform Crime Reports (FBI-UCR) data, 8,641 individuals were arrested for murder and non-negligent manslaughter.
American Indian or
Asian Or Pacific Islander
Now, here we have a look at murder offenders in 2010. Here's the data:
Ann, you can't draw simplistic comparisons on race or ethnic makeup. In fact, the FBI warns against drawing conclusions for the following reasons:
“Crime in the United States provides a nationwide view of crime based on statistics contributed by local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies. Population size and student enrollment are the only correlates of crime presented in this publication. Although many of the listed factors equally affect the crime of a particular area, the UCR Program makes no attempt to relate them to the data presented. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual reporting units from cities, counties, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment. Until data users examine all the variables that affect crime in a town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction, they can make no meaningful comparisons.”
This statement highlights the difficulty in drawing comparisons of any kind within the United States. Imagine the complexities and problems that arrise when attempting to draw comparisons from country-to-country. It just shouldn't be done; I'm not going to do it, and Ann shouldn't have done it.
The real issue with Ann’s statement is that it is a thinly veiled racist critique against African Americans and other minorities. She went on to say, "So perhaps it's not a gun problem, it is a demographic problem, which liberals are the ones pushing, pushing, pushing."
This is racial coding. This is trying to get you to believe that white individuals commit crimes at a far lower rate than any other group. This just isn’t true; it is only her perception. African Americans are imprisoned at a rate disproportionate to their makeup in society. There is clear and documented racial bias and discrimination in sentencing. Coulter's statements feed into the notion that black equals criminal. For those that say racism isn't the problem here, Americans still express explicit and implicit racial attitudes towards minorities and these views contribute to how we think about and view crime in America.
It makes for poor politics — and even worse public policy — when individuals attempt to compare two things that cannot be compared or likened to one another. But what else would we expect of Ann Coulter?