Gunfire deaths of black males expected to rise Morgan State authority says high homicide rate is an epidemic that needs treatment

March 15, 1991|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff Joe Nawrozki contributed to this story

As sobering as the government's statistics are on the deaths by firearms of young black males, an expert on the topic in Baltimore says the situation will worsen if the epidemic isn't treated.

"There are things to be done to try [to] stem it," says Robert Hill, director of Morgan State University's Institute of Urban Research.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Louis W. Sullivan unveiled a federal study Wednesday that found 48 percent of black males ages 15 to 19 who died in 1988 were killed by gunfire. That compares with 18 percent for white males in that age group.

It was the most recent year for which data were available for the report.

Of the 305 homicides in Baltimore in 1990, police report, 207 people were killed with handguns; 53 with knives; seven with other firearms; and 38 by other methods, such as strangulation, poisoning and beating.

Fifteen non-white juvenile (under 18) males and three non-white juvenile females were slain last year, but police did not have statistics showing the means by which they were killed.

The figures showed that 240 non-white males and 42 non-white females were slain in the city.

The federal study, which Sullivan said "shakes me to the core of my being," concluded that black male teen-agers were 11 times more likely to be killed by guns than were whites.

"Do you realize that the leading killer of young black males is young black males?" asked Sullivan, a physician and the only black in President Bush's Cabinet, addressing a black family conference in Hampton, Va.

Of the 1,641 homicide victims in the United States ages 15 to 19 who were killed by firearms in 1988, 955 were black males and 453 white males, Sullivan said. Ninety-eight were black females and 97 were white females. Other minorities make up the other 38.

Hill said yesterday the killings of young black males began to accelerate in the 1980s when crack, a cheap crystallized form of cocaine, entered the black community. The easy accessibility to firearms and high unemployment rates in black communities also contributed to the increase.

Last year, Hill wrote a 23-page study, "Homicides in Baltimore: Severity, Causes and Remedies," for the Associated Black Charities. As in the federal study, he found young black males in Baltimore were disproportionate victims of homicide.

Hill found that 84 percent of the 258 homicide victims in Baltimore in 1989 were black, 66 percent were black males and 74 percent of those accused of the killings were black males.

L Firearms were used in 61 percent of the homicides, he found.

Before things get worse, Hill said, measures need to be taken, including developing innovative and community-oriented programs, such as Project Brave, a new group that tries to impress upon young people that conflicts can be resolved without violence.

Last month, Project Brave sponsored an anti-killing rally at a high school.

Treating homicide solely as a law enforcement problem is no longer the answer, Hill said. Providing more prisons doesn't solve the problem, either, he said.

"We have to say if there's a war [on crime], we'll fight it the same way we did in Saudi Arabia," Hill said.

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