SARASOTA -- A renowned criminologist and professor discussed the relationship between race and youth crime Thursday evening.
Robert Agnew, the Samuel Candler Dobbs professor of sociology at Emory University in Atlanta, led a discussion titled "Race and Youth Crime: Why isn't the Relationship Strong?" At the heart of Agnew's discussion were stereotypes associated with African-American youth and aspects of the African-American culture he said are largely neglected by the media and criminologists.
Held at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee's Selby Auditorium in Sarasota, the discussion was part of the school's Knowledge-A-Bull Speaker Series.
Agnew spoke about the stereotype of "criminal black men" -- a stereotype so strong he said many people just meld "young," "black," "male," "crime" together in their mind.
"African-Americans constitute 17 percent of the juvenile population, but they account for 31 percent of all juvenile arrests," Agnew said. "If you look at arrest data, you might well conclude that there's some basis to this stereotype."
Based on much research, criminologists know arrest data is biased, the professor said, and greatly underestimates the extent of juvenile crime because most crimes aren't reported to the police.
According to Agnew, the relationship between race and crime is not as strong as commonly believed because of "protective factors" African-Americans possess, including skills in coping, social supports, strength in the face of adversity and social controls.
Religion and spirituality are also key, he said.
"African-Americans are more likely to be religious, spiritual than are whites," Agnew said. "That is especially true for African-American females."
Agnew also spoke about the importance of racial socialization.
"Most African-American parents in African-American communities will socialize children regarding their race, their racial heritage or try and instill racial pride -- and will prepare their children for discrimination," he said, "They will let their children know that, because of their race, there are people out there who will treat you in a negative manner, who are going to view you in a negative manner and here's how you might deal with that."
This kind of socialization hit close to home for John D. Walker. The campus chaplain for Ringling College of Art and Design said he had to teach his 28-year-old son how to "survive a stop" by a police officer as an African-American man.
"Don't get arrogant and combative. Just do what you're told to do," the 58-year-old Sarasota resident said. "I tell him just to be respectful, comply to whatever the instructions are and, if you feel like you're being mistreated, get the officer's name and then deal with it. Survive the stop."
Walker also mentioned stereotypes associated with black men, which he said he had to deal with when he was younger.
"The stereotypes haven't changed. The mindset has never changed," he said, adding his son now deals with the same stereotypes.
Walker, whose son has dreadlocks, said he is concerned about the stereotypes and judgments associated with the hairstyle.
"Definitely it's not fair," Walker said. "There are moments when I get angry about it, but the good thing about it is that I know people from all cultures. ... I know that you can't put everyone under the same umbrella."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.