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Murder rate in big cities drops while rates in medium and small cities increase. Are civil liberties in big cities now being infringed upon? The reporter who wrote this story for the New York Times does not even consider that if all citizens were locked into prisons, searched each day, and allowed to use nothing sharper than a butter knife, the murder rate would disappear altogether. This problem begins with a statistical anomoly seen in some cities and ends with cities providing needed services only after the poilce have used excessively intrusive measures against the community. Why can't families in low income communities get the streets repaired without first experiencing a police shake down?
February 12, 2006
Violent Crime Rising Sharply in Some Cities
By KATE ZERNIKE
MILWAUKEE — One woman here killed a friend after they argued over a brown silk dress. A man killed a neighbor whose 10-year-old son had mistakenly used his dish soap. Two men argued over a cellphone, and pulling out their guns, the police say, killed a 13-year-old girl in the crossfire.
While violent crime has been at historic lows nationwide and in cities like New York, Miami and Los Angeles, it is rising sharply here and in many other places across the country.
And while such crime in the 1990's was characterized by battles over gangs and drug turf, the police say the current rise in homicides has been set off by something more bewildering: petty disputes that hardly seem the stuff of fistfights, much less gunfire or stabbings.
Suspects tell the police they killed someone who "disrespected" them or a family member, or someone who was "mean mugging" them, which the police loosely translate as giving a dirty look. And more weapons are on the streets, giving people a way to act on their anger.
Police Chief Nannette H. Hegerty of Milwaukee calls it "the rage thing."
"We're seeing a very angry population, and they don't go to fists anymore, they go right to guns," she said. "A police department can have an effect on drugs or gangs. But two people arguing in a home, how does the police department go in and stop that?"
Here in Milwaukee, where homicides jumped from 88 in 2004 to 122 last year, the number classified as arguments rose to 45 from 17, making up by far the largest category of killings, as gang and drug murders declined.
In Houston, where homicides rose 24 percent last year, disputes were by far the largest category, 113 out of 336 killings. Officials were alarmed by the increase in murders well before Hurricane Katrina swelled the city's population by 150,000 people in September; the police say 18 homicides were related to evacuees.
In Philadelphia, where 380 homicides made 2005 the deadliest year since 1997, 208 were disputes; drug-related killings, which accounted for about 40 percent of homicides during the high-crime period of the early 1990's, accounted for just 13 percent.
"When we ask, 'Why did you shoot this guy?' it's, 'He bumped into me,' 'He looked at my girl the wrong way,' " said Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson of Philadelphia. "It's not like they're riding around doing drive-by shootings. It's arguments — stupid arguments over stupid things."
The police say the suspects and the victims tend to be black, young — midteens to mid-20's — and have previous criminal records. They tend to know each other. Several cities said that domestic violence had also risen. And the murders tend to be limited to particular neighborhoods. Downtown Milwaukee has not had a homicide in about five years, but in largely black neighborhoods on the north side, murders rose from 57 in 2004 to 94 last year.
"We're not talking about a city, we're talking about this subpopulation, that's what drives everything," said David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "When they calm down, all the numbers go down. When they heat up, all the numbers go up. They hurt each other over personal stuff. It's respect and disrespect, and it's girls."
While arguments have always made up a large number of homicides, the police say the trigger point now comes faster.
"Traditionally, you could see the beef growing and maybe hitting the volatile point," said Daniel Coleman, the commander of the homicide unit in Boston. "Now we see these things, they're flashes, they're very unpredictable. Even five years ago, in what started as a fight or dispute, maybe you'd have a knife shown. Now it's an automatic default to a firearm."
In robberies, Milwaukee's Chief Hegerty said, "even after the person gives up, the guy with the gun shoots him anyway. We didn't have as much of that before."
Homicide rates are driven by different factors in each city, but even cities whose rates have fallen have seen problems with disputes, though those disputes are often about drugs or gangs. "As the murder universe continues to shrink in New York, the common denominators remain consistent," said Police Department Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne. "In most instances, killers and victims knew each other, each had criminal records, and they were engaged in disputes, usually over narcotics."
Nationally, the homicide rate peaked in 1991, declined steadily after 1993 and has remained essentially flat since 1999. But in the first six months of 2005, according to preliminary statistics from the F.B.I., the number of homicides nationwide rose 2.1 percent, with the greatest increase, 4.9 percent, in the Midwest.
Yet many cities have seen far steeper increases. In Boston and San Francisco the number of homicides last year was at its highest in a decade, and in Prince George's County, Md., outside Washington, it was the highest ever.
In St. Louis, the number of homicides rose to 131 last year from 113 in 2004. Tulsa had 64 murders, 2 more than in 1993. Charlotte jumped from a record low of 60 homicides in 2004 to 85 in 2005. And the murder rate for 2005 was above the 15-year average in Kansas City, Mo., and Nashville.
A large part of the problem, the police say, is simply more guns on the streets as gun laws have loosened around the country. In Philadelphia, Commissioner Johnson said, since the state made it easier to get a gun permit in 1985, the number of people authorized to carry a gun in the city has risen from 700 to 32,000.
But the police also blame lax sentences and judges who they say let suspects out on bail too easily. Here, Deputy Chief Brian O'Keefe recalled a man who was released from prison on an armed robbery conviction after two years, with five years' probation, and killed someone within three months. In Nashville, Chief Ronal W. Serpas recalled an 18-year-old who had been arrested 41 times but was out on bail when he killed a bystander in a fight over a dice game.
"We have people who've done two, three, four, five shootings who are back on the streets," said Kathleen M. O'Toole, Boston's police commissioner. "Unless we have bail reform, unless these impact players with multiple gun arrests are kept off the streets, we won't reverse this problem."
Still, some of the problems are hard to address with tougher laws.
The neighborhoods with the most murders tend to be the poorest. In Milwaukee, Mallory O'Brien, an epidemiologist brought in to direct the new homicide review commission, said suspects and victims tend to have been born to teenage mothers. The city has one of the nation's highest teen pregnancy rates for blacks, and among black men, one of the lowest high school graduation rates. An industrial base that used to provide jobs for those without a high school diploma has shrunk.
Chief Corwin of Kansas City said that in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, people had explained it as a "lack of hope." "If I don't have skills, I don't have training, my socioeconomic situation looks desperate, do I really have hope?" he said. "I think that ties into the anger. If the only thing I have is my respect, that's what I carry on the street. If someone disrespects me, they've done the ultimate to me."
Those who study crime debate whether the cities where homicide is rising represent a trend.
"It's a couple of cities with bad luck and with local problems which are very real, but not necessarily part of a national pattern," said Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at Berkeley who is writing a book on the crime drop of the late 1990's.
But Mr. Kennedy, at John Jay, said the decrease in homicides in big cities has obscured the problem in many other places.
[ Last edited by matt605 at 2006-2-13 08:05 AM ]