U.S. Cities See Rise in Homicides
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) _ One year after watching someone gun down her father, 7-year-old Jaunnicia Milton huddled in the back seat of a car as her mother was shot to death over the weekend.
The little girl was left an orphan as Oakland struggles through one of its bloodiest summers in years. The city is on pace to record more than 100 homicides this year, something it hasn’t done since 1995.
Oakland is not alone. Los Angeles, Boston and other cities across the country are seeing a bounce in homicides that experts attribute to a slower economy and an accompanying lack of jobs.
Mayor Jerry Brown planned to ask the City Council on Tuesday to raise taxes by $63.5 million over five years to add 100 officers to Oakland’s streets. The taxes would raise the cost of hotel stays, parking, and utilities as well as telephone and cable television.
Since taking office in 1998, Brown has already replaced the police chief and two weeks ago joined several thousand people demanding an end to the violence in a march to City Hall.
``It’s like the Gold Rush where people shot each other over mining claims,″ Brown said of the slayings. ``We’re going to do everything possible to reverse this crime trend.″
Jaunnicia was shot in the leg Sunday night when a gunman walked up to their parked car and killed her mother with a volley of bullets as the little girl cowered in the back seat. Her father was slain in their housing project a year ago.
``When her father died, she had her mother and other family members to help her get through it,″ Tequila Bagwell, the first grader’s aunt, told the Oakland Tribune. ``We have no idea how she’s going to handle this.″
Federal statistics show a 9 percent jump in homicides last year in cities with 250,000 to 499,999 people, a group that includes Oakland. That’s the highest increase of any group, including cities with more than a million people.
Last year, there were 84 murders in Oakland, a 5 percent increase from a year earlier. But things are much worse this year, harkening back to the years of 1986 to 1995, when the city averaged 138 murders a year.
As of Tuesday, 65 people had been slain. Most of the victims and suspects have been black men, shot in neighborhoods where gangs and weapons are plentiful.
``These are young men who grew up together,″ police spokesman George Phillips said. ``It’s not necessarily a gang, but we have these little neighborhood groups. They get into disputes over anything.″
Experts say the same factors are always to blame for a spike in murder rates: a lack of jobs in poor minority communities that has left too many young men with little hope for their futures. Unemployment in Oakland is at 10.2 percent _ the same as it was in 1992, when 165 homicides were the most in city history.
``When you have young males out of the system with nothing to lose _ idle young males selling drugs and guns are everywhere _ you’re going to have high homicide statistics,″ said Michael Rustigan, a criminology professor at San Francisco State University.
New York has had about 300 homicides so far this year, a slight decline from last year. But other large cities aren’t faring as well.
Los Angeles had 365 murders as of last week, a 27 percent jump over last year. The murder rate is even rising in Boston, where a coalition of police and community leaders provided mentoring programs, drop-in centers and other outreach programs that helped reduce murders from 152 in 1991 to just 31 in 1999. Boston had 66 murders last year and is on pace to go above that total this year.
In Oakland, police have sent more beat officers into hot spots, dedicated two officers to monitoring people on probation or parole and offered rewards for tips on gun crimes. Higher taxes would not only pay for more officers, but expand violence prevention programs to reach more of the 600 or so youths believed to be responsible for most of the crimes.
It’s a welcome move for families that have gone to great lengths to keep their young men out of trouble, only to see them die.
Marilyn Washington, a 46-year-old medical clerk, got her son Khadafy a mentor by the time he was 8. He got decent grades, attended church services and hoped to attend community college.
Two years ago, at 18, Khadafy was slain while riding his bike home.
``I did all the things that were the right things to do and he still got killed,″ Washington said. ``The reality of it is, we’ve failed our kids.″
On the Net:
Justice Department statistics: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs