Deadly Disparity For Black Males

Vic Ryckaert and Mark Nichols, Indianapolis Star, August 9, 2006

Homicide victims in Marion County are disproportionately black males. They’re young. And most of them die from gunshot wounds.

An examination of police records shows more than half of the 93 homicide victims this year were black males—49—even though they account for 12 percent of the population.

Of those, 18 were ages 20 to 29.

In comparison, white males have been victims of 13 homicides this year.

Overall, 79 of the victims—85 percent—died from gunshot wounds. Three motives accounted for 44 of the homicides, records show: arguments, domestic abuse and robberies. The motive is listed as unknown for 34 other killings.

A drastic increase in killings—13 victims since Aug. 2—has drawn calls for action from local leaders and a request for a $54 million increase for public safety in next year’s city-county budget.

The reasons for the surge are difficult to pinpoint, but many blame societal problems of poverty, drug abuse, bad parenting and easy access to guns. Others point to the early releases of inmates from the crowded Marion County Jail.

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City-County Council President Monroe Gray says it’s time for citizens, especially blacks, to take charge and reach youths before they end up in trouble with the law.

“We need to do something in the beginning . . . to keep kids out of the system,” Gray said. “This is an ongoing problem for the African-American community. Somewhere along the line, the African-American community has to step up and take responsibility.”

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“There’s no simple answer,” Gray said. “We have to keep working until we come up with several different programs. It ain’t something that’s going to be resolved overnight.”

Hopelessness and despair

Nationally, homicide victims were six times more likely to be black than white in 2004, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The bureau also found black males ages 18 to 24 had the highest homicide victimization rates in 2004.

“The thing that is most disappointing to me personally and professionally is we seem to be killing each other,” Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell said. “That’s frustrating.”

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Marion County judges have freed more than 2,000 inmates awaiting trial this year to keep from violating a federal judge’s population cap on the county jail. In June alone, 477 inmates were freed early.

“It’s like releasing sewage,” Brizzi said. “At some point, that is going to have a negative effect on the people of Marion County.”

Many of the homicide victims had criminal records of their own, Brizzi noted.

“I don’t think that this is an African-American issue or a white issue,” Brizzi said. “If you are involved in criminal activity, there is a risk that you yourself might become a victim.”

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