NU study shows black murders up

By Rob Tokanel

Northeastern professors recently completed a study revealing a sharp increase in the number of homicides among young black males in the period between 2000 and 2007.

Overall homicide levels in the United States have been subject to only minimal fluctuation, but homicides of young victims and perpetrators, especially those involving young black males, have risen dramatically, according to the study.

Since 2000, the number of murders involving juvenile, African American males as victims rose by 31 percent and the number of them as perpetrators rose by 43 percent. The number of those homicides for the same demographic involving a gun rose about 50 percent.

James Alan Fox, a Northeastern criminology professor and one of the authors of the study, said the reason for the jump is largely due to decreased federal funding since the late 1990s, when crime levels were much lower.

‘What’s happened is we’ve seen significant cuts in budgets for prevention in crime control,’ Fox said. ‘Police resources, after school programs, sports programs; at the federal level, a variety of programs have been cut in half in recent years.’

In Boston, the percentage of white homicide offenders between the ages of 14 and 24 dropped 40 percent since 2000. Conversely, the number of black offenders of the same age rose from 36 in the two-year period of 2001 to 2002 to 64 in 2006 to 2007, a 78 percent increase.

‘In Boston, we have a fairly large increase partially because we’ve been so successful in the past, which makes these numbers look poor,’ Fox said. ‘We’re victims of our own success to some extent, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act fast.’

Sophomore undecided major Paola Santana said she thinks the disproportionate amount of young black males committing murder stems from poor educational systems and a lack of guidance in poverty-stricken areas.

‘There are a lot of low income families that are black, and it’s not that they don’t know any better, it’s that their circumstances don’t teach them any better,’ she said. ‘They find themselves in situations that pressure them into gangs and drugs, and all of that stuff leads to violence.’

In the study, which was supported by the Law and Justice Statistics Program of the American Statistical Association and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Fox cites possible explanations for the decline in federal funding as a result of the decrease in crime in the late 1990s and the shifting of security priorities in the years following the attacks on September 11.

‘Funding that previously had gone to local law enforcement efforts in traditionally high crime neighborhoods was shifted over to homeland security, so police were asked to do more with less,’ he said. ‘Although it’s reasonable to invest in anti-terror efforts, it shouldn’t be at the expense of traditional anti-crime measures.’

For instance, the study reports that the number of police officers per 1,000 citizens has dropped 8.5 percent since 2000 in cities that have populations larger than 250,000.

Although the study reveals that FBI statistics show a 1.3 percent decline in homicides for 2007, Fox said the real problem is in cities with high poverty rates, where black and Hispanic populations are growing at a consistent rate, and a failure to act could lead to a further increase in homicide rates in coming years.

‘Even though economic times are tough, we found a way to bail out the banks and the auto industry, and it’s time to bail out at-risk youth,’ he said. ‘You can’t just tell an 8-year-old with no supervision or guidance to wait five years until the recession is over.’

However, Fox said the rates are not yet out of control. The murder rate was twice as high in the early 1990s, when crack-driven gang warfare was at its highest.

Northeastern Assistant Director of Communications and Public Relations Renata Nyul said reports like this are a service to people in communities surrounding Northeastern who are looking for answers to the increasingly violent problems in their neighborhoods.

‘This report itself is a great example of all the things the University is doing that benefit the community,’ she told The News in an e-mail. ‘Research like this is intended to take a close look at societal issues and provide results that contribute to solving those problems.’

Fox said Northeastern does its part in maintaining a level of safety in the local community that he doesn’t see at most city universities.

‘I think Northeastern’s law enforcement, education, and youth development are definitely supportive in decreasing crime,’ Fox said. ‘Northeastern historically has been very much involved with the city and socially conscious, as it should be.’

Freshman journalism major Danielle Howe said she would like to see more funding for educational programs to benefit inner city youth.

‘Young black men are the future of those communities, and right now our future isn’t looking too good,’ she said.

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