Ryan J. Suto's Blog

20 September 2010

Personal Safety: Balancing Demographic Propensities and Societal Values

For this post, I bring forth a common question of safety and equality: If a demographic group has a greater propensity to commit a particular crime, is one socially allowed to avoid individuals of that demographic group in the interest of his or her personal safety?
Here, we can think of several examples. Would you trust a male to babysit your young child, as males have a higher propensity for violence? If you are walking down a dark street, are you justified in feeling more threatened based on the gender or race of the person passing by? To this end, I will paraphrase Joshua Dressler, a leading scholar in criminal law:
Even if the typical American believes  that blacks' propensity toward violence justifies a quicker and more forceful response when a suspected assailant is black, this fact is legally significant only if the law defines reasonable beliefs as typical beliefs. Legal reasonableness, however, extends beyond typicality to consider the social interests implicated in a given situation. Hence 'typical' beliefs are not per se reasonable. If we accept that racial discrimination violates contemporary social morality, then an actor's failure to overcome his or her racism for the sake of another's health, safety, and personal dignity is blameworthy and thus unreasonable, independent of whether it is 'typical'.
So, if we value equality as a society, then such discrimination in the interest of personal safety is socially blameworthy. What do you think? Are you willing to put aside statistical propensities in the interest of social equality, or are such things to abstract to ‘risk’ safety?

This quote by Dressler seems to be aimed at the very idea of 'latent racism' or 'racism of the mind'.  This almost institutional racism is in large part our current racial issue in the U.S. We seldom must condemn overt acts or statements of racism. However, this 'subtle racism' is pervasive. I think that, as a society, we value equality quite highly. So highly, in fact, that these considerations must be discouraged. The first step toward curing the racism in the world is to cure the racism in the mind, and this must be done by showing such things are socially unacceptable.


  1. To answer the question you pose, when it comes down to personal safety, I would say yes, it IS ok to avoid any demographic that statistically commits more often, and I don't think there should be any shame in doing so. It's just statistics. The appropriateness of doing so would certainly change in different scenarios, but in matters of personal safety, I would say it is always better to err on the side of caution than to worry about offending somebody

  2. Some good points!
    It sounds like you feel it's worth it to socially blameworthy in order to protect yourself.
    If that's so, then I suppose it's simply a preference.