With nearly a month left in the year, more than a dozen large U.S. cities have broken their annual homicide records and others are certain to follow.

Records have fallen in Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Memphis, Milwaukee, Boston and New Orleans, police in those cities report. They also have been broken in Richmond, Providence, R.I., Bridgeport, Conn., and Oakland and Fresno, Calif.

New York City recorded its 2,000th violent death of the year last weekend, when seven people were killed in one night. The city had long since surpassed its old record of 1,905 homicides, set last year.

The District of Columbia's mark of 434 homicides fell late last month, making it likely that the nation's capital, which has the highest per-capita homicide rate, will remain the U.S. murder capital.

Homicide records have been broken in eight of the nation's 20 largest cities. Police in those 20 cities have recorded 7,647 homicides so far this year, up about 3 percent from last year.

The United States, already more violent than any other developed nation, appears to be getting more violent.

"It's often said that Americans have a love affair with violence, but in reality it's more like a marriage," said James A. Fox, professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston. "And if we don't watch out in the next few years, it may be a marriage in which death does us part."

Guns and drugs get most of the blame, but many law enforcement officials and social scientists are beginning to question something more fundamental: the value that American society places on life.

"They just don't care," said Lt. Joe Hladky, acting commander of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's homicide division, in a typical comment about the young killers that plague America's inner cities. "It's that disregard for the value of human life that makes you wonder what direction we're going."

In 1990, young urbanites killed for drugs, for clothes, for pittances of cash, for love, for hate, and for no reason at all. They killed friends, relatives and innocent bystanders. They turned poor neighborhoods into virtual prisons for law-abiding citizens.

"When I was young, you could play football in the street," recalled Clifton Waters, 36, of Milwaukee. "If you bumped into someone's car, you said, 'Excuse me.' Now, if you touch someone's car, you get killed."

On Oct. 14, a 21-year-old man was shot to death while he sat in a car in front of Waters's home. With 156 homicides this year, Milwaukee has far surpassed its previous high of 116, set in 1989.

Richmond has had a record 108 homicides, a statistic that has alarmed city leaders. Among the names behind the numbers is William Jordan, 19, a college student who embodied the best hopes of his community. He was student president and a star athlete at his high school, and graduated at the top of his class. He was shot to death in an argument April 16.

"It was a living hell, and I'm still going through it," said his mother, Linda Jordan. "There's a void in your life that can never be filled."

The increase in violence is not nationwide, and is not afflicting all neighborhoods in murder-prone cities equally.

Detroit and Miami, two cities that previously have laid claim to the title of the nation's murder capital, have seen a decline in homicides this year. So have San Jose, Calif., Atlanta and Denver.

Police in those cities credit themselves and in some cases cite a decline in drug turf battles. In Denver, detective John Wyckoff sees something else -- more shootings and better medical care.

"The spinoff of that is that homicides are down and aggravated assaults are up, and that is something we can live with," Wyckoff said.

In most big cities, police say young black men are causing -- and bearing the brunt of -- the increase in violence.

Many blame it on drugs, but Fox, who is co-director of the National Crime Analysis Program at Northeastern, said that is overly simplistic. He has been closely tracking homicide statistics dating to 1976 and said he believes the upsurge in homicide can be traced to the coming of age of the children of baby boomers.

The last big peak in homicides occurred in the early 1970s, when baby boomers reached prime murder age -- late teens and early to mid-20s. Now, Fox said, their children are beginning to reach that age. They "have drugs and weapons and a much more casual attitude about human life than their parents a generation ago."

He predicts the killings will grow: "This year will pale in comparison to years to come. It's going to get a lot worse."

U.S. HOMICIDES

SLAYINGS AS OF LAST WEEK IN THE NATION'S

20 LARGEST CITIES, LISTED IN ORDER OF POPULATION

CITY...................1990...........1989..............HIGHEST TOLL

New York...............2,000*.........1,905...........1,905 in 1989

Los Angeles..............894............877...........1,024 in 1980

Chicago..................786............742...........970 in 1974

Houston..................555............512...........701 in 1981

Philadelphia.............477............501...........501 in 1989

Detroit..................503............624...........714 in 1974

San Diego................127............133...........144 in 1988

Dallas...................414*...........351...........366 in 1988

San Antonio..............203*...........169...........190 in 1982

Phoenix..................131*...........126...........128 in 1986

Baltimore................278............262...........330 in 1972

San Francisco..........,,.97............71............130 in 1981

Indianapolis..............31............36.............80 in 1988

San Jose..................32............50.............72 in 1981

Memphis..................188*...........156...........181 in 1988

Washington, D.C..........449*...........434...........434 in 1989

Jacksonville, Fla........169............169...........187 in 1988

Milwaukee................156*...........116...........116 in 1989

Boston...................137*...........100...........135 in 1973

Columbus, Ohio............84............97.............97 in 1989

* denotes new record