American Carnage Is Real, Concentrated in City Pockets and Fueled by Mexican Cartels

American Carnage Is Real, Concentrated in City Pockets and Fueled by Mexican Cartels
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Despite attracting wide attention to its grim and grinding violence - including President Trump’s denunciations of its “carnage” - Chicago is not the murder capital of America.

In fact, it’s not even close.

St. Louis has held that dubious distinction for three years running, reaching nearly 60 murders per 100,000 residents last year – more than double Chicago’s rate despite the latter’s nation-leading raw total of 762, its most killings in 18 years.

Following closely behind St. Louis in per capita murder rates are Baltimore (51.1 per 100,000), New Orleans (45.2), and Detroit (44.6). Chicago, with a rate of 28, was back in eighth place behind Cleveland, Newark, N.J., and Memphis, Tenn.

Even more surprising than the level of carnage in St. Louis is the primary cause. Despite its proximity to riot-scarred Ferguson – where an unarmed black teenager was killed by a police officer in 2014 – authorities say the violence is not mainly due to the so-called “Ferguson Effect,” whereby racially charged police-community tensions reduce cooperation and allow crime to spiral out of control.

Instead, St. Louis Chief of Police Samuel Dotson lays the blame on something farther afield – Mexican drug cartels and the heroin trade. In that way St. Louis is a glaring reflection of the addiction scourge ravaging much of the country, not just big cities like Chicago but rural areas as well. With politicians of all stripes looking for an answer to the epidemic, St. Louis offers insights into its dynamics, official crime reports and statistics suggest.

Violence in St. Louis is concentrated, with some neighborhoods experiencing astronomically high homicide rates. According to The Trace, a blog on gun violence, the Greater Ville neighborhood posted a homicide rate three times higher than the deadliest country in the world: Honduras. St. Louis police confirm that number.

The cartel violence is characterized by homicide spikes where two or more cartels are competing for influence and customers. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that four different Mexican drug cartels (“transnational criminal organizations,” or TCOs, in government-speak) operated in the St. Louis metro area alone as of February 2016. In effect, the violence afflicting Mexico is spilling over into the United States via the pre-existing street gang infrastructure, which operates as the cartels’ eyes, ears and killers in many cities.

As the DEA notes, the victims and perpetrators of the violence are not necessarily Mexican or even cartel members, but gang associates, as cartels “continue to form relationships with gangs, who in turn commit violent crimes and serve as retail-level drug distributors for [cartels], presenting a serious risk to public health and safety.”

And the Mexican cartels, which the DEA calls “the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States,” are “constantly looking to expand their presence in the United States, particularly in heroin markets.”

The heroin business is booming and showing no sign of slowing down, which in turn is likely to lead to more killings. There were nearly 600,000 heroin abusers in 2015, a figure likely to rise as authorities continue to crack down on prescription opioids like Vicodin and Percocet, abused by 2 million more Americans.

Heroin, which in 2015 killed more through overdoses than did gun homicides for the first time in history, is also, in a manner of speaking, killing its purveyors as they fight for customers and turf.

The latest police and FBI figures show that while all violent crime is up, murder has spiked precipitously in America’s cities, especially those the FBI classifies as Group I, with populations over 250,000.

The rate increases are highly concentrated both demographically and geographically. According to preliminary 2016 data released by the FBI for the first half of 2016, murder increased 5.2 percent nationally but rose 21.6 percent in cities with over 1 million residents.

The significance of the murder rates is starkly illustrated when you adjust the top cities on the list for size. If the first four were as large as Chicago (population: 2.7 million) rather than fractions of its size, each would have exceeded 1,000 killings in 2016. St. Louis would have tallied 1,620 murders, Baltimore 1,391, New Orleans 1,229, and Detroit 1,213.

Demographically, the concentration of murder victims is as stark. Most victims are men of color. In Chicago, over nine out of 10 victims were men and nearly 90 percent of them were blacks. Baltimore’s murder demographics are similar.

Other data confirm the pattern. Some 41 percent of all murder victims in the United States are listed as African-Americans between 17 and 44 years of age in 2015, according to the FBI, despite blacks being less than 10 percent of the population in that age category. With men comprising about 80 percent of the murder victims nationwide, the murder rate for young, black men is approximately four times the national average.

Those murders are disproportionately taking place on the streets of America’s large cities. In 2015, almost half of murders occurred within the city limits of the 82 biggest cities in the United States, even though those cities account for only 60 million people out of a population of 317 million, or 19 percent of residents.  

But the concentration of potential victims is even denser when you consider the tiny geographic hotspots like Greater Ville in St. Louis that bear the brunt of the violence. In Chicago, it’s the West Side and South Side where the lion’s share of murders occur. In Baltimore, it’s the east and west areas of the city where the death toll mounts.

Just as troubling, the killers and their likely victims are known to police as offenders before the murders take place in most instances.

In Baltimore, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby declared in September 2016: “We know who the trigger pullers are. Now let’s go after them. … We’ve identified 602 individuals on the trigger-pull list and have narrowed that list down to monitor the top [offenders] in every district on a rolling basis.”

In the months that followed, dozens more lost their lives to gunfire in the Charm City.

Similarly, in Chicago, the police compiled a “strategic subject list” of those most likely to kill and be killed in the city. They even went door to door warning potential victims.

That didn’t work in the case of Daniel Alcantara, a West Side gangbanger whom police pleaded with to leave the life. He lost it a month later. 

Top Cities in Murders Per 100,000 Residents*^

 

City

2016

Murders

2015

Murders

2014

Murders

2016

Murder

Rate

2015

Murder

Rate

2014

Murder

Rate

2015 Population

1

St. Louis, MO

188

188

159

59.6

59.6

51.2

315,685

2

Baltimore, MD

318

344

211

51.1

55.3

34.0

621,849

3

New Orleans, LA

176

164

150

45.2

42.1

39.1

389,617

4

Detroit, MI

302

295

298

44.6

43.6

45.2

677,116

5

Cleveland, OH

135

120

102

34.8

30.9

26.3

388,072

6

Newark, NJ

93

103

93

33.0

36.5

33.4

281,944

7

Memphis, TN

195

135

140

29.7

20.6

21.3

655,770

8

Chicago, IL

762

478

411

28.0

17.6

15.1

2,720,546

9

Kansas City, MO

127

111

82

26.7

23.3

17.6

475,378

10

Las Vegas, NV

166

127

122

26.6

20.4

19.9

623,747

11

Atlanta, GA

111

94

93

23.9

20.3

20.6

463,878

12

Milwaukee, WI

141

145

90

23.5

24.2

16.2

600,155

13

Cincinnati, OH

62

66

60

20.8

22.1

20.2

298,550

14

Tulsa, OK

82

58

54

20.3

14.4

13.9

403,505

15

Oakland, CA

85

83

79

20.3

19.8

19.4

419,267

16

Washington, DC

135

162

105

20.1

24.1

16.0

672,228

17

Louisville, KY

123

81

56

20.0

13.2

9.3

615,366

18

Miami, FL

84

75

81

19.0

17.0

19.6

441,003

19

Pittsburgh, PA

56

57

69

18.4

18.7

22.8

304,391

20

Philadelphia, PA

277

280

248

17.7

17.9

15.9

1,567,442

21

Indianapolis, IN

150

148

136

17.6

17.3

16.0

853,173

22

Durham, NC

43

34

21

16.7

13.2

8.3

257,636

23

Buffalo, NY

43

41

60

16.7

15.9

23.2

258,071

24

Fort Wayne, IN

43

25

12

16.5

9.6

4.7

260,326

25

Stockton, CA

49

49

49

16.0

16.0

16.3

305,658

*Orlando was excluded due to the 2016 Pulse nightclub terror attack.

^ 2016 murder data derived from local police agency or news agency reporting. Figures for 2015 and 2014 are from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system found in its annual report “Crime in the United States.” Per capita rates calculated using most recently available United States Census population estimates. 2014 murder rates calculated using 2014 Census population estimates.

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