by Alex Mikulich Ph.D.
In her 2011 Sutherland Address to the American Society of Criminology, Ruth D. Peterson argued that a comprehensive approach to understanding race and racial disparities in crime and justice is necessary (see “The Central Place of Race in Crime and Justice,” Criminology Vol 50, Issue 2, May 2012, p 303-328). The starting point of her approach understands that racial inequality in neighborhood crime is an outgrowth of racialized social structures largely maintained by residential segregation. In other words, she argues that race and ethnicity should be placed at the center of the study of crime and justice. Peterson’s research, along with that of her colleagues, finds that when a society is systemically organized around racial and ethnic lines, “we cannot assume that the sources and responses to crime, or the application of criminal justice, are race neutral in their effects and consequences (p.319).” If criminologists ignore the centrality of race and ethnicity, Peterson concludes, then we “fail to treat Whites as a race, and thereby fail to demonstrate how privilege associated with Whiteness affects the crimes that we study, the processing of criminal suspects and defendants, and the punishments that we exact…and continue to rely on narrow criminal justice solutions that many are comfortable with, but which leave many crime problems unaddressed and racial and ethnic minorities continuing to pay a heavy price for social and economic inequality" (p. 321).
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