By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2007
Nearly half the people murdered in the United States each year are black, part of a persistent pattern in which African Americans are disproportionately victimized by violent crime, according to a new Justice Department study released yesterday.
The study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics also found that from 2001 to 2005, more than nine out of 10 black murder victims were killed by other blacks, and three out of four were slain with a gun. Blacks, who make up 13 percent of the population, were victims in 15 percent of nonfatal violent crimes.
The new findings underscore the enduring problem of crime that plagues many African American communities, even during a period when the incidence of violent crime dropped or held steady overall, according to criminologists and other experts.
Some experts said the study also illustrates that encounters with criminals are often more likely to turn deadly for black victims than for victims of other races, in part because black victims are more likely to be confronted with firearms.
"Black victimization is a real problem, and it's often black on black," said David A. Harris, a law professor at the University of Toledo who studies crime trends. "That aspect has to be brought into any attempt to address the crime problem, and the community itself must be called into the process."
The Justice study is primarily drawn from two sets of data: FBI homicide reports and the National Crime Victimization Survey, which attempts to measure the actual prevalence of crime through scientific polling. The Justice Department has not done a study on black victimization in more than a decade, but outside researchers have reached similar conclusions, officials said.
In 2005, the study found, blacks were victims of an estimated 8,000 homicides and 805,000 other violent crimes, including rape and aggravated assault.
The study found that black males were more likely to be crime victims than black females; that black murder victims tended to be younger than white or Hispanic homicide victims; and that blacks in poor or urban households were more likely to be victimized than those in higher-income or rural areas.
There was at least one piece of relative good news in the review: Black victimization rates dropped at about the same pace as white victimization rates from 1993 to 2001 as part of a historic decline in crime. The rate then held steady from 2001 to 2005, the study found. In 2005 and 2006, the overall number of homicides and other violent crimes rose slightly, according to FBI reports.
Blacks were still more likely than whites, Hispanics or Asians to be victims of violent crime from 2001 to 2005. "American Indians were the only group that had rates higher than blacks," according to the study written by Justice statistician Erika Harrell.
Blacks were also more likely than any other group to be victims of "serious violent crime," which is defined as rape, other sexual assault, robbery or aggravated assault.
Overall, the new Justice findings jibe with previous studies. For example, a review of FBI data from 2004 by the Violence Policy Center, a liberal-leaning group that campaigns for stricter gun controls, found that blacks accounted for about half of the nation's murder victims that year.
The group's executive director, Josh Sugarmann, said the new data underscore the unique problems posed by illicit firearms in black communities. The Justice review found that blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to be confronted with a firearm during a crime.
"Blacks in America are facing a unique gun culture," Sugarmann said. "Blacks are disproportionately likely to be confronted with guns, and that leads to the results that we're seeing."
Staff researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.