Homicide Fact: Race Matters

Murder is an intra-racial crime

Posted Feb 15, 2016

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Source: wikimedia

It is a fact that some people are at higher risk than others of becoming a homicide victim, and one of the leading risk factors is race. In particular, being black dramatically increases ones chance of becoming a homicide victim. 

A popular myth about murder that is frequently promoted by individuals who have unsavory social or political agendas is that murder is primarily inter-racial—that is, blacks killing whites, and whites killing blacks. This is almost pure mythology. In reality, murder is an overwhelmingly intra-racial phenomenon, as whites kill whites, blacks kill blacks, etc.

In approximately ninety percent of all murders committed in the U.S. over the years, the victim and perpetrator are of the same race, according to the UCR. In the year 2007, for example, there were 566 white victims of black offenders and 245 black victims of white offenders. Together, this represents less than five percent of the 16,929 murder victims that year. By the way, the "white" category in the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) includes non-black Hispanics.

In very rare instances of murder where an alleged offender and victim are of different races, such as George Zimmerman (white offender)-Trayvon Martin (black victim) or OJ Simpson (black offender)-Nicole Brown (white victim), the news media transform them into global spectacles through exhaustive media coverage and debate. The news reporting of rare inter-racial murder cases typically becomes racialized and politicized in tone, which has the calamitous effect of dividing the public along racial lines.

This can lead to anger, resentment and inter-racial violence, as was the case after the murder trials of both George Zimmerman and OJ Simpson. Also, lengthy, massive media coverage of such incidents makes inter-racial homicide seem much more common than is the case. This result may suit the agendas of racist opinion leaders or those in the media looking to exploit public fears for their commercial gain, but promoting the myth of inter-racial murder is a gross social injustice that harms everyone.

Nevertheless, homicide risk is highly correlated to race. More specifically, being black in the U.S. dramatically increases one’s homicide risk. It is an empirical fact that the risk of homicide is much higher for blacks than whites, in general, and young African-American males, in particular, have the highest homicide risk of all demographic groups. Homicide is the leading cause of death for black males between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four.

However, blacks are not overrepresented among homicide victims only. African-Americans also account for a disproportionately large portion of homicide offenders in the U.S. Incredibly, blacks comprise less than thirteen percent of the total population, yet they represent approximately half of all murder victims and offenders in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, blacks represented nearly fifty-three percent of homicide offenders from 1980 to 2008, while whites accounted for forty-five percent, and two percent were attributed to “other.” The UCR data for 2006 revealed that blacks accounted for approximately half of the 14,990 murder victims. In 2013, which is the most recent full-year data available from the UCR, blacks represented fifty-one percent of the 12,253 murder victims, while whites accounted for forty-five percent, and four percent were attributed to “other.”

According to the UCR, the victimization rate for blacks peaked in the early 1990s, reaching a high of 39.4 homicides per 100,000 persons in 1991. After 1991, the victimization rate for blacks fell until 1999, when it stabilized near 20 homicides per 100,000 persons. In 2008, the homicide victimization rate for blacks was 19.6 homicides per 100,000 persons while the rate for whites was 3.3 homicides per 100,000 persons.

The offending rate for blacks showed a similar pattern to the victimization rate, peaking in the early 1990s at a high of 51.1 offenders per 100,000 persons in 1991. After 1991, the offending rate for blacks declined until it reached 24 per 100,000 persons in 2004. The rate has fluctuated since then, increasing to 28.4 offenders per 100,000 persons in 2006 before falling again to 24.7 offenders per 100,000 persons in 2008. In 2008, the off ending rate for blacks was 24.7 offenders per 100,000 persons compared to the rate for whites of 3.4 offenders per 100,000 persons.

To summarize the data on homicide and race, and offer perspective, the UCR reveals that both the offending rate and victimization rate for blacks are six times greater than the same rates for whites. Moreover, this pattern is not new. The staggering racial disparity in homicide rates is due to the fact that blacks are so grossly overrepresented among both victims and offenders.

Once again, it bears repeating that homicide is overwhelmingly an intra-racial crime. According to the statistical data, the most likely victim and perpetrator of murder in the U.S. is a young, black male, approximately twenty-one years of age. Thus, incredibly, the same individual could be either the victim or the offender in the most likely murder scenario.

In a forthcoming book that is tentatively titled Women We Love to Hate: Jodi Arias, Pamela Smart, Casey Anthony and Others I explore the intense fascination with female killers and why they are demonized by the media and much of the public. More specifically, I examine the social processes that transform certain attractive, young, white females who are charged with murder into high-profile, celebrity monsters.

In my current book, I examine the public’s intense fascination with notorious and deadly serial killers, including David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”) and Dennis Rader (“Bind, Torture, Kill”) with whom I personally corresponded, in Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers. To read the reviews and order it now, visit: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1629144320/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_B-2Stb0D57SDB

Dr. Scott Bonn is professor of sociology and criminology at Drew University. He is available for expert consultation and media commentary. Follow him @DocBonn on Twitter and visit his website docbonn.com