Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Two-year-old data: don't panic about "Black Homicide Victimization in the United States" report

A report released today by the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., is causing undue waves by stating Missouri leads the nation in black homicide victims. The report was compiled using 2009 homicide data from law enforcement agencies. It does not include any reference to homicides that occurred in 2010 or 2011. This report is based on old numbers, and while we can’t discount it, we need to focus on moving forward.

Dredging up old data does nothing to help improve the situation. We can sit around and bemoan the violence and complain about inequality, or we can do something to fix it. Rest assured I am concerned about the victimization of any person regardless of race, age, sex or ethnicity. That’s why we’re adjusting our policing strategies: focusing on where crime happens most and who is most likely to commit it.

One homicide is one homicide too many. We shouldn’t be satisfied as a community even if our homicide rate dropped by 50 percent. It would still have an impact on victims’ families, neighborhoods, economic development and so much more.

The numbers stated in the Violence Policy Center’s report don’t paint an accurate picture about black homicides. In addition to using 2-year-old data, it pulls its numbers from local-level law enforcement agencies, not from FBI Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data. (UCR data is the nationwide law enforcement standard.) Many of these agencies count homicides differently than Kansas City Police do. They don’t include homicides that have been ruled as self defense or accidental. Kansas City does. We count every time one person dies at the hand of another, even officer-involved shootings. Kansas City had 114 homicides in 2011, eight of which were ruled self defense and four of which were ruled accidental. So take those out, and it looks like Kansas City had just 102 homicides in 2011, and significantly fewer black victims. But we want to be transparent with our numbers.

Here are the facts about black homicides in Kansas City, including 2010 and 2011 data, which the report did not analyze:

• In 2009, there were 110 homicides, 81 of which were black victims (73.6%)
• In 2010, there were 106 homicides, 79 of which were black victims (74.5%)
• In 2011, there were 114 homicides, 88 of which were black victims (77.2%)
• So far in 2012, there have been 7 homicides, 5 of which were black victims (71.4%)

Our numbers also show that not only are most homicide victims in Kansas City black, so are the suspects. The vast majority of homicides are intra-racial. A national study that examined homicides from 1976 to 2005 found that 94 percent of black victims were killed by black suspects. In 2011, 71 percent of known homicide suspects in Kansas City were black.

It is a disservice to the residents of Kansas City to dwell on the 2-year-old data covered in the Violence Policy Center’s report. A number of factors contribute to the black homicide rate – racial and socioeconomic inequality, narcotics and less-than-adequate conflict resolution skills – and a number of things will be necessary to change it. Many of those are things that cannot be repaired by police. It is imperative on the entire community to contribute to solutions.

No matter what race you are, Kansas City is a safe place if you don’t exhibit high-risk behaviors by being involved in or associating with those who are involved in violent crime and narcotics distribution. Let’s continue looking forward to make our city even safer.

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