Decrease in homicide rate is no cause for celebration



Youngstown ended 2006 with three fewer homicide victims than the year before.
And that is the only good thing that can be said about the city's deplorable homicide rate.
To get some idea of how bad the city's homicide rate is, do the math.
At an estimated population of 80,000 (which is based on 2000 census data and is high) the city would have a homicide rate of at least 40 per 100,000.
That is nearly eight times the national average, which according to FBI statistics was 5.6 per 100,000 in 2005.
When the city's homicide rate exceeds the national average by a factor of eight, an eight percent drop (from 35 in 2005 to 32 in 2006) is small consolation.
This is obviously a problem for the entire city and the surrounding area because it projects an image of lawlessness that reflects not only on Youngstown, but on the Mahoning Valley.
But it is a problem that should be of particular concern to the black community because more than 90 percent of the victims and a like percentage of the perpetrators were black.
And while adding police officers to the force could have a marginal affect on the homicide rate, primarily by breaking up the drug trade that fosters a relatively high percentage of the homicides, police alone cannot reverse this ugly trend
The poverty tie
There is a clear relationship between urban poverty and higher homicide rates, but poverty does not excuse murder.
There are poor people in Youngstown (and other cities larger and smaller) of every race who struggle through poverty without becoming homicidal. But studies do show that as the concentration of poverty in a city or even a neighborhood increases, the homicide rate goes up exponentially.
The city's extraordinarily high homicide rate implies that there is a subculture of (primarily) men -- from late teens to 30-somethings -- who are armed and dangerous. They have weapons and they have no compunction about using them.
They've come from broken homes, attended broken schools, grown up without role models and are now on the streets, making their own rules.
Police can arrest and courts can convict those who commit today's murders, and when that happens there are that many fewer potential murderers on the streets.
But as long as there are pockets of extreme poverty in the city and enclaves in which boys think that the only things that define a man are clothes, jewelry, cars, money and guns, there will be another generation of killers ready to fill their shoes.

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