Murder Rates: What's The Matter With Louisiana?
Print Friendly and PDF

Earlier, 2005: Racial Reality And The New Orleans Nightmare

Back in 2005, I was much denounced for pointing out the high murder rate in New Orleans and saying that the local culture of “Let the Good Times Roll” might not provide the optimal moral guidance for blacks.

Sixteen years later from the New York Times’ Upshot data analytics section:

Why Does Louisiana Consistently Lead the Nation in Murders?

It has problems common to several Southern states, like a high rate of poverty, but also an inheritance of violence.

By Jeff Asher, Ben Horwitz and Toni Monkovic
Feb. 15, 2021

For 31 straight years, Louisiana has reported the nation’s highest murder rate.

To solve that puzzle, first consider a wider pattern in the South: a history of violence that stretches back further still.

A New York Times article in 1998 pointed to “a divergence that has persisted for as long as records have been kept” in which “the former slaveholding states of the old Confederacy all rank in the top 20 states for murder, led by Louisiana, with a rate of 17.5 murders per 100,000 people in 1996.”

It’s almost as if states that have a lot of black people tend to have a lot of murders.

A study of judicial records from 1800 to 1860 found that the murder rate in South Carolina was four times higher than in Massachusetts. More than a century later, in 1996, the ratio was similar. And in 2018, the murder rate was 7.7 per 100,000 in South Carolina and 2.0 in Massachusetts—again, about four times as high.

In the 1800s, the South tended to have more “frontier justice,” in which people took the law into their own hands, as well as more “honor justice,” in which signs of disrespect could advance to fatal encounters like duels.

And that’s why the old North Central frontier states like Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, and Kansas have such high murder rates today. Who can forget “Bleeding Kansas” of the 1850s? As Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Similarly, Chinese in San Francisco are always shooting each other in 2021 due to emanations from the Tong Wars of the 19th Century.

… Many factors could help explain Louisiana’s unwelcome ranking, including disproportionate racial segregation, job discrimination and poverty. But nearby states have a lot of these problems, too. So what might make Louisiana distinct?

It’s not just New Orleans

New Orleans has had the nation’s highest murder rate for any big city a dozen times since 1993, with 424 murders in 1994 at the height of the city’s bloodletting. The city’s murder rate that year stood at 86 murders per 100,000 residents, the single worst ever reported by a big American city.

But even if New Orleans were removed from Louisiana’s count, the state would have recorded the nation’s highest or second-highest murder rate in 12 of the last 15 years.

New Orleans reported its fewest murders citywide of any year since 1971 in 2019, but the murder rates in other parts of the state have slowly crept up. The state capital, Baton Rouge, logged its worst three-year stretch on record between 2017 and 2019, and the combined metropolitan parishes (such as Jefferson, East Baton Rouge and St. Tammany) reported more murders in 2019 than New Orleans for the first time on record.

“It is poverty and its twin sister or brother of mass incarceration,” said Marc Morial, who served as mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002 and is now the National Urban League president. “And it’s easy access to guns.”

Louisiana and Mississippi tend to rank among the poorest states in the country. Louisiana has ranked in the bottom five in poverty rate in 37 of the last 40 years, including last or second to last 19 times over that span. Only Mississippi had a higher share of its population below the poverty line in 2019, according to census estimates.

There is not a clearly established causal link between poverty rates and murder rates, however. Things like high unemployment and poor education factor into the state’s poverty rate, which in turn could contribute to higher rates of murder in Louisiana.

Or it could be that the strongest correlation is to percent of blacks. From Wikipedia:

% African-
American [1]
Rank State or territory African-American
Population (2019)
76.0%[2] 1 United States Virgin Islands Virgin Islands (U.S.) 80,908 [2]
47.2% 2 District of Columbia 333,312
38.9% 3 Mississippi 1,156,497
33.5% 4 Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia 3,556,697
33.4% 5 Louisiana 1,554,297
32.2% 6 Maryland 1,946,932
28.0% 7 South Carolina 1,441,530
27.8% 8 Alabama 1,364,474
24.4% 9 Delaware 237,780
23.1% 10 North Carolina 2,424,132

Louisiana is in a virtual tie for second with Georgia, but of course the Atlanta area has one of the country's biggest community of middle class blacks.

So the question is: why does Louisiana have more murders than Mississippi?

I could imagine all sorts of fascinating explanations involving the Code Napoleon or other Louisiana idiosyncrasies.

But then the NYT answers that: the data source they are using (which I wish they would link to) isn’t counting quite all the murders in Mississippi:

(Mississippi may now actually have more murders per capita than Louisiana. It’s the only state where individual agencies, not the state itself, submit data directly to the F.B.I. Mississippi had the nation’s second-highest murder rate in 2019, but only 29 percent of Mississippi agencies representing 54 percent of the state’s population reported data.)

The CDC also counts “Homicide Mortality by State.” Here’s its list for 2019:

MS 15.4 434
LA 14.7 650
AL 12.8 587
NM 11.8 230
SC 11 527
AK 10.8 78
MO 10.8 628
MD 10 578
AR 9.4 270
TN 9.2 596
OK 8.8 333
GA 8.1 849
IL 8.1 979
IN 7.2 466
NC 7 707
FL 6.7 1334
OH 6.6 724
MI 6.5 612
DE 6.1 53
PA 6.1 722
AZ 5.9 414
KY 5.9 250
TX 5.9 1694
WV 5.7 92
NV 5.5 166
VA 5.3 436
KS 4.9 137
CA 4.5 1794
WY 4.4 25
CO 4.3 250
WI 4.2 226
MT 3.7 39
SD 3.6 29
NJ 3.4 287
NY 3.2 601
WA 3.2 241
CT 3.1 106
NE 3.1 58
ND 3.1 21
OR 3 126
MN 2.8 154
NH 2.8 38
IA 2.7 80
UT 2.6 82
HI 2.5 35
RI 2.5 23
MA 2.3 157
ME 1.8 23
ID 1.7 27
VT 0 11

So Mississippi had an even worse number of homicides per capita than Louisiana did in 2019, just like the lowbrow Black Share of the Population theory would predict.

[Comment at]

Print Friendly and PDF