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Black Homicide Rates are Down, but Still High

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

(NNPA) - The story of Germane Harris' murder has been told many times before. So many times in fact that many newspapers no longer prominently run stories like his. Unfortunately, Harris' story, like so many other Black men who were killed in a major city, became nothing more than an easily missed news blurb buried under dozens of others.

Harris was killed in San Francisco almost two years ago after leaving his bar job where he worked as a bouncer part-time. The 33-year-old father of one was talking on the phone with his fiancée Krystal Thomas as he was headed to his car when the line suddenly went dead.

"When his phone disconnected I didn't know what happened," Thomas said of her fiancé’s still unsolved murder. "He didn't try to call back and I was kind of waiting for him to get home. It wasn't until the next morning when he didn't come home that we figured out that he had been shot in a drive by shooting and, apparently, it was just something random."

With the country's current bleak job and economic situation, some experts predicted a rise in crime rates. But so far, that hasn't been the case in most places. The number of murders is declining across the country, and has been for at least a decade.

Experts are contributing the decline to a variety of factors depending on the city and community. Policing has become more strategic. Policing agencies are focusing more on how drugs enter into communities. In others, there are more reentry services provided for ex-felons coming out of prison to get them reconnected with housing, employment, counseling and other necessities.

"We see that there is a lot of violence now. Yet we see that the rates are down," said Dr. Anne Baird, a professor of sociology at Morehouse College who heads the school's Criminal Justice department. “One thing we've found is that since 1976 the intimate partner homicide rate for African-American men has gone way down in comparison to what it was. People are more likely to murder people they know and with intimate partners, that is especially the case with women."

The national murder rate has been steadily decreasing since the 1990s. The nationwide average was more than eight homicides for every 100,000 residents in the 1990s. But it has dropped to an average of five and a half murders per 100,000 residents through the first eight years of the 2000s. Even while homicides trend downward, a majority of the murder victims are still almost always Black and male. And so are the suspects.

In 2008, Blacks, who make up only 12 percent of the country's population, accounted for nearly half of the nation's 14,180 murder victims, according to the FBI.

In that same year, four out of five of all murder victims were male. A study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that from 2001 to 2005 more than nine out of 10 Black murder victims were killed by other Blacks.

Washington, D.C. reported the fewest homicides in nearly a half of a century last year.

Still, toward the end of March, the Nation’s Capitol experienced its worst shooting since 1994 when a retaliatory shooting in South East Washington left four people murdered and five others wounded. A van with two men and a teenager sprayed bullets into a group of people mourning a person who was killed in what is reported to be a related murder. Two men and a teenage boy were arrested. The suspects and all victims were African-American.

"They have been left out, left out of the economy, and left behind," Baird said on why the Black community is affected by homicides and other violent crimes at such a disparate rate. "You could talk about the sub-culture of using violence and so, they may have not ever learned ways [of] communicating with other people well so they don't learn good ways of coping."

What seems to be racial on the surface tends to be more so socio-economic class, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a non-profit that advocates for criminal justice system reform.

"It's a reflection of poverty, concentrated poverty," said Mauer. "African-Americans are more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods than other groups. Therefore, they are more likely to be subjected to its disadvantages."

Notoriously violent cities with large percentages of Black people have also been seeing dramatic drops in their homicide numbers. Detroit and Baltimore have reported decreases of 25 percent or more less homicides from the previous year. Chicago has reported less than 600 homicides in their city since 2004. That is almost 45 percent less than what the city experienced in 1991 alone when 928 people were murdered. Also, Newark, N.J. celebrated its first homicide-free calendar month in 44 years.

Unfortunately, statistics show that states with sizable Black and Latino populations such as Louisiana and Maryland, which lead the nation in murder rates among states with 11.9 and 8.9 per 100,000, respectively, still have much higher homicide rates than states with a very low racial minority presence such as Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, New Hampshire and North Dakota, which all rank at the bottom of the list with rates below 2.0 per 100,000.

In 2008, the latest year that the FBI releases the data contained in their yearly published Uniform Crime Report, the national murder rate was 5.4. The national homicide rate has been hovering well under 6.0 since 1999. By contrast, the national murder rate in the previous 30 years before 1999 rarely fell below 8.0 and in 1980 even rose above 10.0. And the preliminary figures for the first six months of 2009 shows a 10 percent drop in homicides from the previous year.

Mauer said that the spike in crime and homicide rates of the eighties and nineties were due to the crack cocaine drug markets that were thriving at that time. Murder rates started spiking in the late seventies and continued to rise until 1993.

"Since the early 90s, murder rates have come down significantly, in part, because the crack epidemic was relatively short lived," Mauer said. "It was three to five years in most places. It certainly didn't go away but that initial surge of people using and the violence began to decline.”

 

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