Murder rates in the United States continue to plunge to historic lows — even the blood-soaked streets of Chicago recorded a 16 percent drop in homicides last year, with the city recording its fewest killings since 1965. Still, for uncounted African-Americans, the carnage persists in deprived neighborhoods across the country. While news of gang killings and other forms of mayhem in the grim streets of Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, Calif. and other metropolises dominate headlines, the city with the highest incidence of black murder victims might raise some eyebrows: the seemingly peaceful, farming state of Nebraska’s largest city, Omaha, a city of 420,000, located along the banks of the Missouri River.
The Violence Policy Center (VPC), a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group that promotes gun control, determined that in 2011 (the latest year in which comprehensive national data is available), 30 blacks (including 27 in Omaha) were murdered that year in Nebraska — meaning, the state had a black homicide rate of 34.4 per 100,000 people, double the national average of black victimization. Omaha (and particularly its black neighborhoods in the deprived northern and northeastern parts of the city) accounted for almost half of all recorded homicides in Nebraska — which, overall, sported a relatively low murder rate of less than four per 100,000 people. (The U.S. as a whole has a murder rate of 4.44 per 100,000 people.) Ninety percent of these murders came from the bullet of a gun.
The data further revealed that two black homicide victims from that year were children (less than 18 years old), while the average age of the victim was 28. The violence has continued into 2014 — as if to illustrate the parade of killings that have ensnared parts of Omaha, on Jan. 15, a 5-year-old black girl named Payton Benson was gunned down by a stray bullet. “Gun violence is a public health crisis that touches all Americans, but the impact on African-Americans is especially devastating,” said VPC executive director Josh Sugarmann. “This report should be a wake-up call for our elected officials to address the disproportionately high homicide victimization rate among black men and women. The longer we wait to act, the more lives will be lost.”
Since 2009, Nebraska’s ranking on this grim scale has jumped from 11th place to the top spot. Missouri, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma feature the highest black homicide rates, just behind Nebraska. “This is not an abstract concept,” Sugarmann added. “This is real people’s lives.”
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