Omaha, Nebraska: Highest rate of black murders says new report

The city skyline is brightened by a mural, on June 7, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

The city skyline is brightened by a mural, on June 7, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

Nebraska, known for its large agricultural industry, has surprisingly claimed the top spot as the state with the highest incidence of black murder victims, according to newly published research.

Analysis by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) shows Nebraska has the highest black homicide rates for 2011, the most recent year for which comprehensive national data is available.

Nebraska, which has a population of approximately 1.8 million people, led the nation with a black homicide victimization rate of 34.43 per 100,000.

The state’s No.1 ranking topples more obvious places like Michigan, which ranks third on the top 10 list and Pennsylvania that comes in at forth place.

“The figures are surprising because most people think of Nebraska as a white state,” says VPC executive director Josh Sugarmann. “But the majority of the killings are in Nebraska’s largest city, Omaha.”

Omaha, a city of 420,000 people, accounts for the overwhelming majority of black homicides in Nebraska. Thirty African Americans were murdered in Nebraska in 2011, based on police reporting 27 were killed in Omaha.

One explanation could be that the city has staggering poverty affecting specific pockets of the population. Omaha has the unenviable position of ranking 1st among U.S. cities for the total number of African Americans who qualify as low-income.

Though, John Crank, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, points to a clustering of the killings in the city’s most socially deprived areas, mainly in the north.

“Most Omaha neighborhoods had no homicides,” says Crank. “The majority of violent crime and killings are isolated to specific areas.”

“A lot is gang-related, a fair amount of retaliation. Then you have crime committed by gang members that are not acting on behalf of their gangs.”

In reality, the homicide rates for Omaha are dwarfed in comparison to murder data from the tough streets of Chicago or Detroit, since Nebraska has a small population.

Nebraska is overwhelmingly white. About 88,000 black people reside in the state, accounting for only about 4.7 percent of the state’s population. The black community is concentrated in Omaha.

Other findings in the study highlight that African Americans across the nation are disproportionately affected by homicide.

Black Americans are four times more likely to be murdered than the national average. Of these four out of five black homicide victims are killed with guns, reveals the analysis by VPC, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group that promotes gun control.

The study finds the black homicide victimization rate in 2011 was 17.51 per 100,000, while the overall national rate was 4.44 per 100,000. The national homicide victimization rate for white Americans was 2.64 per 100,000.

“Black homicide victimization is an ongoing devastating crisis and the role played by guns, usually handguns can’t be denied,” says Sugarmann.

Now in its eight year, the VPC study, Black Homicide Victimization in the United States, based on unpublished FBI SHR data, concludes that homicide rates in the African-American community is a national crisis, yet it is all too often ignored outside of affected communities.

“The thing that has been disturbing is that this has been a problem, an ongoing problem, for decades but there has not been enough done to address this crisis,” says Sugarmann.

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