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A ‘Pretty Typical’ Death Stands Out

December 27, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ His name was Carlos Rosa, he was 19 years old and he died violently. The suspect and motive behind his killing are a mystery, but drugs are believed to have played a role.

Those are the bare facts behind what was, in every sense, a typical killing in New York City in 1988. Carlos Rosa’s death on Christmas Eve stands out for only one reason: It may have broken the record for the number of New York City homicides in a single year.

Rosa, who was shot to death near his home on Staten Island late Saturday, was the 1,842nd homicide victim of the year, according to Sgt. Diane Kubler, a police spokeswoman. By some counts, the 1981 record was 1,841 killings, although police said later that 1,826 homicides took place that year, indicating the record could have been broken earlier.

On Christmas Day, seven more people were killed. About 30 more homicides are expected by New Year’s.

No American city comes close to New York in volume of violent deaths. The city averages five homicides a day; its closest competitor, Los Angeles, averages fewer than three.

Other cities do have much higher homicide rates. New York ranks 10th among major American cities in number of homicides per 100,000 people; the most murderous city in the country is Detroit.

New York reached its 1981 peak in violence during a period of fiscal retrenchment in which the number of police officers had declined. Throughout the early ’80s, as the city rebuilt the Police Department and national crime rates fell, the number of homicides each year declined.

But the numbers have been increasing for several years, and criminal justice experts are virtually unanimous about the cause: crack cocaine.

″It’s not surprising,″ said Robert Trojanowicz, director of the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University. ″The turf wars over the drug business are generally what’s causing the increase. Drugs are the major growth business these days.″

Not only are there more drug dealers, Trojanowicz said, but the dealers are becoming more violent. One reason is that American culture is becoming more violent; another is that the supply of drugs has outstripped the demand, so drug sellers are fighting for customers.

″The bottom line, from their standpoint, is that they want to eliminate competition,″ Trojanowicz said. ″The main method is to eliminate the competitor.″

It’s not clear what happened to Rosa, nor is much known about his background. Neighbors told newspapers he was a drug dealer; police have declined to comment on that, but say the killing appears to have been drug- related.

Rosa lived on Staten Island, not far from where the Staten Island Ferry docks. Police found his body in the middle of a nearby intersection and pronounced him dead at the scene. His head and upper torso were riddled with bullet wounds.

″It’s pretty typical,″ said Sgt. Kenneth Backes, a detective assigned to Staten Island, the least populated and most peaceful of New York City’s five boroughs. ″This is our 30th one for the year, and we run the gamut here.″

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