Application of Strain Theory

Strain Theory is a theory developed by Robert K. Merton in 1938 which attempts to explain the cause of criminal activity through social structures. More specifically, Strain Theory explains crime through a three step cycle that include - loss of positives, presentation of negative, and failure to achieve a goal. The idea behind ST is that crime is a response to a combination of the previously mentioned factors, and criminal behavior can sometimes be traced back to its cause by applying ST.

 In December of 2018, Bryant Marshall shot his girlfriend because she was allegedly cheating on him. This is a textbook example of how ST can explain the actions of someone. Although there is very limited information revealed in such cases it is possible to make multiple inferences. 

A study by the FBI on crime in the U.S. found that Black Americans commit over half of murder/manslaughter while making up about 12% of the U.S. population. Also, the majority of counties and townships with high percentage of Black Americans consistently have high crime rates, for example in Southwark PA, one of the most dangerous areas in Philadelphia, blacks consist of about 20% of the population. These statistics are not meant to demonize black neighborhoods or areas, it is simply a way to convey the fact that Blacks on average commit and experience much more crime. The Economic Policy Institute also found that 45% of poor Black children live in areas of concentrated poverty meaning that there is little chance to escape from their cycle of poverty. Whether or not this is a result of their parents/grandparents decisions or society is another conversation. However what these statistics show is that Black Americans on average live in neighborhoods with above average crime rates and poverty rates, and this can sometimes lead to the cycles presented by ST. 

One of the steps in ST is the “Loss of a positive”, there are many different types of losses a person could experience in their lifetimes, but as we are speaking about Black Americans, it could be said without a doubt that the most devastating factors is the absence of a father. Around 65% of black children are born into a family with single mothers, multiple studies have also shown that on average children as a whole live worse lives with single mothers than their multiple parent peers. For example The Prospect explains that “they are twice as likely to dropout of high school, 2.5 times as likely to become teen mothers, and 1.4 times as likely to be idle -- out of school and out of work -- as children who grow up with both parents”, and this is only a fraction of the devastating effects of single motherhood. Although there are always exceptions and these statistics do not speak towards all people, it is certainly indicative of a recurring problem. 

What these statistics combined show is that on average Blacks are much more likely to experience these losses of positives, and once this begins the cycle can become powerful. As seen in the previous statistic 65% of Black children will experience these downfalls, and this is only the surface. Strain Theory presents the notion that criminal behavior comes from a cycle, and it could be said that the man who committed this crime was most likely a victim of single-motherhood and the losses that came with it. These losses were simultaneously presentations of negatives, and once a person has failure to achieve a goal it is hard to get back on track. 

Failure to achieve a goal is arguably the most significant of the three parts of ST. This is because it creates a mentality of carelessness and anger, which is often channeled towards others because we hope that it will absorb our problems, but unfortunately it only bounces back creating another loss of positive which will eventually lead to negatives and another outbreak due to another failure to achieve a goal. In the article it is said that “Bryant Marshall of Danville, shot Ms. Brown after arguing over suspicious of her cheating on him”. This is clearly an example of the result of a failure to achieve a goal, and although the article never specifically reveals what may have caused Marshall’s anger but it could be any number of things such as a failure to get a job or simply not receiving the treatment he may have thought he deserved. 

Another factor in such domestic disputes is gender differences. “Females have even lower representation than males do in serious crime categories. Since the 1960s in the United States, the extent of female arrests has generally been less than 15 percent for homicide and aggravated assault”. This is all there it to the statistics, men simply engage in violent domestic disputes far more than women do, as shown in the quote. There are two explanations offered by ST for this disparity in crime. First is that this disparity is a result of different types of stressors. The article suggests that men and women experience on average the same amount of stress, however men are often subject to much harsher environments such as homelessness and criminal victimization. Another explanation provided is that the response itself is gendered, as men are typically more competitive and violent resulting in increased severity of outbreaks and crime. This gender disparity could certainly be applied to Marshall as he reportedly “shot her three times in the head”. This is a clear example of the naturally aggressive nature of male disputes, and proof that men and women deal with disputes differently. 

An analysis of Marshall’s story reveals that his situation could have been, and most likely is a result of a repetitive and recurring cycle caused by the unfortunate situation experienced by many Black Americans.

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