A July 25 analysis of unsolved homicides shows that when the victim is Black, the system frequently fails to arrest the killer.
In “An Unequal Justice,” Wesley Lowery, Kimbriell Kelly and Steven Rich of The Washington Post dug into homicide arrest data for the nation’s 52 largest cities where victim race data is available. They found that of the nearly 26,000 documented cases over the last decade, more than 18,600 of the victims were Black. Data was gathered from police department and court records, local news reports, death certificates and medical examiners reports.
But despite being the most likely group to die at the hands of another, their deaths were the least likely to result in an arrest, per the report. Just 47 percent of these crimes resulted in an arrest, versus 63 percent of fatal crimes against White people. The gap persisted no matter where the victim was killed; the families of Black victims were less likely to see arrests whether the death happened in a majority White neighborhood or a Black one.
The pattern also held in nearly every locale in the analysis, with just five cities making arrests in the killings of Blacks as often as those of Whites: Birmingham, Alabama; Durham, North Carolina; Fort Worth; Tampa; and Wichita. Boston has the widest gap in arrest rates; suspects were arrested in 90 percent of White homicides, but just 42 percent of homicides with Black victims. Per the report, “other racial groups accounted for a comparatively small number of the killings in the survey.”
“Black life is seen as not as important,” civil rights advocate Reverend Dr. William Barber II told The Washington Post. “The Black community gets cut by both edges of the sword. There’s no big rush to solve a case when it’s considered ‘Black on Black.’ But if it is a Black on White killing, then everything is done to make an arrest.”
As the report notes, this is not a new idea:
Black Americans have long contended that the criminal justice system devalues Black lives by allowing Black killings to go unpunished. In 1892, anti-lynching activist and journalist Ida B. Wells urged Black families to purchase guns to “be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”
“There is a straight line between Black people being outraged loudly about police officers being able to shoot and kill people and being able to get away from it and Black people quietly wondering when that homicide in their neighborhood is going to be solved,” Ibram Kendi, director of The Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, told The Post. “Black people have experienced police officers more as profilers and brutalizers, as opposed to investigators, and it takes investigators to solve very difficult homicide cases.”