January 1, 2009

U.S. murders involving young black males soaring

By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Murders involving young black males -- as victims and killers -- have soared in the past few years, bucking national trends and underscoring the need for more spending on at-risk youth programs, according to a U.S. study released this week.

The study by researchers at Northeastern University in Boston said national statistics showing total homicide rates stabilizing concealed the worsening situation among black U.S. males.

"While overall homicide levels in the United States have fluctuated minimally in recent years, those involving young victims and perpetrators -- particularly young black males -- have surged," the study said.

"From 2002 to 2007, the number of homicides involving black male juveniles as victims rose by 31 percent and as perpetrators by 43 percent," it said.

Northeastern criminal law professor James Alan Fox attributed the trends in part to a steep drop since 2000 in federal funding for local policing and youth violence prevention programs.

"Funding for community policing programs has been cut significantly since 2000. And there had been cuts in delinquency programs," he told Reuters in an interview.

The study said that federal funding for the Community Oriented Police Services program had fallen to around $500 million in 2006 from close to $1 billion in 2002.

BACK TO THE 1990s

"Much of the decline can be traced to the changing priorities following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America. Much of the federal support for law enforcement shifted from hometown security ... to homeland security," the study said.

Complacency also set in because of a sharp decline in crime in the 1990s, it said.

"We need to go back to the strategies that worked in the 1990s," Fox said.

But Barack Obama, who will be sworn in next month as America's first black president, faces many demands at a time of soaring budget deficits and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"In these difficult economic times, the banking and automobile industries have looked to the federal government for assistance. Where is the voice to appeal on behalf of the needs of at-risk youth?" the study asked. "We need an at-risk youth bailout."

Houston stands out among major cities, the report found. The number of blacks committing murder there between the ages of 14 and 24 more than doubled to 313 from 2000-01 to 2006-07.

Fox said the rise was probably due in part to the influx of refugees into Houston from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

During the same time period, the number of whites who committed murder in Houston fell 10 percent. (Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Xavier Briand)

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