African-Americans Are 9.8% of L.A., but 43.1% of Its Homicide Victims

Thursday, January 29, 2015
(graphic: Lorena Elebee, Los Angeles Times, from LAPD data)

Like much of the country, but more so, African-Americans in Los Angeles are disproportionately homicide victims and their killers often don’t get caught.

The day after Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy appeared on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” talking about “Ghettoside,” her new book about the “plague of murders” in L.A. and the nation, her newspaper filled in the latest details from police statistics.

Of the 260 homicides recorded in L.A. last year, 112 victims were African-American. Although blacks are 9.8% of the city’s population, they are 43.1% of the victims. Blacks and Latinos combined are 89% of the victims, but only 57% of the population.

Around 62% of the killings were linked to gangs and 86% of all victims were male. Although the public image is of young street toughs going berserk before their short lives reach a violent end, one-third of the victims are 26-35 years old, compared to one-quarter of those 18-25.    

Homicides are down in L.A. from historic highs of 493 in 1974, 757 in 1984, 853 in 1994 and 518 in 2004. Last year’s slight uptick from 251 murders in 2013 reversed a two-decade trend of decline.

But even as murders decline in L.A. and nationally, a smaller percentage of them result in arrests. The national homicide clearance rate was 90% in 1965; it was 64% in 2012, according to Scripps News, which crunched U.S. Department of Justice numbers not generally bandied about. The Pasadena Star-News reported that its study of L.A. County data found that only 54% of homicides over a recent 11-year period were cleared.

Last week, the Times posted an entry to Leovy’s old Homicide Report blog that Los Angeles County stats showed that victims were skewing older than in the past:

“In 2000, the average homicide victim was 30 years old and in 2014, the average victim was 34 years old, according to a Los Angeles Times data analysis. The shift comes as the total number of homicides falls.”

One criminologist speculated that the aging was a sign that the younger generation was horrified at seeing their big brothers die early. Another thought gang members just aren’t as blatant as they used to be.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones used that speculation as a foil to reiterate an idea he has written frequently about and is gaining more credence over time. He blames lead. “Back in the 90s, the teenage and 20-something generations had grown up in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. This was an era of high lead emissions, and this lead poisoning affected their brains, causing them to become more violence-prone when they grew up.”

Today’s teenagers were born after we took the lead out of gasoline and paint and educated people about its danger. Someday, perhaps, someone will find if we feed, educate and offer hope to young people, they will stop shooting each other as often.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

LAPD Statistics Illustrate the "Nature of Homicide in Los Angeles" (by Kate Mather, Los Angeles Times)

Nearly Half of All Los Angeles County Homicides Go Unsolved, Data Shows (by Sarah Favot, Pasadena Star-News)

Murder in Los Angeles Is Way Down Among Teenagers (by Kevin Drum, Mother Jones)

211,000 Unsolved Homicides Still on the Books (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Uniform Crime Reports (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

Leave a comment