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State ranks fourth in homicide rate for blacks

January 30, 2007|Jill Leovy | Times Staff Writer

California ranks fourth in the nation in homicide rates for black victims, according to a study released Monday by a Washington, D.C.-based gun-control policy group.

California ranked behind Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Indiana in the study, which measured the homicide rate for black people in relation to their representation in the population. The per-capita death rate from homicide among blacks in California, the study found, is more than half again the average for blacks nationally. There were 28.9 deaths per 100,000 black residents in California in 2004 versus 18.7 nationally.

Pennsylvania topped the list with a black homicide rate of 29.52, followed by Louisiana at 29.48 and Indiana at 29.3.

The study is the first of its kind by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit group that provides data to anti-gun advocates. Its aim, said Josh Sugarmann, executive director, is to provide a tool for advocates to lobby state governments.

The study relied on unpublished 2004 data that the FBI, which reports national crime numbers yearly, collected from local agencies in all parts of the country except Florida and Washington, D.C. Researchers said data was not available for Washington, a city with an exceptionally high homicide rate and a large black population.

Despite their relatively small representation in the population, blacks are vastly overrepresented among crime victims virtually everywhere, including the city and county of Los Angeles.

Although blacks are only 9.9% of the city of L.A.'s population, they consistently represent more than a third of the city's homicide victims, authorities say. Blacks made up 36% of L.A. city homicide victims last year, for example.

The new study did not break down rates by city or county because such localized data is not consistently reported nationally, Sugarmann said. But California's ranking was heavily weighted by the results from Los Angeles County, which accounts for a large percentage of all state homicides -- 43% in recent years.

The study found that, compared with those in other states, California's black victims were a little younger and also a little more likely to be male and to be killed by guns.

Nationally, just 8% of black homicide victims were 18 or under, but 10% of California's victims were in this age group. In California and elsewhere, the average age for a black homicide victim was 30.

Seventy-nine percent of victims were killed with guns nationally, but 83% of California's victims were. And more than 15% of black victims nationally were women, but in California only about 11% were.

Despite some variation among states, however, Sugarmann said there was surprisingly little variation in the circumstances and types of black murders nationally.

"The consistency was very, very striking," he said. Guns, especially handguns, were primary murder weapons virtually everywhere, and homicides between people who knew each other tended to dominate, he said. Also, black men in the prime of life were the most likely victims.

The other states in the top 10 for black homicide victim rates were Missouri, Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada and Arizona.

jill.leovy@latimes.com

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