Race and Homicide in America,
by the numbers new federal statistics have some interesting things to say about Interracial killings and ‘black-on-black’ homicides.
Caution tape at scene of crime
A new FBI report reveals the nation’s latest crime statistics.
Interracial homicides – black people who killed whites and whites who killed blacks – climbed to their highest levels last year since the election of President Barack Obama almost eight years ago, even as the proportion of so-called black-on-black killings dipped, according to the latest national crime figures from the FBI.
The number of black people killed by whites – a demographic in the FBI report that includes those of Hispanic descent – surged by nearly a quarter in 2015 from the year before, as the number of whites killed by blacks jumped 12 percent. Together, such interracial killings increased about 13 percent from 2014.
The picture, however, is hugely complicated – though that hasn’t mattered at a time when the topic of race and crime has played an outsized role in national politics.
Violent crime overall _remained near 30-year lows last year_ <www.brennancenter.org/publication/crime-2016-preliminary-analysis#Executive%20Summary>, even as Americans’ _concern about crime hit a 15-year high in March_ <www.gallup.com/poll/190475/americans-concern-crime-climbs-year-high.aspx>, and _7 in 10 Americans last year said crime was rising_ <www.gallup.com/poll/186308/americans-say-crime-rising.aspx>. Unrest ignited by fatal police shootings in Charlotte, North Carolina; Cleveland; and Ferguson, Missouri, have fueled fears that the _Bronx could soon be burning_
Homicides have been on the rise since the start of 2015, but that increase has largely been driven by street violence in Chicago, Baltimore and the nation’s capital. Still, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has effectively played on Americans’ perception of crime – itself buttressed by daily crime coverage in the news – declaring that _blacks were responsible for 81 percent of the killings of white Americans_ <www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/nov/23/donald-trump/trump-tweet-blacks-white-homicide-victims/>, that _”African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before,”_ <www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/sep/22/donald-trump/trumps-pants-fire-claim-blacks-are-absolutely-wors/> and that _”inner-city crime is reaching record levels._ <www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/aug/30/donald-trump/donald-trump-wrong-inner-city-crime-reaching-recor/>”
Chicago homicides hit 20-year high as gun violence spikes
All three claims earned “Pants on Fire” ratings from PolitiFact.
The FBI’s annual Crime in the United States analysis released this week helps clarify some of the perceptions, cataloguing violent crimes and property crimes in 2015 and offering at least some insight into the demographics of who is killing and who is being killed in America.
The most detailed racial data have limits: They are confined to cases in which one person was killed and one person did the killing, eliminating about 17 percent of homicides. Also, police have to know and provide the backgrounds of not only the victims but the perpetrators, too – meaning that thousands of cases left unsolved and with no description of the person who committed the crimes are discounted. In total, about 61 percent of the 15,696 homicides committed in 2015 are excluded.
Nonetheless, here is what the figures tell us.
The number of black people who killed whites and the number of whites who killed blacks climbed to levels not seen since 2008, accounting last year for their largest percentages of U.S. homicides of black and white victims since at least the start of the century, according to the crime data.
The statistics show that the 500 killings of white people attributed to blacks last year were the most since black perpetrators were determined to be responsible for the homicides of 504 white people nationwide in 2008. Last year’s total was up 12 percent from the 446 recorded in 2014 and 22 percent from the 409 seen in 2013, a year that saw the lowest total this century and one that capped seven years of general declines in black-on-white homicides. Prior to that, 2006 saw the most black-on-white killings since 2001, with 573.
The 229 black lives taken by white killers last year, however, marked an even larger leap from 2014, jumping more than 22 percent from the 187 black victims killed by whites that year, which was the second-lowest total since 2001. The tally was last exceeded in 2008, when 230 blacks were slain by whites. The highest total in the last 15 years came in 2007, when 245 black people were killed by whites.
(Alan Neuhauser for USN&WR)
Overall, killings of blacks by whites and whites by blacks accounted for about 12 percent of the roughly 6,000 homicides last year in which police had information about the race of both victim and killer – a slight increase from around 11 percent in 2014. About 15.8 percent of white victims were killed by blacks last year, and 8.6 percent of black victims were killed by whites.
Those percentages changed only slightly from previous years: The share of black-on-white killings as a subset of killings of white people and the segment of white-on-black homicides in relation to killings overall of blacks each ticked up just 1 percentage point from 2014.
(Alan Neuhauser for USN&WR)
“When we talk about trends, we need more than two data points,” says Scott Decker, a professor at Arizona State University and director of the school’s Center for Public Criminology. But, he adds, “Small changes are the lives of fathers and sons and daughters and mothers. And the police don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘We’ll wait until we have more data points.’ Police chiefs lose their jobs, captains get promoted or not based on getting out in front of trends.
“It’s worth paying attention.”
*White and Black Victims*
Black people have consistently accounted for close to half the country’s homicide victims, making up more than 50 percent of the broader pool of those killed overall every year since 2010. The number of black victims increased 15 percent in 2015 over 2014.
Of the 13,455 cases from last year in which the FBI listed a victim’s racial information, 7,039 victims – or 52.3 percent – were black. That compares with 5,854 cases – or 43.5 percent – in which the victim was white, an increase of about 8 percent from last year.
It’s a disparity that becomes more pronounced in the context of population, as 2015 Census estimates suggest that whites account for 77.1 percent of the overall U.S. population of roughly 321 million, while blacks comprise 13.3 percent.
(Alan Neuhauser for USN&WR)
*Black-on-Black and White-on-White Killings*
The vast majority of homicide victims are killed by people of their own race. People tend to kill who they know.
Crime Rises Slightly, but Remains Near Record Low
“You hurt people who are a lot like you. That’s how it works,” says David Kennedy, a professor and director of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
Among the roughly 6,000 cases in which the race of the victim and the offender were known, the number of blacks killed by blacks rose to 2,380 last year, an increase of about 8 percent from 2014.
However, the share of black-on-black homicides as a proportion of black people killed actually fell by just under 1 percentage point, to 89.3 percent. This undoubtedly fractional decrease – which marked the third straight year of incremental reductions – still meant that for the first time since the start of the 21st century, the percentage of black victims killed by another black person stood below 90 percent of the total of black people killed.
Often less discussed – to the consternation of _experts_ <prospect.org/article/why-black-black-crime-dangerous-idea> and _columnists_ <www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2016/08/open-letter-to-white-people-who-are-obsessed-with-black-on-black-crime/> – is the phenomenon of white-on-white homicides. The number of white people killed by other whites rose 3.5 percent to 2,574 victims in 2015.
White-on-white killings as a percentage of all homicides involving a white victim also fell, to 81.3 percent, marking the lowest share of such killings since 2001.
The margins are small, fluctuating by less than 3 percentage points in the last 15 years: Since 2001, the share of black-on-black and white-on-white homicides as a proportion of those killed of each race peaked at 91.9 and 84.2 percent, respectively.
(Alan Neuhauser for USN&WR)
Matthew Cella <www.usnews.com/topics/author/matthew-cella>, Managing Editor, News
Matthew Cella is managing editor for News at U.S. News & World Report. He joined the …Read more <www.usnews.com/topics/author/matthew-cella>
Alan Neuhauser <www.usnews.com/topics/author/alan-neuhauser>, Staff Writer
Alan Neuhauser covers law enforcement and criminal justice for U.S. News & World Report