Between 1976 and 2004, 94% of African-American murder victims were killed by black offenders
The statistics tell a tragic story. According to federal crime figures, homicide is the leading cause of death among African-American males aged 15 to 34. They also indicate that between 1976 and 2004, 94 percent of black murder victims were killed by black offenders. While "black-on-black crime" is having a devastating impact in Minnesota and across the country, its racial overtones have made it a difficult problem to address or even discuss.
St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington views black-on-black crime as a scourge ripping apart his community. Since racial breakdowns of crime statistics are hard to come by in Minnesota, Harrington has been forced to do a lot of digging.
He determined that in 2006, 70 percent of all aggravated assaults in St. Paul, the most violent crimes on the books, were committed against African-Americans. Given the proportion of blacks in the local population, Harrington was shocked.
"In the city where ten percent of the [population] is black, how can you have 70 percent of your victims of this particular crime, which is one of the most horrendous crimes you can do, how can that be so out of whack?" he asks.
As a first step toward controlling the problem, Harrington says you have to figure out who is in the suspect pool. When he divided the suspects by race, it gave him a snapshot of the degree to which black-on-black violence afflicts St. Paul.
"Just like 70 percent of my victims are black, 70 percent of my suspects are black," he says.
Harrington says black-on-black crime is an outgrowth of two huge problems affecting Black America: the high rate of out-of-wedlock births and gangs.
There are generations of African-Americans who haven't had two parents to show them the way. Harrington says their maturity has been stunted. As a result, he says, there's an overabundance of young men who are un- or under-employed, who have criminal histories and who rely on chemicals to deal with psychological or emotional pain, and young women who are unequipped to be mothers, wives or even girlfriends.
"You put those two in combination and you get an explosion," he says.
Gangs provide an identity for these vulnerable youths and respect is perhaps the number-one value in gang culture. But Harrington says gang members are not seeking respect in the traditional sense.
"They want somebody that steps off when they step up on the corner." They see that as a sign of respect, he says. But then he adds, "I don't think that's a sign of respect; I think that's a sign of fear."
Any sign of disrespect, however slight, can trigger an extremely violent reaction, says Harrington, because too many are unable to control their anger.
"It is the behavior of a child who doesn't get their way," he says. "But it's being acted out by people who are six feet tall and 240 pounds. So when they have a tantrum, that tantrum ends up with broken bones and closed eyes and split lips, and sometimes ends up with people being buried."
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