Experts Dispute Buchanan On Race And Crime

A series of inflammatory claims made by Pat Buchanan about race and crime are baseless and disingenuous, experts tell Media Matters.

The controversial passages appear in Buchanan's recently released book, Suicide of a Superpower. Buchanan raises the specter of “interracial rape” perpetrated by black men against white women and separately suggests that “largely black juries” are refusing to convict “even patently guilty black felons.”

One of the book's key themes is Buchanan's rejection of the “fashionable” argument that “America's greatness comes from her diversity” [Page 226]. According to Buchanan, the massive waves of immigration that shaped America in the 19th and early 20th centuries were only beneficial because the immigrants were “white”:

Celebrants of diversity point to the Irish immigration of the 1840s and the great wave of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe from 1890 to 1920. America, they argue, despite nativist fears, successfully integrated these diverse peoples into one nation. They ignore the crucial elements that made America work.

All these people were Europeans. All were white. Almost all were Christian. After each wave of immigration, there were long periods of little or no immigration that gave America time to assimilate the newcomers. And before they were fully assimilated, their children and grandchildren passed through deeply patriotic public and parochial schools where they were immersed in the language, literature, history, and traditions of this unique people. Today, however, those schools have been converted into madrassas of modernity where it is forbidden to invoke the faith of our fathers and American history is often taught as a series of crimes against peoples of color [Page 234].

In the same chapter, Buchanan points to black-on-white crime -- and black-on-white rape, in particular -- as a major cause of ongoing racial strife. Citing a Bureau of Justice Statistics study (which he wrongly attributes to the “FBI”), Buchanan writes, “Interracial rape is almost exclusively black-on-white, with 14,000 assaults on white women by African American males in 2007. Not one case of white sexual assault on a black female was found in the FBI study” [Page 243].

Given the history of racism and violence fueled by allegations of black-on-white rape, one would think that Buchanan and his publisher -- Thomas Dunne Books -- would be especially careful about printing such claims. But Michael Rand, a senior BJS statistician who oversaw the study Buchanan cited, tells Media Matters that Buchanan's interpretation of the data is “incorrect.”

The BJS study is not a tally of every single violent crime committed in 2007, but, rather, an estimate based on a nationwide household survey. The study makes clear that its estimates for the overall number of blacks who were raped and for the number of whites who were raped by blacks are both based on interviews with 10 or fewer respondents. Rand explains that these small sample sizes -- which result from the fact that blacks make up less than 13 percent of the overall population and from the fact that rape is a relatively infrequent crime -- prevent the BJS from accurately calculating margins of error. According to Rand, the figures cited by Buchanan “are not reliable as exact point estimates of the actual levels of such crime.” In other words, there could have been far fewer or far more than 14,000 black-on-white rapes.

Similarly, there may have actually been a substantial number of white-on-black rapes. “The survey is not capable of providing a measure of such crimes,” explains Rand. “For demographic groups that make up a fraction of the population the measurement issues become greater, and would require substantial oversampling in order to obtain reliable estimates.”

Buchanan's use of the data is extremely misleading for another reason. Even if the 14,000 figure is accurate, that would mean that only 7.6 percent of rapes against white victims were perpetrated by black offenders. What Buchanan leaves out is that according the BJS study, fully 75.5 percent of rapes against whites are perpetrated by whites -- a fact that seems to undermine Buchanan's point.

Elsewhere in the book, Buchanan references the OJ Simpson trial, apparently to make the argument that “largely black juries” that refuse to convict “patently guilty” black defendants have surpassed (or at least are comparable to) all-white Jim Crow-era juries in terms of meting out racist justice:

Decades ago, it was said that blacks in the Deep South could not get justice from an all-white jury. In the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, in which Gregory Peck stars as Atticus Finch, defending a black man falsely accused of the attempted rape of a white woman, the issue is dramatized. Considering the O. J. Simpson murder trial, prosecutors now concede it is much more difficult to convict even patently guilty black felons if they are tried before largely black juries. Race-based justice may be America's future [Page 158].

Buchanan doesn't cite anything in support of this assertion, and according to Duke University economist Patrick Bayer, “There is absolutely no scientific evidence for Buchanan's claims.”

Bayer recently coauthored a study on the effects of the racial composition of jury pools on conviction rates in two Florida counties. Bayer and his colleagues found that “conviction rates for black and white defendants are similar when there is at least some representation of blacks in the jury pool but that in the absence of such representation, black defendants are substantially more likely to be convicted.” Specifically:

When there are no potential black jurors in the pool, black defendants are significantly more likely than whites to be convicted of at least one crime (81 percent for blacks versus 66 percent for whites). However, as the number of blacks in the pool increases, this differential goes away: in fact, with at least one black member of the jury pool, conviction rates are almost identical (71 percent for blacks and 73 percent for whites).

None of the seated juries in Bayer's study had more than two black jurors, so it's difficult to directly assess Buchanan's claims about “largely black juries.” But Bayer notes that “the vast majority of trials are held in jurisdictions that have a very small fraction of blacks in the jury pool” and that as a result, black defendants are far more likely to be tried by all-white or mostly white juries than the other way around.

Tania Tetlow, an associate professor at Tulane University Law School, acknowledges that black jurors -- like white jurors -- may show some bias toward members of their own race. But, she says, that “very human tendency” is far different from the virulent and systematic racism that has long plagued America's judicial system.

“It is disingenuous to equate the possibility of black racial allegiance on juries to America's egregious history of white racism,” says Tetlow. “For centuries in our history, all-white juries convicted black defendants without need for much evidence. They also acquitted defendants guilty of raping or lynching black victims. ... Modern empirical evidence continues to show that the race of the defendant has an impact on conviction rates and that the race of the victim has an even greater impact. Juries are far more likely to convict those accused of raping white women than black, for example, or to execute those convicted of killing white victims.”