Monday, June 29, 2015

American homicide

Using US Census data and FBI homicide statistics to look at US homicide rates by race is problematic, because the race of offender (and of victim) statistics apparently do not cover non-negligent manslaughter. One is forced to multiply such statistics by the ratio of the total homicides counted on that basis to the total including non-negligent manslaughter to get figures that are internationally comparable.

Doing so, and if one excludes African-Americans, the US homicide rate is 2.6 per 100,000--in other words, about the rate of Turkey or the UAE or around 71st or 72nd of the 218 jurisdictions listed by Wikipedia: rather high by the standards of developed countries. (Claims that the non-African-American homicide rate is normal for high income countries appears to come from taking the FBI homicide-by-race statistics as covering all intentional homicides, which they do not: a mistake I made with the first version of this post. Which points to the need to be careful about statistical sources, especially administrative statistics.)

The homicide rate for African-Americans is 15.2 per 100,000. That is around 186th out of the 218 aforementioned jurisdictions and very high by developed country standards: it is about the rate of Myanmar and well above the global average of 6.2 per 100,000.

(When looking at country statistics, the offenders and victims come from the same group so homicide and victimisation rates are the same; when looking at intra-country statistics, that does not follow. So the intra-US statistics I cite are based on race of offender, not victim.)

Region and homicide
The African-American homicide rate is high by Sub-Saharan African standards: only 9 out of 41 jurisdictions have higher rates. It is around the middle by Caribbean standards, with 11 jurisdictions out of 21 having lower homicide rates, and by Latin American standards, with 13 jurisdictions out of 23 jurisdictions having lower homicide rates: some of the Caribbean and Latin American homicide rates are astonishing. 

The African-American homicide rate is high by Greater Middle East standards (North Africa-Middle East-Islamic Central Asia) by European standards and by Oceania standards, as no jurisdictions in those regions have higher homicide rates. In Asia (outside the Greater Middle East) only Myanmar 15.2 has an equal or  higher homicide rates. 

Income and homicide
According to US census data (pdf), African-Americans had a per capita income 68% of the overall US per capita income (for non-Hispanic whites 116%, Asian-Americans 112%, Hispanics 58%). Applying that percentage to World Bank data, that gives African-Americans about the same per capita income as Japan--or around 26th of the 185 jurisdictions covered by the World Bank data--and more than that of Italy, Spain, South Korea and Israel. For that level of per capita income, the African-American homicide rate is strikingly high. All the jurisdictions with equal or higher per capita income have homicide rates in the range of 0.2 per 100,000 (Singapore) to 2.6 per 100,000 (UAE) with the exception of Bermuda (7.7 per 100,000). The excluding-African-Americans-US homicide rate of 2.6 per 100,000 is high for high income societies. Adding in African-Americans raises it to 4.7, which is even more so.

The FBI homicide figures for ethnicity (including Hispanic) are not anywhere near as complete (there are lots of "ethnicity unknown" in the FBI figures). If we apply an estimate of Hispanic American's victimisation rate (pdf) (5.7 per 100,000, which will very likely be an overestimate for the Hispanic offender-homicide-rate), that is lower than the homicide rate for any Latin American country apart from Chile (3.1), Cuba (4.2) and Argentina (5.5).

Applying Hispanic Americans average income as a percentage of overall US per capita income (58%) as above, gives them a per capita income above Malta's but below Israel's, with Puerto Rico being the only Latin American country/dependency with a higher per capita income. So, for Latin Americans, the US is the land of opportunity: hence the continuing attempts to enter the US.

Given that the African-American homicide rate is above that of most sub-Saharan countries and countries with populations with majority sub-Saharan African descent, African-Americans are not getting the reduced-homicide benefit of their (much higher) average income.

This is so even if we look at jurisdictions were a majority of the population are of African slave descent. The other thing Bermuda has in common with African-Americans--other than strikingly high homicide rates for their level of income--is being descended from African slaves: a majority of Bermudans are of African descent.  Countries such as Jamaica (39.3) and various small island jurisdictions--Montserrat (20.4), Dominica (21.1)*, Saint Lucia (21.6), Saint Vincent & the Grenadines (25.6), Bahamas (29.8), Saint Kitts & Nevis (33.6), US Virgin Islands (52.6)--have rather higher homicide rates than African-Americans. Yet Martinique (2.7),  Turcos & Caicos (6.6), Barbados (7.4), Anguila (7.5), Bermuda (7.7), Guadaloupe (7.9), British Virgin Islands (8.4), Haiti (10.2 per 100,000), Antigua & Barbuda (11.2), Grenada (13.3) are all majority Afro-Caribbean jurisdiction with lower homicide rates. Many of these jurisdictions have small populations, so it does not take many murders to push up the homicide rate, but the pattern of African-Americans being roughly in the middle, despite their much higher average income, is sufficiently clear that the generally small populations of these jurisdictions do not invalidate the comparison.

Regarding guns
By the standards of developed countries, the US does have something of a general homicide problem.  Excluding African-Americans, the 2.6 per 100,000 homicide rate is elevated, especially compared to countries of similar population and institutional origins (Canada 1.6, Australia 1.1, New Zealand 0.9: weighted average of three 1.4). While the proportion of homicides caused by guns marches with the general trends, there is prima facie evidence that the level of gun possession elevates the overall homicide rate. Guns make homicide easier and, other things being equal, if it is easier to do, it will be done more often.

With gun deaths more broadly, the US also has something of a suicide and gun-accident problem. (To which the same point applies.) Nevertheless, the US non-African-American homicide rate is not nearly as high as the national figures suggest. Even with mass shootings, cases where armed civilians stopped or curtailed mass shootings tend not to get much media coverage.

There is, however, even more clearly an African-American homicide problem: given the level of economic development. Indeed, using the weighted average of the other Anglo-originated neo-European states as a guide, about 37% of the elevated homicide rate is likely about gun prevalence (the difference between 1.4 and 2.6) and about 63% is due to the highly elevated African-American homicide rate (the difference between 2.6 and 4.7).

Comparatively low social capital (including the legacy of slavery) and dysfunctional metropolitan governance (particularly due to the prevalence of one-Party government; somewhat exacerbated by a lack of urban voices in the overwhelmingly rural-and-suburban Republican Party) are likely factors in the latter. The extent of gun possession hardly explains the striking difference in homicide rates between African-Americans and other Americans.  

Attitudes to gun control have a strong urban-rural divide, expressed thusly by Steve Sailer:
The endless gun-control brouhaha, which on the surface appears to be a bitter battle between liberal and conservative whites, also features a cryptic racial angle. What blue-region white liberals actually want is for the government to disarm the dangerous urban minorities that threaten their children’s safety. Red-region white conservatives, insulated by distance from the Crips and the Bloods, don’t care that white liberals’ kids are in peril. Besides, in sparsely populated Republican areas, where police response times are slow and the chances of drilling an innocent bystander are slim, guns make more sense for self-defense than in the cities and suburbs.
White liberals, angered by white conservatives’ lack of racial solidarity with them, yet bereft of any vocabulary for expressing such a verboten concept, pretend that they need gun control to protect them from gun-crazy rural rednecks, such as the ones Michael Moore demonized in “Bowling for Columbine,” thus further enraging red-region Republicans.
In the US, race (as so often) entangles the patterns: contra Sailer's framing, plenty of African-Americans are keen on gun control--such as the middle class Americans Alan Wolfe starts off his One Nation, After All by quoting, voicing discontent about urban life and its dangers (before telling you they are all comments from African-Americans). Indeed, African-Americans tend to be keener on gun control than white Americans (pdf): unsurprising, since they are much more at risk from homicide and gun violence than white Americans.

Though Hispanics are even keener--66% of blacks give gun control priority according to the 2011 Pew poll but 75% of Hispanics do. Wanting the state to disarm those other folk may have something to do with the greater Hispanic enthusiasm for gun control, given that they are notably keener on gun control than African-Americans, yet are considerably less likely to be the victims of gun violence; the African-American homicide victimisation rate is 15.2 per 100,000 compared to 5.7 for Hispanic Americans.

Both groups are also much more concentrated in inner cities than white Americans: according to the 2011 Pew poll, 57% of urban dwellers give priority to gun control compared to 33% of rural dwellers. One sees the same urban-rural divide in Australia without a comparable racial element. Folk in cities, with quick police reaction times and lots of highly diverse anonymous strangers, tend to want all those unknowns to be disarmed. Folk in rural areas, with slow police reaction times, fare fewer unknowns yet dangerous (or just pesky) critters, tend to want access to guns. There is no great mystery to it, if you understand the different social perspectives. 

But being against guns is easy. Improving social capital and city governance is hard: though the decline of gangs in Los Angeles points to what can be achieved if folk try. In the US, the easy can also be an evasion, which does not help people living in communities with low social capital, dysfunctional city government, inappropriate federal and state policies and homicide rates much higher than they should be, given their income levels. 

*Dominica was the first British Caribbean colony to have a majority black legislature (1838). For countries with majority Afro-Caribbean population (and so electorates), racism is not likely to be a major factor in explaining their homicide rates. (Remembering that enslaving Africans generated racism, slavery was not caused by racism.)

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

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