Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"The bodies fell, and the numbers rose"

With Glenn Reynolds pushing the idea of mandatory gun ownership ("an armed populace can serve as an effective backup for law enforcement") and former Democratic congressional candidate Paul Hackett going Rambo on some folks who hit his fence with their car ("Indian Hill ranger Paul White found three men lying face down near their car and Hackett's pickup truck, and saw Hackett had an assault rifle slung over his shoulder"), The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article in Sunday's paper called "A city's violence - and its victims" (1/14/07, page A16), which had this lede:
The bodies fell, and the numbers rose. Statistically, 2006 was Philadelphia's deadliest year in nearly a decade. The murder weapons of choice? Firearms
(emphasis mine)

The paper ran a map showing the locations of the violence, and broke down the numbers. Of the 406 homicides in 2006, 344 were by firearms, 17 by knife, 15 by hands/feet, 8 by arson, 3 by blunt objects, and 19 unknown (or other). Of the ten largest cities in Philadelphia, Philadelphia has the highest rate of homicide per 100,000 people (28 per), as well as the highest poverty rate (25%). To be fair, Detroit is far worse (47 per, 31%), but I'm not sure that's something to hang your hat on. Philadelphia's river mate Camden, N.J. has a 42 per 100,000 rate and 44% poverty.

These kinds of figures scare the hell out of white people, but the vast majority of targets in Philadelphia are black people. "Only" 55 white men were murdered last year, with eight of their vaginal counterparts being slain (these include light-skinned Hispanics). Among Asians, who aren't white F.Y.I., only seven males were murdered, while zero women succumbed to homicide. Even black women faired reasonably well, losing only 39 kin. Black males (including dark-skinned Hispanics), on the other hand, fell like rain. Seventy-three percent of all homicides were of black males, for a total of 296 people. Nearly half of them (137) were between the ages of 18 and 25, while 96 were between 26-40. Children 18 and under were felled to the tune of 26 people, whereas 37 victims were over 40.

So what does this mean? The quick reaction would be to note the incidence of homicide to color, but it would not be prudent to ignore the rate of poverty. Of the ten largest cities, San Jose has the lowest rate of poverty, at 10%. Their rate of homicide was 3 per 100,000. The largest cities with poverty rates over 20% had homicide rates in the double digits (the only exception is Phoenix, with 16% and 17 per). A look at other metropolises shows similar numbers. Baltimore has a poverty rate of 23% and a homicide rate of 43. Atlanta is 27%, 24 per. Cleveland is 32%, 26 per. Newark, N.J. is 25%, 37 per. Washington, D.C. has a poverty rate of 19% (which is close enough to 20%), and their homicide rate is 31 per 100,000. Boston appears to be a rare exception, with a poverty rate of 22% but a homicide rate of 13 per, but exceptions do not disprove the norm.

There is no one, best solution. However, there are steps that can be taken.
Guns might be fine for hunting and defending yourself against armed intruders, but we don't need people going after each other with them. Police can target hot spots to crack down on people carrying concealed weapons. We need to provide meaningful work opportunities for the disadvantaged (and the rest of us, too), but in the meantime, as pitiful as it will be, an increase in the minimum wage would help alleviate some of the problem.

There may be a culture of violence among the urban poor. Perhaps they feel frustrated with their lives to the point the only satisfying way of solving problems is through violence, or perhaps they're a bunch of ignorant assholes. Either way, the members of the community have to step up. Kids need ways to spend their time constructively. They need positive role models. When people see crime, they need to come forward and have the support of their neighbors (none of this "stop snitch'n" bullshit). You get the idea.

So, is it possible for the police, the government and the people to work together? In theory. Will it happen? Read for yourself:
Mayor Street lashed back at District Attorney Lynne Abraham on Thursday, likening her recent criticism of him to a "little temper tantrum" and remarking that she "goes bananas" from time to time.
* * *
Twice in the last week, Abraham has sharply criticized the mayor for what she says is his lack of leadership in fighting violent crime. Her broadsides came after the Street administration told her office that it should prepare for a 2.5 percent budget cut next fiscal year.

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