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Bucking Trend, Homicides Among Black Youths Rise


After a decade of good news on the crime front, a new study finds cause for concern. The report, from Northeastern University, says the number of young black males committing homicide has surged more than 40 percent since 2000. As NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, the study points out a racial gap, as the murder rate for whites has stayed steady or dropped in some cities.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: The study makes clear murder rates are far from those the late 80s and early 90s, when crack cocaine fueled an epidemic of big city violence. But co-author James Alan Fox says the homicide rate by blacks has risen steadily. In 2000, for example, some 850 teenage blacks committed murder. By last year, the number had climbed to more than 1,100. Fox says one reason could be the profound shift in priority since the terror attacks of 9/11. He says police department have had to take on the duties of homeland security, often at the expense of community policing.

Professor JAMES ALAN FOX (Law, Policy, and Society; Northeastern University): Now, I don't want to weigh one life against another, but when you look at it, many more people are murdered every single year in ordinary street violence than were killed on September 11th of 2001.

LUDDEN: Fox also points to complacency over an improving crime picture overall. The study finds the number of police officers in major cities has dropped more than eight percent, and funding for crime prevention programs is down. He says such cuts disproportionately affect black communities which already suffer from broken families, bad schools, and active gangs.

Professor FOX: Look, I know that people want their tax and rebates and stimuli checks, but, you know, a few extra dollars in your pocket is of little consolation if you're staring down the wrong end of a gun.

LUDDEN: Not all criminologists agree on the difference federal funding could make, but Fox hopes for more spending from the Obama administration. Vice President-elect Joe Biden was a driving force behind putting 100,000 cops on the streets in the mid-'90s. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.