Nate Silver wrote a profound article last summer. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Silver, he is a statistician who earned a solid reputation by correctly forecasting previous election results on his blog "Five Thirty Eight" (which is the total number of votes in the electoral college). His platform has since expanded, and he is now a regular contributor to various statistical-based discussions on ESPN.com. His discussions search for conclusions rooted in facts and evidence, and if anything his personal views (such as in his chats) seem to lean a little to the left. All of which is to say that he does not seem to have any sort of anti-liberal bias.
But back to his profound article from last summer. In that article, he looked at murder rates in countries that have a "high Human Development Index," which is "an overall measure of welfare and standard of living." In other words, countries that a high amount of resources and are governed by the rule of law. Thus, his article considered countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, France, Greece, Germany, and even Cuba, among many others; but excluded countries that are well-known but relatively impoverished and/or lack the Rule of Law (which often seem to go hand-in-hand), such as Brazil, Mexico, Libya, Somalia, and Syria.
At first blush, the United States' homicide rate of 5.2 homicides per 100,000 people was one of the highest among countries in his survey. And in fact, if you limited the study to the 31 most developed / advanced countries, then the United States' homicide rate of 5.2 was easily the highest among that group.
But as Mr. Silver is wont to do, he didn't stop at the surface. Rather, he dug further into the data. He divided the American victims of murder into four groups, by race: Overall, white, black, and Hispanic. And once he looked at the numbers that way, the result was quite different:
The data showed that the black community suffered 19.4 homicides per 100,000 people -- a rate that is almost triple the next worst country.
And so that got me thinking. We hear so much about black-on-black crime, but what do the numbers really say? How many of those homicides suffered by the black community are the result of black-on-black crime, as compared to white-on-black crime or other sources.
And that led me to this study from the U.S. Department of Justice. The study looked at homicide trends in the United States from 1980 through 2008. If you hit the link and scroll to page 13 of the study, you'll see this incredible -- but very alarming -- stat: Most murders are intraracial (within the same race), and "84% of white victims were killed by whites" and "93% of black victims were killed by blacks." In other words, white victims are killed by other white people 84% of the time, and black victims are killed by other black victims 93% of the time. I'm not trying to do anything other than look at the honest, raw, and even painful numbers here, so please don't read anything else into it.
But as I said above, the reason I went looking for the black-on-black homicide rate is because of how startled I was about the 19.4 rate in the chart above. So now having this 93% number, I was able to go back and ask the question, what would the homicide rate look like in the black community if you only included black-on-black homicides? In other words, are whites really victimizing blacks as much as the media and the Black Lives Matters MOVEMENT would like us to believe, or is the problem stemming from something else?
And so when you combine those numbers, here's the result: Of the 19.4 homicides per 100,000 members of the black community, 93% of those deaths was caused by other members of the black community. Multiplying those numbers (19.4 * .093) still leaves a staggering rate of 18.0 homicides per 100,000 people in the black community that are caused by black-on-black violence.
If you go back and look at the chart above again, you'll see that the next highest country (among the HDI countries) is Lithuania, with 6.9 homicides per 100,000 people. The rate for America as a whole is 5.2 homicides per 100,000 people, which is almost exactly the same as the homicide rate of 5.3 / 100,000 people in the Hispanic community. And the rate for white Americans is only 2.5 / 100,000 people, which is still higher than most other HDI countries, but does not stand out nearly as much. But the rate of 18.0 homicides per 100,000 in America's black community caused by black-on-black violence , and remains, staggering -- especially since it's almost triple the homicide rate of any other racial group within the United States.
And so that got me to thinking about the common refrain that we have a problem with the "American gun culture." If the American gun culture as a whole was the problem, then you would expect the aforementioned per capita numbers to be roughly equal. But yet, those per capita numbers are staggeringly different.
And that got me to thinking about what's so different within each of the various sub-cultures within America, and what other variables matter within the American culture in general.
I don't know the answers to that last question, but I am hopeful that at least framing the question begins a productive discussion that goes beyond the typical buzz words and accusations. Let's come together, put aside our differences, and begin to ponder what common aspects of the American culture (Hollywood's glorification of violence?) and the differences of the various sub-cultures (the way country music talks about guns vs. the way they are glorified in the Hip Hop culture) lead to these staggering differences.
While I absolutely believe that God is ultimately in control, I also believe that He gives us free will to make many of our decisions. And I also believe strongly that we can make those decisions more effectively when we are more educated on the actual facts, and when we work together instead of bucking against each other. And so why not begin that discussion here? Feel free to comment below (honestly but politely, please) or on my Facebook page.
"For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." (Acts 20:27)