ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center indicates alarming trends in New Mexico for what it calls the black homicide victimization rate on a per capita basis, although officials concede the actual numbers are a small sample.
The group said the state had 15 qualifying homicides, which ranked it third among African-Americans in the nation, with a rate of 28.48 per 100,000 – or almost double the national black homicide victimization rate and nearly seven times the overall homicide rate nationwide.
The center said it used “unpublished” data from the FBI from 2014, the most recent year for which comprehensive national data is available.
Nationally, the black homicide rate that year was 16.38 per 100,000, while the overall national homicide rate was 4.19 per 100,000.
State records, however, show nine homicides among African-Americans in 2014, for a rate of 18.7 black homicides per 100,000, putting the state well below the center’s third-place ranking for New Mexico, according to Paul Rhien, spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health. DOH is the state’s official source of “cause of death.”
Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., advised that “one should look at these rates with caution since we’re dealing with a very small cell size; but we should watch this statistic in future years to see if the rate changes significantly.”
Much larger states with much higher homicide numbers such as Illinois, New York, Maryland, and California did not make the center’s top 10. Missouri and Indiana were No. 1 and 2 in the report, ahead of New Mexico.
Harold Bailey, president of the Albuquerque NAACP, said New Mexico’s No. 3 national raking for homicides among African-Americans is “alarming.” It would be a mistake to dismiss the report because the raw number – 15 black homicide victims – seems low by comparison to other cities, like Chicago, which have suffered soaring murder rates in black neighborhoods.
“Sometimes, because of our low numbers and low percentages in the state, we overlook adverse conditions in the black community,” Bailey said. “Certainly, poverty, unemployment, lack of education and lack of opportunity are at the root of many other social problems.”
In all, the center said, there were 6,095 black homicide victims in the United States in 2014. Blacks represent about 13 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for 50 percent of all homicide victims, the report said.
In New Mexico, there are about 54,000 African-Americans – 2.6 percent of the state’s total population of nearly 2.1 million.
Nationally, 83 percent of black homicide victims were killed with a gun; in New Mexico, 79 percent of black victims died from gun violence, the center said.
The report reveals “the devastating and disproportionate impact homicide, almost always involving a gun, has on black men, boys, women, and girls in America,” said Violence Policy Center Executive Director Josh Sugarmann. “These deaths devastate families and traumatize communities.”
The research, he said, is intended to help in public education and policy-making efforts.
Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said “The Violence Policy Center’s report demonstrates the acute need for more research on gun violence as a public health issue. The unconscionable block on CDC (Centers for Disease Control) gun violence research hurts all Americans, but particularly communities of color.”
In 2014, there were a total of 339 people shot and killed in New Mexico. Half of those deaths were suicide or accidents and the other half were homicides, Viscoli said.
Since 2005, when the New Mexico black homicide rate was 5.35 per 100,000 population, the numbers have trended upward, the center said.
Increasing firearm-related homicides in New Mexico and nationwide is “a sad reminder that gun violence is one of the most important civil rights issues of our time,” Viscoli said. “The disparity in black and white gun deaths is reflective of inequities on many fronts.”