Slayings of young men in U.S. termed 'epidemic'

October 14, 1994|By New York Times News Service

ATLANTA -- At a time when the national homicide rate has not increased in several years, adolescent men are being killed in sharply rising numbers that have reached epidemic proportions, according to a study released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study shows that from 1985 to 1991, the annual rate at which young men 15 to 19 years old were being killed jumped 154 percent, far surpassing the rate changes in any other age group. Virtually all of the increase in homicide, 97 percent, was attributable to the use of guns, the study found.

"This shows clearly and comprehensively that we have an epidemic of firearms death among young men," said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, the director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, a division of the centers that did the study.

The surge in homicide among 15- to 19-year-olds cuts across all racial groups, Dr. Rosenberg said, but the rates at which young black males were killed started at a higher base.

The new study suggests that the United States confronts not one but two trends of violence, said James Allen Fox, dean of the College of Criminology at Northeastern University in Boston.

"Actually, what we have is a combination of two different murder rates going in opposite directions," he said. Homicide rates among men over 25 years old have been declining since 1985, he noted.

The study, published in the center's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also showed that while arrest rates for homicide among men aged 15 to 19 went up 127 percent from 1985 to 1991, they dropped by 1 percent for men 25 through 29, and 13 percent for men 30 through 34.

As a result, the report said, men from 15 through 19 are now more likely than those of any other age group to be arrested for homicide.

The national homicide rate in 1992, the last year for which figures are available, stood at 9.3 per 100,000, the same as in 1990. It reached its highest level in the United States in 1980 when it was 10.1 per 100,000, according to the FBI.

The new report said it was unclear what had caused the enormous increase in homicide deaths among adolescent men. But it said one possible explanation lay in the work of Alfred Blumstein, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Mr. Blumstein said that he had found that the sudden marked increase in homicide among young people took place in the mid-1980s along with the coming of crack.

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