Deconstructing The "13/50" Argument
Written by Kennedy Kelis
Edited by Grace Bennet and Alice Lei

The “13/50” argument is an overused and under-analyzed conservative talking point, one that unfortunately aids in perpetuating lies about the black community and in casting an unfounded presumption of guilt onto black people. The argument proposes that while black people make up only 13 percent of the population of the United States, we commit 50 percent of all known crime. Occasionally, the 50 percent statistic will vary, sometimes only referring to murder or more broadly to violent crime. Nonetheless, because this argument lacks truly concrete evidence and consistently fails to examine the socio-economic conditions that contribute to crime in the black community––such as the nearly 20 percent of African Americans who are currently living in poverty (Creamer)––it will never hold any substantial relevance.

The 50 percent statistic is most likely derived from the most recent edition of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting statistics. This database states that African Americans are arrested for 51.2 percent of all murder and nonnegligent manslaughter (Table 43). However, according to this same FBI source, when one includes the thousands of homicides in which the race of the perpetrator was listed as unknown, this number drops to 39.6 percent (Expanded Homicide Data Table 3)

Furthermore, when referring to all known crime—again, according to this same source—black people account for just 26.6 percent of arrests made, this number being nowhere near 50 (Table 43).

It is important to note, however, that this data only refers to arrests made, not convictions, and even then, the UCR itself admits that these statistics rely largely on voluntary reports from law enforcement. This is significant because law enforcement agencies have consistently proven to be biased against people of color. For example, when the United States Justice Department conducted an investigation into policing in Ferguson, Missouri, they found “substantial evidence of racial bias among police and court staff” (Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department). The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports similar findings in their 2017 analysis of body camera footage from Oakland, California (Voigt). This suggests that the data reported by law enforcement could easily suffer from bias.

Furthermore, poverty is among the leading causes of crime in the United States (Crime and Criminality), and lack of quality education is among the leading causes of poverty (Soken-Huberty). This proves to be important in discussion of the “13/50” argument, as according to nonprofit organization EdBuild, there is an astounding 23 billion dollar gap in funding between predominantly black and Latino school districts and predominantly white school districts (Lombardo). This is due to the fact that schools are largely funded by taxes collected within the school’s community, and African Americans are at a much higher risk of being low income due to historical oppression (McIntosh). Unfortunately, frequently is this a never-ending cycle, as it is hard to increase regional income levels if schools are underfunded, and it is much harder to fund schools if a community is already low income. This means that many black students receive sub-par education—fewer teachers and fewer resources —therefore leading to fewer and lower quality job opportunities and directly contributing to the poverty risk.

Furthermore, the moment African Americans were brought to the United States, we were immediately placed at a significant social and economic disadvantage. Almost every historical attempt that black people have made at achieving economic prosperity has been hindered by racist policy and action, an example being the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, which ended in the destruction of what is currently known as “Black Wall Street” (McIntosh). Today, due to these horrible acts, black people continue to find it difficult to thrive, therefore finding our communities impoverished.

The widely-known mass incarceration of black people in the United States contributes to poverty as well. When a group of people is mass incarcerated, it is robbed of its ability to positively contribute to its community. According to the Center for Community Change, nationally, “if not for the rise in incarceration, the number of people in poverty would fall by as much as 20 percent” (The Relationship between Poverty & Mass Incarceration)

Moreover, according to the United States Sentencing Commission, black men receive 19.1 percent longer prison sentences when compared to similarly situated white men (Demographic Differences in Sentencing). And according to an analysis of the National Registry of Exonerations, when compared to innocent white people, black people are 3.5 times more likely to be wrongly convicted of sexual assault, 12 times more likely to be wrongly convicted of drug crimes, and 7 times more likely to be wrongly convicted of murder (Gross). Therefore, not only are African Americans over-incarcerated, but we are over-sentenced and over-convicted as well.

Rather than offering any solutions to the aforementioned issues, the “13/50” argument simply insinuates that violence is somehow inherent to blackness, which could not be any further from the truth. If those who employed this argument truly cared about decreasing the incidence of crime within the black community, they would advocate for the reconstruction of the United States’ criminal justice system and push for more federal funding in schools. Nonetheless, they do not. They simply regurgitate the same, foolish talking point in an often deliberate attempt at maintaining and advancing white supremacy.

Works Cited

Brown, Jerrod. “Father-Absent Homes: Implications for Criminal Justice and Mental Health Professionals.” MNPsych, Minnesota Psychological Association, Accessed 14 July 2021.

Creamer, John. “Poverty Rates for Blacks and Hispanics Reached Historic Lows in 2019.” The United States Census Bureau, United States Census Bureau, 14 Apr. 2021, . Accessed 25 Sept. 2021.

“Crime and Criminality.” UCDavis, University of California, Davis, Accessed 14 July 2021.

“Demographic Differences in Sentencing.” USSC, United States Sentencing Commission, 13 Jan. 2021, . Accessed 14 July 2021.

“Expanded Homicide Data Table 3.” FBI, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2019, . Accessed 14 July 2021.

Gross, Samuel R, et al. “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States.” Law.Umich, University of Michigan, 7 Mar. 2017, Accessed 14 July 2021.

“Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.” Justice, Department of Justice, Accessed 14 July 2021.

Lombardo, Clare. “Why White School Districts Have So Much More Money.” NPR, NPR, 26 Feb. 2019, Accessed 14 July 2021.

McIntosh, Kriston, et al. “Examining the Black-White Wealth Gap.” Brookings, Brookings Institute, 27 Feb. 2020, Accessed 14 July 2021.

Morsy, Leila, and Richard Rothstein. “Mass Incarceration and Children's Outcomes: Criminal Justice Policy Is Education Policy.” EPI, Economic Policy Institute, 15 Dec. 2016, Accessed 14 July 2021.

Soken-Huberty, Emmaline. “10 Common Root Causes of Poverty.” Human Rights Careers, Human Rights Careers , 11 May 2020, Accessed 16 Sept. 2021.

“Table 43.” FBI, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 22 Sept. 2019, Accessed 14 July 2021

“The Relationship between Poverty & Mass Incarceration.” MassLegalServices, Center for Community Change, . Accessed 15 July 2021.

Umberson, Debra, et al. “Death of Family Members as an Overlooked Source of Racial Disadvantage in the United States.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 31 Jan. 2017, Accessed 14 July 2021

Voigt, Rob, et al. “Language from Police Body Camera Footage Shows Racial Disparities in Officer Respect.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 20 June 2017, Accessed 14 July 2021.