Ur­ban killings clus­ter while cities grow safer

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By SARA BUR­NETT and LARRY FENN

IN­DI­ANAPO­LIS (AP) – When she started an ur­ban farm in one of In­di­anapo­lis’ rough­est neigh­bor­hoods, re­tired chemist Aster Bekele wanted to teach at-risk kids how to gar­den, and maybe sneak in a lit­tle sci­ence.

Then the city’s homi­cide rate started soar­ing, with most of the killings hap­pen­ing around the com­mu­nity cen­ter where Bekele and the teens tended their veg­eta­bles, chick­ens and com­post piles. Af­ter her own son was killed last sum­mer, she found her­self teach­ing a dif­fer­ent les­son: how to deal with death.

A few miles away, an­other rough neigh­bor­hood was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a change – equally dra­matic but just the op­po­site. The Foun­tain Square sec­tion near down­town, which once saw nearly as many killings as Bekele’s area, was trans­form­ing into one of the city’s safer spots thanks to an in­flux of af­flu­ent peo­ple drawn to its hip restau­rants, bi­cy­cle trails and art fes­ti­vals.

The con­trast il­lus­trates an As­so­ci­ated Press anal­y­sis of homi­cide data that showed some large cities seem to be get­ting safer and more dan­ger­ous at the same time. Slay­ings in Chicago, St. Louis and In­di­anapo­lis are be­com­ing con­cen­trated into small ar­eas where peo­ple are dy­ing at a pace not seen in years, if ever. Around them, much of the rest of the city is grow­ing more peace­ful, even as the to­tal num­ber of homi­cides rises.

“There’s two dif­fer­ent worlds,” said An­thony Bev­erly, who grew up in In­di­anapo­lis and now runs an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Stop The Vi­o­lence. “Down­town is just pop­ping ...We strug­gle.”

The AP col­lected 10 years of homi­cide data from the cities that had the high­est homi­cide rates in 2016. Re­porters used spa­tial anal­y­sis to iden­tify clus­ters of killings and track the chang­ing ge­o­graphic pat­terns over time. The neigh­bor­hoods en­dur­ing the most vi­o­lence were largely poor and African-Amer­i­can, as were the killers and the vic­tims.

Re­searchers say the dis­par­ity may be linked to in­creased job­less­ness, seg­re­ga­tion and the growth of the so­called wealth gap. Over the past three decades, the wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans have grown markedly richer while low earn­ers lost jobs and strug­gled and some turned to vi­o­lence.

The trend goes beyond the prob­lem neigh­bor­hoods and trendy, lowcrime en­claves that are found in al­most ev­ery city. The in­equal­ity between the two re­al­i­ties deep­ened in re­cent years, al­low­ing peo­ple in the same me­trop­o­lis to live in one realm with lit­tle sense of the other and cre­at­ing dis­tricts of de­spair where ev­ery­one has seen or had some­one close to them shot or killed.

Daniel Hertz, a Chicagob­ased re­searcher, has ar­gued for years that city­wide homi­cide statis­tics are “ba­si­cally mean­ing­less.” Look­ing at smaller ge­o­graphic ar­eas, he said, gives a far more ac­cu­rate pic­ture.

The Rev. Mar­shall Hatch, whose church is in a West Side Chicago neigh­bor­hood that has seen a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of homi­cides, said the find­ings re­in­force the need to deal with the root causes of vi­o­lence in what he calls “pock­ets of in­tense des­per­a­tion.”

“It’s go­ing to be very prob­lem­atic for cities,” he said,“be­cause peo­ple are not go­ing to just stay in their neigh­bor­hoods and com­mit crimes.”


In­di­anapo­lis, of­ten called the “Cross­roads of Amer­ica,” is best known as the home of auto racing’s In­di­anapo­lis 500. The na­tion’s 15th largest city saw a record 149 homi­cides in 2016 and just sur­passed that to­tal this year.

The most in­tense vi­o­lence is hap­pen­ing in a rel­a­tively lim­ited area. The city’s three dead­li­est ZIP codes in 2016 ac­counted for 43 per­cent of all homi­cides. More than 20 per­cent of the slay­ings oc­curred in a sin­gle ZIP code on the city's north­east side, where Bekele lives.

The pre­dom­i­nantly African Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hood grew steadily poorer in re­cent years. Lost work­ing-class jobs were a pos­si­ble fac­tor. The city has 10,000 fewer man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs to­day than in 2007.

The con­cen­tra­tion of vi­o­lence ex­tends to Chicago, which ended 2016 with 762 homi­cides, the high­est in two decades. But in al­most a third of ZIP codes that have re­ported a homi­cide in the last decade, the trend has been fewer killings. Now 60 per­cent of the killings were in only 10 of the city’s roughly 58 ZIP codes.

Chicago’s vi­o­lence is fu­eled by gang fac­tions that splin­tered from the ma­jor gangs of years ago and by gang com­pe­ti­tion to meet the grow­ing de­mand for heroin and opi­oids.

Sim­i­lar forces are at work in St. Louis, which had a record num­ber of homi­cides in 2015, a spike that con­trib­uted to the over­all U.S. homi­cide rate in­creas­ing more than 10 per­cent. But most of that in­crease came from just two ZIP codes, and in seven of the city’s 17 ZIP codes, homi­cides fell.

The dan­ger of the more con­cen­trated vi­o­lence, Hertz said, is that it can be­come easy for most peo­ple to ig­nore it, and that can in­ten­sify the prob­lem. “It can cre­ate this sense of ‘Let’s wall it off ,’” he said.


The shrink­ing ge­o­graphic scope of the prob­lem has made some crime­fight­ing ap­proaches more f ea­s­i­ble. With less ground to cover, au­thor­i­ties are bet­ter able to flood a zone with of­fi­cers. High-tech tools can be ef­fec­tive on a small scale.

Take Chicago, where po­lice be­gan us­ing “ShotSpot­ter” technology, or sen­sors that mon­i­tor for the sound of gun­fire and alert po­lice. They say it’s helped of­fi­cers re­spond more quickly.

In­di­anapo­lis Mayor Joe Hogsett says he wants to put 150 more po­lice of­fi­cers on the street by the end of 2019, many on foot pa­trols in small ar­eas. Po­lice Chief Bryan Roach is aim­ing to have 80 such beats next year, up from 19 now.

John Hage­dorn, a crim­i­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago, said coastal cities with less vi­o­lence have seen more in­vest­ment city­wide. In those places, wealth is more widely dis­trib­uted and there is less racial iso­la­tion, he said.

“There’s a de­gree of hope that takes place in these com­mu­ni­ties where vi­o­lence is low,” he said. “There’s a sense that life isn’t over.”


More con­cen­trated vi­o­lence, re­searchers say, can be­come easy for most peo­ple to ig­nore, can in­ten­sify the prob­lem, and can cre­ate a sense of "Let's wall it off."

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