Pa.’s Black Homicide Victim Rate Leads Nation

Dan Majors, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 30, 2007

A new analysis of unpublished FBI data shows that the homicide rate among blacks in Pennsylvania ranks as the highest in the nation.

The report, released yesterday by the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., is based on uniform crime reports from 2004—the most recent data available from the FBI—and shows that handguns are used in an overwhelming majority of the homicides.

According to the report, there were 398 black homicide victims in Pennsylvania in 2004—348 male, 50 female. Based on population figures, that is a homicide rate of 29.52 victims per 100,000 people.

The states that come closest to Pennsylvania’s rate are Louisiana, with 29.48 victims per 100,000; Indiana, with 29.30; and California, with 28.95.

Pennsylvania’s rate is more than 11/2 times the national average of 18.71 victims per 100,000 people, said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center and co-author of the study.

“In short, the toll that homicide exacts on black teens and young adults in America, both male and female, is disproportionate, disturbing and undeniable,” he said.

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Homicide is the leading cause of death of blacks ages 15 to 19, 20 to 24, and 25 to 34.

In comparison, homicide ranks as the third-leading cause of death for whites in age groups 15 to 19 and 20 to 24—the top two causes are accidents and suicide. Among whites ages 25 to 34, homicide drops to the fifth-leading cause, behind accidents, suicide, cancer and heart disease.

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But according to one expert, there are several factors that need to be kept in mind when considering Pennsylvania’s high ranking.

“First, if you look across the top 10 states, the numbers aren’t all that far apart,” said Alfred Blumstein, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and director of the National Consortium on Violence Research at the school.

“And the data for Louisiana has obviously changed since then because [of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005].”

Also, the study does not include Florida because that state does not submit information to the FBI database.

Furthermore, Mr. Blumstein said, “Philadelphia would be, by far, the largest component of Pennsylvania’s statistics.”

According to the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office, there were 83 homicides here in 2004. Sixty-three of those victims were black.

In 2003, however, those numbers were much higher. Of the 125 homicides, 92 victims were black.

Last year, Allegheny County had 95 homicides, 74 of them black victims.

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[The report mentioned in the story—entitled “Black Homicide Victimization in the United States: An Analysis of 2004 Homicide Data”—can be downloaded here as a PDF file. The publisher is an educational foundation promoting gun control.]

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