Pennsylvania's black homicide victimization rate is the second highest in the country, according to analysis of unpublished FBI data released yesterday by the Violence Policy Center.
"Across the nation, this is a long-ignored public health crisis that is devastating black teens and adults, their families and the communities where they live," said executive director and study co-author Josh Sugarmann.
Pennsylvania's homicide rate among black victims in 2010 – the most recent year for which data is available – was more than six times the overall U.S. homicide rate.
The study revealed that, even nationwide, homicides disproportionately affect African Americans. Only 13 percent of the country's 2010 population was black, yet blacks accounted for a staggering 49 percent of homicide victims.
"It's more than a national public health crisis," said Chad Dion-Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn. "It should have been framed that way 20 years ago. It's a disease and the ailment has to be cured. The thing that's ailing a lot of black males is a failed economy, a sense of hopelessness, a sense of male-ism and a sense of despair."
Dion-Lassiter said there needs to be a shift in the way violent crime is addressed to account for the role of economics, in addition to race. "What drives it is economic deprivation and moral erosion," he said. "And I think when you look at those and the way they intersect, it becomes combustible – along with the readily available guns."
In a statistic in line with national trends, 84 percent of Pennsylvania's black homicide victims were killed with firearms, the majority of them handguns.
"What we need to do now is a combination of gun education, gun legislation, economic opportunities, mentoring programs and violence prevention programs," Dion-Lassiter said. "I think it has to be framed within the context of we care for all humanity and victims. We don't become selective about what side of the color line they're on."
By the numbers
419 black Pennsylvanians were murdered in 2010.
26.87 per 100,000 black Pennsylvanians fell victim to homicide that year.
16.32 per 100,000 black Americans were murdered in 2010.
4.42 per 100,000 Americans, overall, were slain the same year.
2.66 per 100,000 white Americans were 2010 murder victims.