Murders of black men compared to toll of war

December 07, 1990|By New York Times

The homicide rate among black men from the ages of 15 to 24 rose by two-thirds in the five years through 1988 and now approaches the casualty rate of a war, the federal Centers for Disease Control reports.

In the latest evidence of a continuing increase in violence among young blacks, Dr. Robert Froehlke, the principal author of the report, said yesterday more than 95 percent of the increase grew out of a rise in the rate at which these young men were being killed by guns.

"In some areas of the country, it is now more likely for a black male between his 15th and 25th birthday to die from homicide than it was for a United States soldier to be killed on a tour of duty in Vietnam," he said.

The most recent figures, collated from the agency's National Center for Health Statistics, showed that one in a thousand young black males died in a homicide.

The homicide rate among young black males for the decade ending in 1987 was five to eight times that of young white males. That gap has been steadily increasing, Froehlke said.

He said the figures showed that the rate among black males was rising fastest among those in the ages 15 to 19, indicating that violent death was becoming increasingly a problem of adolescents.

Although he said "homicide is not a disease in the classic sense," it is ravaging the community of young black men and should be a concern of public health officials. Viewed from a medical perspective, Froehlke said, the fast-rising death toll calls for urgent public health measures.

Among factors contributing to the rising numbers of killings, the report listed "immediate access to firearms, alcohol and substance abuse, drug trafficking, poverty, racial discrimination and cultural acceptance of violent behavior."

"Young blacks are an endangered species," said Charles Norman, who counsels inner city gang members in Los Angeles under a local government program. "They are dying out, like the condor, out there on the streets.

"Violence has become a way of life," he said. "Homicide has gotten to the point where it's almost a recreation."

Froehlke said the spread of violence through poor black communities, including drug and gang violence, could have a numbing effect that leads to further violence.

Dr. Frederick P. Rivara, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention Center in Seattle, a hospital that has studied firearm injuries, blamed the frustration and anger bred by poverty, along with the widespread availability of firearms and the spread of drugs and gangs.

"I think one of the reasons that more isn't being done about it is that it affects minorities more than it affects other groups in our society," he said. "If the homicide rate were the same among white males in suburbia, you better believe there would be something done."

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