Gun Violence Isn’t Just A Big-City Thing – It Happens In Small Towns Too.

One of the gun violence issues that has come to the forefront over the last several years has been what is politely referred to as ‘legal intervention,’ which is what happens when a civilian is shot by a cop.  It became front-page news in August, 2014, when an 18-year old kid, Michael Brown, was gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, MO, an event that led to community protests and the usual media noise from both sides when a Grand Jury refused to indict. So far in 2016 there have been at least 900 people shot and killed by police, a number more than twice as high as the ‘official’ count that we get each year from the FBI.

town             When we think about police shootings, we tend to think that most of them involve black civilians shot by white cops.  After all, that was the situation in Ferguson, it was also what happened in another cop shooting that made the national news involving a victim named Philando Castile.  But according to the cop-shooting tracker on the Washington Post, white victims of fatal police shootings outnumber blacks by two to one, and in some places the white-black racial disparity in cop shootings is even greater than that.

Take a look, for example, at Oklahoma, a state whose rate of cop shootings in 2015 was an alarmingly 1.14.  Now you might think that a gun violence rate of 1.14 isn’t very high; after all, we have cities like St. Louis, Newark and New Orleans with gun violence rates of 40 or more.  But we’re not talking about civilians shooting civilians, we’re talking about cops using their guns. So, for comparison, Texas this year will have a police shooting rate of 0.29; in Florida the rate will be somewhere around 0.27; in other words these states have one-fifth the rate of police gun violence than what was racked up in Oklahoma last year.

Not only are cops shooting civilians all over the place in Oklahoma, but most of the victims happen to be white.  Since the beginning of 2015, there have been 57 fatal legal interventions, of whom 35 were white, 5 were Native Americans, 3 were Hispanic and 12 were black.  Incidentally, the state’s population is roughly 70% white, so the number of white victims is pretty close to the percentage of the white population as a whole.

What’s going on in Oklahoma?  How come there are so many police shootings and how come this particular type of gun violence never makes the national news? The chief reason, it seems to me, is that most of these events took place in small towns that, from a media and news point of view, are way off the beaten track.  Ever hear of Okemah?  It happens to have been the birthplace of Woody Guthrie but right now the population stands at barely 3,000 souls.  On November 7, a sheriff’s deputy killed a 26-year old resident after the young man tried to run the deputy down with his car.  Or try Schulter, which has around 600 people living in the town.  Back in February the cops in Schulter got into a firefight with John Neuman who, as it turned out, had been released on bail having been previously arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife.

If the police gun violence which occurs in small towns like Okemah and Schulter took place in Philadelphia or New York, it would be all over the internet and all over the news.  For that matter, if any kind of gun violence that was five times the national average was occurring in a major city there would be meetings, marches, all the usual things which happen when a large urban community gets aroused. But let’s not forget that America isn’t just big cities; it’s also small, out-of-the-way places and, make no mistake about it, those little places often contain lots of guns.

 

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It’s Official! When It Comes To Murders, The Second City Is Now The First City

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Chicago has always been known as the ‘Second City’ because it can’t seem to compete with New York.  But that’s changed.  The latest report on American crime released annually by the FBI, shows that when it comes to murder, Chicago now leads the list.

Since my diaries on crime seem to generate lots of bickering over the data, I want to make one thing very clear: the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports are estimates because: 1) they are based on partial data; 2) they assume that every reporting department collects and analyzes its crime data in the same way. Nevertheless, the gap between murders in Chicago and everywhere else are so great that we can say with some degree of certainty that the Windy City has really stepped it up in 2012.

According to the FBI, Chicago had 500 murders in 2012, while New York dropped to a paltry 419. Note, incidentally, that New York’s population is three times  higher than Chicago’s (8.7 million to 2.7 million, respectively) which makes Chicago’s murder rate (per 100,000) about four times higher than New York’s rate, 18 to 4.8.

Think Chicago’s an unsafe city? Think again. The 2012  murder rate in Flint, MI was 63! Down the road a bit in Detroit the rate was only 55. Philadelphia’s a veritable garden of tranquility with a homicide rate just slightly over 21.

Altogether there were 15 cities that counted at least 100 murders in 2012: The Big 4 above, plus Los Angeles (299), Baltimore (219), Houston (217), New Orleans (193), Dallas (154), Memphis (133), Oakland (126), Phoenix (124), St. Louis (113), Kansas City (105) and Indianapolis (101).

The total population for these cities is somewhere between 25 and 30 million. Their police departments reported 3,420 homicides in 2012, out of a national reported total of 14,827. Which means that cities that held less than 10% of the US population accounted for almost one-quarter of all murders. Way to go you big cities!

What I find most significant about the FBI data on the geography of homicide is not the cities that made the murder list, but the cities that didn’t. Jacksonville, for example, didn’t make the list. Think there’s no inner-city neighborhoods in Jacksonville? Next time you drive down I-95 on your way to Daytona or Palm Beach, get off at Lem Turner Road and cruise around.

There are lots of cities like Jacksonville filled with crummy neighborhoods whose existence we lament but really don’t do anything to help things change. And many of these cities don’t have double-digit murder rates and yet we don’t know why. Twenty years ago, for example, New York City initiated a community-based policing  system that was credited with steep declines in crime. It was copied by virtually every other metropolitan police department and in some places it worked and in others made no difference at all.

One last point about the 2012 FBI Report: It shows that the average value of the property that was reported stolen in larceny and burglary increased from $1,721 in 2011 to $1,726 in 2012. Maybe the economy is finally recovering.