One way of getting around these various methodological problems in thinking about racial differences in crime: look closely at homicide victimization rates of 15-29 year-old males. This approach can seem unkind because it assumes there is some correlation between the odds of getting killed and the odds of causing trouble. But among young men, unfortunately, that assumption has some validity.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve read the LA Times’ write-ups on hundreds of young male victims, and tracked down additional details on many of them elsewhere on the Internet, such as from their MySpace pages. It’s depressing work, but it puts human faces on the statistics.
Many of the victims were wholly innocent, such as the Long Beach engineer who chased teenaged thieves stealing his iPod into an alley, where they shot him down. Some, such as black high school football star Jamiel Shaw Jr., were apparently murdered at random due to their race as part of the low-intensity ethnic cleansing struggle in South Central L.A.
On the other hand, more than a few of the 1,257 male 15-29-year-old homicide victims appear to have been knuckleheads shot down by cops during crimes or by rival gangs as payback, or who lost their lives in fights they started.
Most killings in L.A. County involve acquaintances rather than strangers. Perhaps due to the spread of pervasive video surveillance in stores, robbery killings are now down to a small fraction of the total number of victims, and a very small sliver of young male victims.
This means that victimization rates of young men can give us some clue about crime rates.
Among 15-29 year-old males killed since the beginning of 2007, I count:
* Hispanics: 794 victims out of 611,789 young men in the 2006-2008 Census estimates
* Blacks: 380 victims out of 96,676 young men
* Non-Hispanic Caucasians: 47 out of 247,173
* Asians: 28 out of 129,716
* Pacific Islanders: 8 out of 3,510
* American Indians: 0 out of 6,088
* Total L.A. County: 15-29 year old males: 1,257 out of 1,108,268
A few technical notes: I’m counting 22 Spanish-surnamed victims as Hispanic even though the county coroner listed them as white, plus four others where there is evidence that they identified ethnically as Latino.
Not surprisingly to anybody who follows the local police blotter, 14 of the 47 Caucasian victims were of West Asian descent, and nine of those 14 Armenians. Only 1.7 percent of the population of Los Angeles County is Armenian, but some of them are a bit lively, rather like Sicilians in a Scorsese movie: enterprising and affluent, but with an Old World code of honor. Suspects in killings of Armenians are often described as vanishing into the night in BMWs or Lexuses. Judging by the Old Country first names of the Armenian victims, most were immigrants or the children of immigrants rather than from the pre-1924 wave of Armenian immigrants.
Using the Census Bureau’s estimates of the numbers of 15-29-year-old males in L.A. County in 2006-2008, we can calculate—relative to non-Hispanic whites—the homicide victimization rates among young men:
* Whites: 1.0 times the white rate (by Census definition)
* Asians: 1.1x the white rate
* Latinos: 6.8x
* Pacific Islanders: 12.0x
* African-American: 20.7x
* Total L.A. County: 6.0x