CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Stories Behind The Statistics

A recent report on the rise of young black males being killed in the U.S. continues to raise concern among youth, parents and community leaders. Some say the findings reflect a much larger problem, the failure of society on many levels.

A roundtable of people directly affected by violence share their perspectives. Sylvia Banks, whose son Deon was killed in Detroit in 2003; Karen Graham, a former law enforcement officer whose son Aaron was killed in Milwaukee in 2004, and Ron Moten, of the Washington, D.C.-based group Peaceaholics share stories of loss and offer thoughts on what lies beneath the crisis.

The number of homicides involving black youths — as victims and perpetrators — surged by more than 30 percent from 2002 to 2007, even as overall murder rates across the U.S. have been relatively stable, according to a study released Monday by researchers at Northeastern University.

The study showed that the number of black murder victims rose by more than 31 percent from 2000 to 2007. The number of murders involving young, black perpetrators rose by 43 percent over the same period, according to the study by criminal justice professors James Alan Fox and Marc Swatt.

The report also noted that guns were the weapon of choice in most of the killings.

Last year, 426 black males ages 14-17 died in gun crimes — 40 percent more than in 2000; nearly 1,000 young black males used guns to kill someone in 2007 — 38 percent higher than in 2000.

Fox said the homicide rate for blacks — especially teenagers — has risen steadily and across geographic regions. He said one reason could be the profound shift in priorities since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which means police departments have taken on homeland security duties — often at the expense of community policing.

"Now, I don't want to weigh one life against another, but when you look at it, many more people are murdered every single year in ordinary street violence than were killed on Sept. 11, 2001," Fox said.

Fox also said communities' complacency because of the overall decrease in crime may also be a factor. The study found the number of police officers in major cities has dropped more than 8 percent, and funding for crime prevention programs is down.

Fox said funding cuts disproportionately affect black communities, which suffer from broken families, bad schools and active gangs.

"I know people want their tax rebates and stimuli checks, but you know, a few extra dollars in your pocket is of little consolation if you're staring down the wrong end of a gun," Fox said.

Not all criminologists agree on the difference federal funding could make, but Fox said he hopes the Obama administration will increase funding. Vice President-elect Joe Biden was a driving force behind legislation that put 100,000 cops on the streets in the mid-1990s. [Mark Godsey]

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