We gotta put our heads together and stop the violence.


This depressing graph comes from a Northeastern University report released today, which as the Wall Street Journal explains, shows a marked increase in the number of African-American teens who were the victims of violent crime:

Murders of African-American teenagers have risen 39% since 2000 and 2001, according to a report due out Monday.

Homicides in which blacks ages 14 to 17 years old were the victims rose to 927 over the two-year period of 2006-07, the last years for which statistics are available, compared with 666 during 2000-01, according to the study by criminal-justice professors at Boston’s Northeastern University. The 39% increase is much greater than the rise in overall homicides, which jumped 7.4% from 2000-01 to 2006-07.

Murders rose among black teens in 2006 and 2007 as overall homicides dropped compared with the previous year. And the 2000-07 rate of increase among black teens was more than twice the rate of increase among white teens, the study found.

The authors of the report note that  the risk of violence “spikes during after school hours — prime time for juvenile crime.  The problem of course, is that budget cuts and new priorities have reduced state and federal funding for after-school programs and other measures aimed at taking kids off of the streets after school lets out.  What’s more, the federal government has backed off from its support of community policing programs; in 2003  the federal government reduced funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which added tens of thousands of officers to local police departments.  Furthermore, as the report mentions, “federal support for juvenile justice and prevention programs has been reduced by half.

Though, beyond all of this, I think the real issue is the fact that our inner cities are for the most part, bereft of meaningful economic opportunity and stable, healthy social structures: community, family, etc.  Without these things, youth turn to gangs and other illegal activities to fulfill otherwise healthy desires for “status, excitement, power, praise, profit, protection, mentoring and opportunity for advancement.”

Of course, to any attempt to address these problems requires a constellation of programs and resources at all levels of government, and unfortunately, it’s not clear to me that anyone is really that interested in bringing anything to bear on our inner cities.  But on the other hand, now that we have a president and an administration familiar with urban problems, maybe we’ll see some movement towards improving the economic and social conditions of the inner cities.

cross-posted from my blog


Jamelle Bouie is a writer for Slate. He has also written for The Daily Beast, The American Prospect and The Nation. His work centers on politics, race, and the intersection of the two.

You can find him on Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram as jbouie.
  • I’m really saddened by this report, including seeing how Boston and MA are near the front of the pack in cities and states with these rising homicide rates. What’s interesting to me about Boston’s #s compared to 4 of the 6 other cities where black teen homicide rates are rising, is that the corresponding rate for white teens dropped in Boston (in the other cities, it rose, albeit at a smaller rate, alongside the black homicide rate). To me this represents our legacy of residential segregation up here (yes, all cities are racially/ethnically segregated, but I don’t know, this really speaks to me about the level of black-white segregation that remains in most of Boston – the comments thread in the Globe article don’t help either!)

    The minister quoted in the linked Globe piece makes the point that until the general public stops thinking of this as NIMBY black-on-black crime, we’re hobbled in doing anything about it. I’m seeing a lot of coverage of this report; I hope people are paying attention.

  • geo

    the article and the chart is disheartening. i counsel juveniles who are on probation, and the article rings true in regards to the complexity of the situation. listening to their life stories makes me feel incredibly limited in my ability to help. the gaps between top-down and bottom-up approaches seem to be widening without a lot of protest noise. i have so many thoughts (and quite a bit of anger) surrounding this issue that makes it difficult for me articulate them in a coherent fashion. i may come back later and try again.

  • scott


    Can you elaborate on you thoughts about the causal relationship between the legacy of segregation and teen homicide? Articles in the WSJ and NYT point to other causes.

  • scott: could you link the articles you’re referring to?

  • young_

    I think there are a number of possiblities that we (and researchers/policymakers/etc.) need to consider before we can make sense of this disturbing trend. In doing so, we might learn more about why black teen homicides went down so much in the late 90s. I’m particularly interested in figuring out how much of this trend is a secondary consequence of the weak economic conditions during Bush’s presidency. Black people and black communities are the first to feel the consequences of economic downturns, which leads to different pressures and incentives for young people trying to figure how best to come up in the world financially. When more jobs are available for teens, and more neighborhood adults are working, we have less crime. Also, is this at all a perverse bi-product of the mass incarceration policies of the War on Drugs in the 1990s, which locked up the fathers and older relatives of many of todays inner-city teens? Did this and the return of hundreds of thousands of hardened ex-convicts to inner-city neighborhoods change young peoples’ norms and attitudes about crime and law growing up? But on a more practical, less macro level, we need to figure out what’s going on in some of the individual cities that have been hit the hardest. Are there growing gang problems? Increased drug activity? I’m just thinking out loud– I could definitely go on. But I really hope this leads to serious thought and discussion, and doesn’t get excessively simplified by people on the left or right (or the Gladwells of the world either).

  • geo

    One of the biggest impasses I have in my work is giving practical suggestions to my kids. Probation officers make the recommendation of therapy and state the primary area of focus, which is “anger management” 90% of the time. It is true many of them are angry-justifiably so-and have trouble expressing it in ways that keep them out of the justice system. But how do you tell a teenage boy living in a world where their masculinity is their main source of currency to “just walk away” when they are presented with a physical or even verbal confrontation? For me and my environment growing up, walking away or alerting my parents to the problem would be beneficial to me, but the rules of their world are completely different. Those suggestions would be detrimental to them. Like I said, their anger is often valid. Who wouldn’t be mad that their school is violent or the teachers don’t bother to teach? Who wouldn’t be full of rage when your father pops in according to his schedule or even worse-forgets your existence all together? Who would not be pissed off if you can’t walk to specific blocks because they got beef with folks who live on your street, even though you have nothing to do with it? Until Americans reach the consensus that there are indeed two Americas, any progress we make will be ephemeral.

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