Nebraska, known for its large agricultural industry, has surprisingly claimed the top spot as the state with the highest incidence of African-American murder victims, according to newly published research.
Analysis by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) shows Nebraska has the highest African-American homicide rates for 2011, the most recent year for which comprehensive national data is available.
Nebraska, which has a population of approximately 1.8 million people, led the nation with an African-American homicide victimization rate of 34.43 per 100,000.
The state's No.1 ranking topples more obvious places like Michigan, which ranks third on the top 10 list and Pennsylvania that comes in at forth place.
"The figures are surprising because most people think of Nebraska as a white state," says VPC executive director Josh Sugarmann. "But the majority of the killings are in Nebraska's largest city, Omaha."
Omaha's population was listed as 420,000 people. Thirty African Americans were murdered in Nebraska in 2011 and based on police reporting 27 were killed in Omaha.
One explanation could be that the city has staggering poverty affecting specific pockets of the population. Omaha has the unenviable position of ranking 1st among U.S. cities for the total number of African Americans who qualify as low-income.
John Crank, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, points to a clustering of the killings in the city's most socially deprived areas, mainly in the north.
"Most Omaha neighborhoods had no homicides," said Crank. "The majority of violent crime and killings are isolated to specific areas. ...A lot is gang-related, a fair amount of retaliation. Then you have crime committed by gang members that are not acting on behalf of their gangs."
In reality, the homicide rates for Omaha are dwarfed in comparison to murder data from the tough streets of Chicago or Detroit, since Nebraska has a small population.
Nebraska is overwhelmingly white. About 88,000 African-American people reside in the state, accounting for only about 4.7 percent of the state's population. The African-American community is concentrated in Omaha.
Other findings in the study highlight that African Americans across the nation are disproportionately affected by homicide.
African Americans are four times more likely to be murdered than the national average. Of these, four out of five African-American homicide victims are killed with guns, reveals the analysis by VPC, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group that promotes gun control.
The study finds the African-American homicide victimization rate in 2011 was 17.51 per 100,000, while the overall national rate was 4.44 per 100,000. The national homicide victimization rate for white Americans was 2.64 per 100,000.
"Black homicide victimization is an ongoing devastating crisis and the role played by guns, usually handguns can't be denied," said Sugarmann.
Now in its eight year, the VPC study, Black Homicide Victimization in the United States, based on unpublished FBI SHR data, concludes that homicide rates in the African American community is a national crisis, yet it is all too often ignored outside of affected communities.
"The thing that has been disturbing is that this has been a problem for an ongoing problem for decades but there has not been enough done to address this crisis," said Sugarmann.
AT A GLANCE
• Tennessee – state ranking 14; No. of homicides – 229; rate per 100,000 – 21.15.
• Arkansas – state ranking 15; No. of homicides – 93; rate per 100,000 – 20.32.
• Mississippi – state ranking 34; No. of homicides – 135; rate per 100,000 – 12.14.
(Source: Violence Policy Center. Black Homicide Victimization in the United States.)
(Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti.)