Oklahoma ranks No. 4 in black-on-black homicides
BY JULIE DELCOUR Associate Editor
Sunday, January 29, 2012
1/29/12 at 2:39 AM
After church on Sept. 7, 2008, five teens all piled into Jahmal Bryant's Chevrolet Caprice and headed south on North Cincinnati Avenue. The friends were in a good mood, laughing and joking. None of them paid much attention to a Mercury Marquis, driven by Rashad R. Easley, 20, pulling up beside them near Pine Street.
Without warning, one of the Mercury's passengers, Vincent "Venom" Berry, 20, fired 15 shots from an SKS rifle, hitting all five of the teens before the car sped off, leaving behind what prosecutors later described as "carnage and chaos."
Donivan Crutcher, 16, was wounded and died the next day. His brother, Adrion Crutcher, 17, survived but is paralyzed. Jeremy Williams, 19, lost an eye. Victor Bell, 17, was only grazed. Bryant, 18, was shot in the chest. He later testified that he had "ducked and gassed it" once he realized shots were being fired. His car crashed into a concrete lane divider.
In a cruel twist of fate, the drive-by shooting turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. Easley had been shot six days earlier and erroneously believed that someone in the victims' car was a gang rival responsible for his injuries.
The killing rocked Tulsa's black community. Unfortunately, black-on-black shootings have not decreased much in the three years since.
A report last week by the Washington D.C.-based Violence Policy Center ranked Oklahoma No. 4 in per-capita "black-on-black" homicides. Oklahoma's rate in 2009, the year studied, was 27.96 homicides per 100,000 residents. Only Missouri, with 34.72 black homicides per 100,000, Michigan with 30.21 such murders, and Pennsylvania with 28.30 homicides per 100,000 population, ranked higher.
"While Oklahoma has the fourth highest state rate of black homicide victimization, homicides are devastating black teens and adults across the nation," Josh Sugarmann, VPC executive director and study co-author, said. He urged communities with these higher homicide rates to focus on the toll that guns, in the wrong hands, are extracting.
It is true that most black homicide victims - 90 percent of those who died in Oklahoma - are killed with a gun. The availability and proliferation of guns, however, are far from the whole story. Poverty, joblessness and gang involvement also are factors.
In 2009, blacks represented 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet accounted for 47 percent of all homicide victims - 6,505 deaths. For many years, homicide has ranked as the leading cause of death among black men in the U.S. In 2009, the national homicide rate for African Americans was 17.9 homicides per 100,000 residents. For the whites, the national homicide rate was 2.92 per 100,000. The overall national homicide rate was 4.76 per 100,000.
Of the 83 black homicide victims in Oklahoma in 2009, 13 were younger than 18, and two victims were over 65. Only seven of the victims were female.
Of those cases in which a victim-to-offender relationship could be identified, 69 percent of the victims were killed by someone they knew. For cases in which the circumstances could be established, 67 percent of the murders were not related to the commission of any other felony. Almost half of the homicides involved arguments between the victim and the offender.
Sociologists and criminologists as well as so many others have argued and theorized through the years that the elevated, disproportionate homicide rate among African Americans, particularly among young black teens and men, is related more to poverty than to race. Joblessness, idleness and lack of training and education all play a role. When there's a vacuum bad things start happening.
Gangs are a major contributor to the black homicide rate. Remove the gang element, which led to Crutcher's death, and he might still be alive. Berry, his killer, thought he was shooting at gang rivals.
But back to that comment by Sugarmann about the problems posed by firearms in the wrong hands. On both a local and national level, African Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to be confronted with a firearm. That, Sugarmann has said, "leads to the results that we're seeing."
Despite efforts by the black community, law enforcement, schools, churches and government to stop the violence, it continues - unresolved by incarceration, intervention, programs or crusades. Those approaches have worked to some degree to reduce the black-on-black homicide rate but not for long, and not consistently.
These studies, such as the one by VPC, underscore the persistent problem of violent crime plaguing black communities at a time when the incidence of overall violent crime in the U.S. has dropped.
For 30 years, gang violence in Oklahoma's urban areas has extracted a lethal toll, including its share of innocent bystanders. Yet funding has suffered for anti-gang efforts, and there was not enough money to begin with to dramatically reduce such a pervasive problem. And besides, money only goes so far in solving these kinds of social problems.
Neither has incarceration stemmed the violence. Oklahoma has one of the nation's highest per-capita incarceration rates and a substantial number of black inmates. Killers, like Easley and Berry, are taken off the streets, as they must be, but others take their place. Oklahoma cannot expect to incarcerate its way out of the problem because obviously most offenders weren't deterred by the prospect of prison.
Donivan Crutcher, struck down at 16 by a 20-year-old's gun, isn't coming back. How many more young black men will meet with a similar fate?
No. 4 in the nation. What will the ranking be next year?
Original Print Headline: Black -on- black homicides
Julie DelCour 918-581-8379
A shattered window at a north Tulsa home is symptomatic of the dangers created by gang activity. Oklahoma in 2009 ranked No. 4 in the nation in black-on-black homicides per capita. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World file