Black Teen Homicides On Rise, Study Finds

By: AP
By: AP

(AP) Black teenagers are killing each other in rising numbers as part of a troubling trend that has been masked by a falling crime rate in the United States, according to a new study released Monday by Northeastern University.

FBI crime statistics show overall decreases in violent crime and murder. But amid those numbers, the report by criminal justice professors James Alan Fox and Marc Swatt found other disturbing trends.

Among their findings: an increase of more than 39 percent in the number of black males between ages 14-17 killed between 2000 and 2007 and an increase of 34 percent in the number of blacks that age who committed homicide.

The increases for white male teens, meanwhile, were nearly 17 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

"We can't ignore the fact that hidden within the overall good news on crime is very bad news for a segment of the population - young black males - and that needs our attention," Fox said.

Fox calls for an infusion of government money to beef up police forces and restore mentor, sports, after-school and summer programs that withered as federal funds were redirected from cities to homeland security after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"We need to invest much more in the lives of these kids," Fox said. "I know there's lots of people who say times are tough and we don't have the money, but we either pay for these programs now or pray for the victims later because crime doesn't wait until the economy improves."

Fox emphasizes that despite problems highlighted in his report, crime isn't out of control. Recent crimes statistics indicate progress, including a drop in overall crime and murder rates between 2006 and 2007, the most recent year available.

I know there's lots of people who say times are tough and we don't have the money, but we either pay for these programs now or pray for the victims later because crime doesn't wait until the economy improves.

James Alan Fox
Northeastern UniversityThe numbers are a vast improvement over the 1990s when the emergence of crack cocaine fueled an explosion in violence, the Northeastern report said. In 1993, 225 out of every 100,000 blacks ages 14-17 committed homicide compared with 81 out of 100,000 today.

But that's an increase from 2000, when the number was 66 per 100,000.

"When you stop paying attention to it, when you stop working at it, the problems can and do rebound," Fox said.

The report indicates guns are overwhelmingly the weapon of choice for young black offenders and are now used in nearly 85 percent of all homicides they commit, matching 1990s levels. The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, executive director of the anti-crime Ten Point Coalition in Boston, said the spike in gun murders by and on young blacks "bears out what I see on the streets every day."

"The victim and perpetrators of gun crimes are getting younger and younger," he said.

Expansion in government and after-school programs would be welcome, he said. He added that local families and the larger community groups, particularly churches, also need to do more helping kids and families at risk from violence.

Teens - who Brown said "don't know from one day to the next if a bullet screaming through their street has their name on it or not" - talk to him about more mentoring and after-school programs, more strong male and female role models. They also wonder if their lives would be different if their fathers were around.

"When you get to the street level, politics doesn't matter. What matters are these young people and the daily violence that they have to face, and is there anybody out there to help them?" Brown said. "That's their question."

But some warn more money for more programs could be wasted. Kay Hymowitz, a Manhattan Institute fellow who has studied the breakdown of marriage in the United States, said programs for at-risk youth are often ineffective and don't address the root problem of absentee fathers and fractured black families.

"We still need to bring the conversation around to the subject that everyone has been uneasy about, and that's the breakdown of the family," she said.

Hymowitz said people have shied from addressing the disarray in the black family because "it sounds like blaming blacks to some people." But she said the issue must be confronted head on.

"We don't know how to bring fathers back into the family, but we do know that the silence on the subject over the last 40 years has been a disaster for blacks and this (report) is evidence of that," she said.

© MMVIII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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