Chalking It All Up

In 1990, New York City tallied 2,245 murders. That number was the prism through which David Dinkins‘s mayoralty was viewed and the foundation on which Rudolph Giuliani based his bid for mayor (and a big part of his bid for the presidency). The boss gets all the blame in bad times and all the credit during the good ones.

More tangentially, that number is making Michael Bloomberg’s political moment possible (well, 5.5 billion matters, too). As of midnight on New Year’s Day, NYC saw just 494 murders, making 2007 the least deadly year the city’s had since 1963.

More on homicides and big cities. New York wasn’t the only major city with fewer bodies; Los Angeles and Chicago saw dips in murders, too. Jill Leovy, a Los Angeles Times crime reporter, runs the paper’s Homicide Report, a blog that details every reported murder in the city. For L.A. County, that’s almost 1100 murders annually. (Try to read the blog and scroll down without shaking your head or covering your mouth. It’s just not possible.)

Distressingly, a disproportionate number of those murder victims are black and brown men. Last year, when On The Media‘s Brooke Gladstone pointed out a reader’s complaint that including the murder victim’s race in her blog’s blurbs was additionally dehumanizing, Leovy offered an interesting response.

With the race question, I suppose if homicide were equally distributed among Americans, you could argue that it’s irrelevant and we should be colorblind in the way that we talk about it. But the fact is that this is an area where there’s stunning inequality. Black males in this country are four percent of the population, and they’re around thirty-five percent of all homicide victims. It’s a public health problem, and no more than it would be irresponsible to talk about AIDS without ever mentioning gay men or intravenous drug users, I think it would be irresponsible to talk about homicide and not talk about the groups that are disproportionately afflicted.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.