Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

January 30, 2014

Area homicides too infrequent to show trends

TAHLEQUAH — After a recent study ranked Oklahoma as one of the nation’s worst states in homicide victim rates among African-Americans, the Tahlequah Daily Press looked at recent homicides in Cherokee County to see if ethnicity was a factor in local cases.

Despite a spate of recent killings, they are still too infrequent to search for substantial trends.

“Here in Cherokee County, it isn’t like Chicago or Tulsa,” said Brett Fitzgerald, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Northeastern State University. “Statistically, you would need something longitudinally, but finding any aggregate in the county would be very problematic given the frequency, especially when looking at just one year. As for national statistics, it is hard to postulate how any could be generalized to Cherokee County.”

In Cherokee County, there were four homicides in 2013 - an unusually high number, giving the county a homicide rate of about nine per 100,000.

However, in 2011, there were two homicides in the county, very near the national average. From 2000-’09, there were six homicides in the city of Tahlequah.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the 2012 population of Tahlequah to be 16,333 and Cherokee County to be 48,150.

While sociologists and scholars have  tried to identify correlations and causes of  crime  within ethnic groups since W.E.B. Du Bois, Fitzgerald said there are other indicators to  consider when assessing crime dangers.

“I’ve done research indicating that African-American males between the ages of 16 and 24 are the most likely to be victims of violent crime,” he said. “However, homicides are almost race-specific. Whites kill whites, African-Americans kill African-Americans, and Native Americans kill Native Americans. Also, homicide victims almost always knew their killers.”

Fitzgerald also cited drugs, poverty, home life, and quality of education as potential risk factors.

While the state’s African-American homicide rate has earned the attention and concern of Oklahomans, some states that didn’t make the worst 10 are home to some of the most dangerous cities for African-Americans.

“I’ve heard it said that if we dropped a few cities out of the mix, the U.S. wouldn’t be fourth in homicides, but fifth from the bottom,” Fitzgerald said. “When it comes to murder, it is important to remember that each incident includes something different. Nothing is ever constant.”

Though they account for just 7.4 percent of Oklahoma’s populace, African-Americans comprised 34 percent of the state’s homicide victims in 2011, making the state one of the nation’s worst for black homicide victimization.

A recent data analysis by the Violence Poverty Center [VPC] of Washington, D.C., noted that African-Americans in Oklahoma ran the fifth-highest risk of being homicide victims, with a rate of 25.51 homicides per 100,000. The VPC is a non-profit organization which often supports or defends firearm regulations.

The data was compiled from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report for 2011, the most recent year for which comprehensive figures are available. That year, 74 of Oklahoma’s 219 homicide victims were black.

The rate of black homicide victims in Oklahoma was 50 percent higher than the national rate for African-Americans, and five times the national average for all Americans.

Nebraska’s African-American homicide rate was worst at 34.43 per 100,000, followed by Missouri at 33.38, Michigan at 31.54 and Pennsylvania at 29.02.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation reported that 34.7 percent of the state’s homicide victims in 2012 were black.

In Cherokee County, African-Americans account for about 1.2 percent of the population, or about 575 citizens. Since 2000, there has been one black victim of homicide in the county, in 2007.

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