May 27, 2014

For Young Black Men, a Persistent Tragedy: Death by Firearm

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Blayke Ladd

Blayke Ladd

A multimedia story:

Source: National Violent Death Reporting System


Few acts of violence seize the public’s attention like mass shootings. But day in and day out, the more devastating trend is the often overlooked toll of fatal shootings of young black men.

Young black males in Oklahoma are being killed in crimes by firearms at rates far higher than those of other racial and ethnic groups, a phenomenon that experts attribute to a combination of poverty, societal ills and a pervasive sense of hopelessness among impoverished youths.

In 2011, the most recent year for which statewide data is available, Oklahoma logged 68 firearm homicides involving African-American victims,  close to nine in 10 of them males. The total count for white victims was the same.

The firearm homicide rate for blacks in Oklahoma was more than nine times that of whites: 20.4 gun deaths per 100,000 African-Americans compared to 2.3 for whites, according to the National Violent Death Reporting System. From 2006 to 2010, black males aged 10 to 24 died of homicide in Oklahoma at more than three times the rate of Hispanic males, with the second highest rate.

Recent statistics compiled by Oklahoma Watch for gun homicide deaths in Oklahoma City and Tulsa indicate the trend continued in 2012 and 2013. In both cities, black males ages 15 to 24 were the most common victims of firearm murders, according to police reports.


THE DEATH OF BLAYKE LADD

Video, by Lindsay Whelchel and Carmen Forman: Donna Ladd of Edmond reflects on her son Blayke’s death. Click here for a text version, by Carmen Forman.


The disproportionately high rate of black firearm deaths in Oklahoma is a national problem.

A study examining homicides from 1981 to 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows black males had the highest rate of firearm homicide across the country.

The black firearm homicide rate is more than seven times that of whites, according to CDC and Census Bureau data from 2010. Blacks had a firearm homicide rate of 15.8 per 100,000 while whites had a rate of 2.07. (Hispanic homicide rates are not listed separately in this story because of differences in how agencies account for them.)


MAPPING FIREARM MURDERS

Blacks in Oklahoma City made up close to half of the firearm homicide victims in 2012 and 2013, according to data from the Oklahoma City Police Department. Eight in 10 victims were males. The heaviest concentration was in northeastern Oklahoma City.

In Tulsa, blacks made up more than half of firearm homicide victims in 2012 and 2013, and nine in 10 were males. The largest cluster of deaths was in north Tulsa.

Click on a dot to see shooting details.

OKLAHOMA CITY

Legend updated

                                                                  TULSA


The high rate of gun deaths in the black community isn’t news to state Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Forest Park. She attributes the violence to the war on drugs, high incarceration rates and increasingly punitive legislation.

Children who grow up with parents in jail often grow up without positive role models and are more likely to turn to gangs or drugs, both of which are associated with violence, she said.

“You’re either going to die, or you’re going to go to prison,” Johnson said. “Not only can we not defend against the death, we are busy fighting tooth and nail to put a rein on the punitiveness and trying to promote alternative ways of looking at this problem as a public health issue.”

Gun illustration


THE DEATH OF KHYRE CAMPBELL

Video: Family members in Tulsa talk about the disappearance and death of Campbell, and wonder if the crime will ever be solved. By Bruce Dixon and Hannah Covington. 

Click here for a text story, by Hannah Covington.


The high firearm murder rate among young black males can be attributed in part to a sense of hopelessness among children in poor black communities, said Jeremy Kuzmarov, assistant history professor with a background in criminology at the University of Tulsa.

Coming from blighted communities with fewer resources and fewer opportunities, some of these youths may feel like they cannot achieve through legitimate means what others can, leading to a sense of hopelessness that turns them toward crime, Kuzmarov said.

Those children are more likely to join gangs or become involved in illicit activities because they still want to obtain the material wealth valued so highly by many Americans, he said.


HIGH POVERTY, MORE DEATHS 

Large majorities of gun slayings in Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 2012 and 2013 occurred in areas with poverty rates higher than the cities’ overall rates, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of data from police departments. Oklahoma City’s poverty rate in 2012 was 17.6 percent, while Tulsa’s was 19.7 percent, Census Bureau data shows.


Blacks from poor communities start out behind in life, said Sharri Coleman, adjunct professor, African-American Studies, University of Oklahoma.

They get subpar educations in schools that may not even have books for all of the students, have fewer employment opportunities and receive less guidance and support from family members, simply because they might not be around much.

“When we talk about societal ills, when we talk about gangs, violence and homicide, when are we really going to look at the problem?” Coleman asked. “Much of that starts in elementary and middle schools with lack of achievement, lack of really good schools and resources.”