Pa. ranks 4th in black homicide victims, latest stats show

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A memorial marks the spot of a homicide in the 6800 block of Smedley Street. Police have increased their presence in problem neighborhoods. At the current pace, Philadelphia is on track for the lowest homicide total in 45 years, Dec. 11, 2013. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ/Staff Photographer)

PENNSYLVANIA ranked fourth nationwide in black homicide victimization in 2011, according to an organization that ranked the state second in the previous year.

The Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center, which released the new study Thursday, said the latest figures show that Pennsylvania had 29.02 homicides per 100,000 black civilians in 2011.

A study released by the same nonprofit group last year ranked Pennsylvania second in 2010. The state was ranked third in 2009.

In 2011 — the latest year for which FBI statistics are available — blacks accounted for half of all homicide victims nationwide, yet represented 13 percent of the U.S. population.

By comparison, Pennsylvania had 1.5 times more black homicides than the national average in 2011 and more than six times the overall homicide-victimization rate nationwide.

In 2011, Pennsylvania had 419 black homicide victims, 378 of whom were male and 41 female.

Of the 350 black homicide victims killed with guns, the study shows, 86 percent — or 300 victims — were killed with handguns.

In addition, in Pennsylvania 37 victims were killed with knives or other cutting instruments, 12 by bodily force, and 7 by a blunt object. Twenty black homicide victims (5 percent) were below age 18. The average age was 29.

For Pennsylvania homicides in which the victim-to-offender relationship could be identified, 86 percent of black homicide victims (183 out of 214) were murdered by someone they knew. Thirty-one victims were killed by strangers.

In the latest rankings, Nebraska tops the list with a rate of 34.43 black homicide victims per 100,000. That state is followed by Missouri, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work and a member of the Philadelphia Prison Board of Trustees, called the data "alarming."

"We can't be reactive, but proactive," said Lassiter, adding that the study underscores a need for better educational and economic opportunities for all people, including former prisoners.

"Educational apartheid and institutional racism are the recipes for self-destruction, and we need to create an infrastructure that provides adequate counseling and better opportunities for everyone," he said.

But in a country that is consistently ranked higher in homicide rates than nearly all other developed nations, he said, the real solution is to address America's unusual obsession with firearms.

"We need to recognize that we can't have a study on black homicide-victimization rates without recognizing the country's homicide rate in general," Lassiter says.

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