Yet the typical Los Angeles County homicide isn't much at all like the glamorous murder mysteries seen on screen. Few killings take place in the Hollywood Hills or at the beach. Instead, homicides are concentrated in the vast urban plain south of Wilshire Boulevard.
An impressive journalistic endeavor by the Los Angeles Times to maintain a database of all 2,600+ homicide victims in L.A. County since the beginning of 2007—the Los Angeles Homicide Report—allows the public (me) to study in detail who exactly is killing and getting killed.
And that's worth knowing because:
The Census Bureau reported that in 2006-2008 the population of L.A. County was 47 percent Hispanic, 29 percent non-Hispanic white, 13 percent Asian, and 9 percent black.
About two-fifths of the population of L.A. County lives in L.A. City, while almost six million people live in unincorporated areas or independent municipalities, ranging from Malibu in the West, to Compton and Long Beach in the south, to Pomona in the east, to exurban Lancaster and Palmdale in the High Desert of the north.
Racial differences in crime rates are one of those facts that everybody is acutely aware of when looking for a place to live, but that you aren't supposed to discuss in print. To its great credit, the Homicide Report violates the media taboo on reporting ethnicity of victims and suspects. As its Frequently Asked Questions list states:
"… newspapers and other media outlets stopped mentioning suspects' or victims' race or ethnicity because of public criticism. Newspapers came to embrace the idea that such information is irrelevant to the reporting of crimes and may unfairly stigmatize racial groups.
"The Homicide Report departs from this rule in the interest of presenting the most complete and accurate demographic picture of who is dying in homicides in Los Angeles County."
Homicides provide the most reliable of crime statistics because attention must be paid to a dead body. Although reporting on lesser crimes has improved due to the revolution in data-driven police department management introduced by William Bratton during his terms as chief of police in Boston, New York City, and L.A., they are still open to inconsistency and manipulation. (For a recent discussion, see New York Times article: Retired Officials Question Integrity of Crime Reports)[By William K. Rashbaum, February 6, 2010].
Unfortunately, we can be more certain about the identities of the victims than of their killers. The Homicide Report includes information on the ethnicities of suspects, but it's not complete or fully reliable.
The sizable age differences between populations—the median white victim in L.A. County was 40, Asian 37, black 26, and Latino 24—complicates the job of making apples-to-apples comparisons. Are apparent differences in crime rates merely the result of boys being boys? Or are there in fact large ethnic differences in crime proclivity among males of the same age?
And there are always questions about how to classify individuals of mixed heritage. For example, perhaps the most brutal leader of any L.A. street gang in recent years was Timothy McGhee, boss of the Toonerville Mexican gang, now on death row for three of the dozen or more murders attributed to him. McGhee, whose charismatic hold on his underlings was compared to Charles Manson's, has the eagle and snake from the Mexican flag tattooed on the back of his head (the most painful spot). He is said to have killed one young man just because he felt there wasn't room in his Atwater Village neighborhood for two people with the same nickname: "Guero" for "fair-skinned."
Generally, government agencies try to maximize the number of Latinos—except when it comes to crime statistics. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, for instance, doesn't even report "Hispanic" as a category. (Wonder why?)
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:
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:
These are also large racial gaps in homicide victimization.
The disparities in homicide offence rates in L.A. County might well be even worse. Of the 33 European whites who died, 5 are reported to have been killed by cops, 9 by Latinos, 5.5 by other whites, 2.5 by blacks, and 2 by Asians. (Fractions represent multiple suspects of different races). Still, in nine of the 33 cases there is no identified suspect, so it's difficult to generalize confidently from the Homicide Report about offending rates.
Nationally, the ethnic gaps in crime probably aren't as huge as they are in L.A. County. The Color of Crime 2005 [PDF] report from American Renaissance looked at national incarceration figures and came up with (for all ages):
"In total, blacks had the highest incarceration rate at 7.2 times the [non-Hispanic] white rate, followed by Hispanics, at 2.9 times the white rate. [American] Indians and Pacific Islanders were imprisoned at about twice the white rate, and Asians at only 22 percent of the white rate."
Why are the racial disparities so bad in Southern California?
The high cost of living, the poor public schools, and the low wages have driven out much of the white working class. The per capita income of white households in L.A. County is more than twice that of Hispanic households.
For example, one industrious researcher claims there are 137 Asian street gangs in L.A. County. The Homicide Report map shows the largest concentration of gang-related Asian deaths (typically Southeast Asians) on the East Side of Long Beach, just north of where the highest density of Samoans and other Pacific Islanders were killed.
The density of diversity in L.A. County provides a critical mass that allows the bad apples to find each other. In most of the U.S., for instance, Armenians are well-behaved. In Southern California, however, there are 170,000 Armenians, enough to furnish an Armenian street gang, Armenian Power, as well as transnational mafias with roots in the old Soviet Union.
In contrast, a review of the Homicide Report suggests that there are virtually no white youth gangs seriously active in Los Angeles County, even though the county extends well up into biker and meth lab territory in the High Desert.
I could only find reports of one white victim of a gang slaying who had white prison gang tattoos. And even he was strenuously defended in the Homicide Report's comments against posthumous imputations of racism by a black friend, who pointed out in his defense that he had half-Latino and half-black children. Indeed, victims listed as white in the Homicide Report appear to be more likely to be involved with Latino gangs than with white gangs.
Will L.A.'s street gang culture take root in more recently diversifying regions of the country as American-born sons of immigrants grow up on the mean streets?
On the other hand, I wouldn't want to bet the country on that without being allowed to talk it over in public first.
Moreover, in assessing the recent drop in homicides in LA County, it should be noted that parents took huge financial risks to get their sons farther away from the killing fields of South Central—risks that we're all paying off.
The rational urge to move contributed to a centrifugal movement outward into the Southern California exurbs (which then spilled over into Nevada and Arizona) that was central to the Housing Bubble of the last decade. By 2006, a large majority of mortgage dollars in the Southern California exurbs were going to minorities.
Murder, however, is for whites, and for anyone else who gets in the way of minorities that are clearly systematically prone to criminality.
One of the many advantages of an immigration moratorium is that fewer Americans will have to face the risk that has become a fact of life in my hometown.[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]