Black Female Homicide in the United States

The topic above is the title of the article written by Coramae Richey Mann, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago. While this paper is intended to provide a short and detailed critique of the article, it is quite necessary to include the authors background in order to have a more precise understanding of the article.

Coramae Richey Mann was born in a segregated Chicago hospital in January 1931. At her young age, Mann exhibited talents in both painting and writing to which she has completed her first painting before she attended school. Though an African American, Mann was one of the two best students in her class. Despite difficult circumstances she has gone through during her youth, she made excellent academic performance maintaining an A average in spite of of her uncharacteristic behavior.

While in college, Mann engaged in card playing and drinking activities (Greene and Gabidon 2000, p. 84), and she also eloped after her first year. Notwithstanding her uncharacteristic love affairs while in college however, Mann was still managed to complete her college education receiving both B.A. and M.A. degree in clinical psychology at Roosevelt University.

Manns encounter with Dr. Charles Sumner during her college wandering leaves in her a profound impression that led her to take up psychology. Greene and Gabbidon pointed out that in 1956 Mann received a B.A. degree in clinical psychology and M.A. in clinical psychology in the same university (p. 85) six years after he she received her B.A. degree. However, while she was a clinical psychologist by profession, according to Greene and Gabbidon, Manns experience in varieties of jobs classified her more as urban sociologist than a clinical psychologist (p. 85). But this may not really be surprising since she has enrolled in the sociology program at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she finished her doctorate degree in sociology. Thus, the author was a clinical psychologist and a sociologist rather than criminologist in terms of her intellectual background and her practical work experiences.    

In her introduction, the author cited that black women rank second in the in the frequency of arrest for murder and non-negligent suicide in the United States (Mann, p. 176) prior to the 1970s but she lamented on the scarcity of information on this offending subgroup. To be able to obtain information necessary for her thesis however, Mann cited previous researches on Black women killer. Among such empirical studies she cited in this article was the work of Wolfgang (1958) which reported details on Black women who kill in his seminal study of violent crime. She also cited more recent works of Cole, Fisher, and Cole (1968) and those of others whose works centers on violent crimes carried out by Black women.

Critique of the article
Black Female Homicide in the United States was, as the title suggests, about crimes and offenses purportedly committed by black women. In this article, Mann intended to provide relevant findings regarding the offender profile, victim profile, victim-offender relationship, circumstances of the homicide, and criminal justice system processing. From this initial look on the content of the paper, Manns work appears interesting because it pertains to the most neglected issue in terms of crime cases in America.

Judging from a fair point of view, Manns discussion and interpretations of data under the subject offenders profile is important because it high lights her agreements and disagreements with some of the research works previously done on the subject especially homicide and murder cases perpetrated by black women. Her findings confirm her proposition regarding Black women crime rate. Manns findings that women killers are older than their male counter part was important as it suggest that Black women killers were simply victims of males dominance and abuses. On socio economic level, her interpretation of the data available was fair and she seemed to have obviously considered what the original researchers intension of presenting balanced information, admitting that though most of the women killers were not really poorly educated, the black women who killed appear to be from the lowest economic strata suggesting link between economic status and homicide. She must be right in her interpretation that that the combined disadvantages of being poor, Black, and female create a degree of life-style stress that contributes to homicide (p. 182).

While these findings were not surprising at all, her work was very credible because she apparently based her findings on various scholarly works using very clear and straightforward language. The comparative data presented in table 1 of crimes committed on a yearly basis on six cities namely, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Baltimore representing higher homicide rates based on the records of the Federal Bureau of investigations, was a credible source for her findings regarding the age group of female murderers which was between 25 to 39 compared to the male killers which ranges from age 15 to 24.

Manns presentation of data reflects that she was indeed an objective writer. The fact that she was black herself she could have made statement to justify Black women killers in view of the unavailability of usual measures of economic deprivation (p. 182).yet she was apparently more concern on presenting factual information. Her interpretation of the data however, though appropriate given the fact that it was reality as it could happen to any particular group regardless of race and gender, was more on the perspective of a sociologist than on the perspective of a criminologist or of a psychologist. Though she was talking of Black race and a female gender, yet her work appeared to be a representation of a general scenario. That is, she presented the case as the tendency when an individual regardless of race or gender is under extreme circumstances.

On her second subject that was about the victim profile the author confirms previous study that most often women kill men of their own race. However, the writer particularly adds that non-Black frequently killed children than did Blacks. It appears that in this subject, Mann was more concern on presenting the discrepancy between the white women children killers which was relatively higher compared to their Black counter part. This seemed to imply that there was practically no different between the Black and the White women as both would engage in uncharacteristic behavior if in the same circumstances.

In fairness to the author, her presentation of the subject was extremely well. Her writing ability enable her to write such a great paper using simple words but with profound meaning.
In this article, the authors writing skill and her deep inclination to sociology was very evident as she provided careful interpretations of data which was not only a product of sociological study dealing with the subject of criminology but also a work of a black woman writer writing on the case of black women killers. The article was indeed a complex subject but was discussed with great excellence.

Regarding victimoffender relationship, Mann confirms the earlier idea presented on the subject that Mann being Black herself implies that there is indeed no differences between the behavior of Black and White when facing extremely difficult and complicated circumstances. That either race can be prune to such criminal instinct when the combined disadvantages of being black, poor, and the life style stress are present. Or in some cases, when faced by difficult and complicated relationships being a victim themselves their tendency would be to escape and some times the only way to do it is to kill. Mann cited various studies which confirm that Black women who kill prove no exception to this rule (p. 186). Mann, states that when family included legal and common-law spouses, lovers, separated or divorced partners, children, parents other relatives, and in-laws, 66.5 of the Blacks killed member of their family (p. 186).  

From these ideas, it appears that Mann was now concern on the plight of Black women who were victims of domestic violence. In this case she was more of a psychologist than a sociologist as she was particularly concern on the family matters and in the relationship between the opposite sexes. That is, it seemed that the author was shifting her focus based on the subject she was discussing. But this can be understandable because Mann was herself a black and has experienced perhaps during her early life the experiences of women subject to her study. Thus, her presentation of data in this subject though it appeared to be objective and was intended to shed light on the nature and timing of the crime of homicide. In this case also, the author seemed to disagree on the studies done on the subject especially when the homicides is likely to occur whether during on weekends or during weekdays.

Again, the author seemed to have employed her expertise in clinical psychology in this portion of her research. The authors presentation of facts based on the previous works (Goetting 1986, McClain, 1982 Suval  Brison, 1975 and Cole 1968) about the extent of alcohol use and other drug involvement in relation to homicide suggest that Black female offenders were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the homicide and 12.5 identified themselves as alcoholics (p. 187).

Manns interpretation of the data provided in the studies mentioned above implies that homicide victims as per autopsy reports were legally drunk during the time they were killed and their killers were unlikely to have been drinking at the time of the crime. It appears therefore that women killers likely to execute killings when their partners were drunk. These again suggest that the author was trying to demonstrate that Black women tend to commit violent reaction when their partner is drunk. These in turn suggest that it was they were being abused physically abused by their partner when they were under the
influence of liquor or the illegal drugs.

Here again, the authors back ground in psychology provided distinct skills in presenting her subjects while staying perfectly academic. Definitely, the authors work is very informative and at the same time, was very objective. She was able to blend naturally her distinct identities being a sociologist, a clinical psychologist, a black woman writer, and a criminologist.

Manns position as Black woman writer however is very evident as she clearly sympathized with women in the context of the so-called battered syndrome. According to Mann, The battered woman syndrome suggest that a homicide committed by an abused female maybe a reasonable and necessary act because the woman believed that she was in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death and that the force she used was necessary to avoid that danger (p. 190). In this statement, the author seemed to agree that it is perfectly normal to kill the husband when he appeared dangerous. This seemed to say that black women killers should not be judge out rightly nor identify her crime on the basis of her race. That is, what the author seemed to demonstrate was that Black women were victims of unjust system where in a person can be tagged as criminal simply on the basis of the color of his or her screen.

Overall, the article was scholarly and brilliant written as the author seemed to have shifting her identities based on the given circumstances. Overall, the article was fair and the facts presented were very interesting and informative. However, one weak point of the article was that the author simply provided and interpreted the facts contained in empirical studies done previously but failed to strongly or categorically identify the good and bad of these works leaving judgment on the capacity of the readers to understand.


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