A Failure To Solve Black Homicides

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In this July 30, 2015 picture, a member of the Baltimore Police Department removes crime scene tape from a corner where a victim of a shooting was discovered in Baltimore. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
In this July 30, 2015 picture, a member of the Baltimore Police Department removes crime scene tape from a corner where a victim of a shooting was discovered in Baltimore. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

With Anthony Brooks

The victims of the vast majority of unsolved murders are African-American. We’ll look at roadblocks and efforts to change that.


Kimbriell Kelly, investigative reporter for The Washington Post. (@kimbriellwapo)

Mary Franklin, founder of Women Survivors of Homicide Movement, a Boston nonprofit invested in supporting women impacted by unsolved murder. Mary's husband Melvin was killed in 1996 down the street from their home in Boston. Mary believe he was attempting to stop a robbery.

Rev. Charles Harrison, board president of the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition, a community organization aimed at reducing violence and homicide. Senior pastor at Barnes United Methodist Church. (@charlesharriso5)

Gary Tuggle, interim police commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department.

Interview Highlights

On what accounts for the low arrest rates in certain areas

Kimbriell Kelly: "One of the biggest things that we hear from police chiefs is ... the lack of cooperation from people in the community. And there's a different answer, obviously, when you talk to people in the community, but just focusing on the police chiefs, they say, 'We go out there and we talk to witnesses or people who have information, and they are reluctant to come forward.' That, if they came forward in these cases, that the police say that they would be able to make more arrests. But for obvious reasons, people in the community say, 'No. We have to live in this community' ... Essentially, they are saying, they are walking around the community as a target if they come forward and work with police."

On the wide gap between arrest rates in murders of white victims and black victims in Boston

KK: "You have police saying things like lack of cooperation, and, again, people in the community saying things like race plays a role as well. ... It’s not just that they have a fear of retaliation from the people who committed these murders, but that they feel that there is also some racial bias that's occurring within the police department or with certain officers. I think, by and large, most of the police departments have said, like Boston has said, that if we got more cooperation from people, we'd be able to make arrests in these cases."

On what would be a sign of progress

Mary Franklin: "What's happening here in Boston is that there are thousands and thousands of unsolved homicides, and families are living without justice. We're in communities where our previous police commissioner urges people to come forward. How can people come forward when they feel as if they're not going to be protected? When you have a police department that is well over 75 percent white male, and you're covering a community that is well over 70 percent black, so, there's some issues with that. The issue of racism has to be looked at, and it has to be addressed in the city of Boston.

"Locally, a sign of progress would be that our mayor, Martin J. Walsh, would sit down with myself and other grassroots organizations who have answers to a lot of these matters around solving these murders, and building better relationships with the police department. We have to look at this for what it is, Boston is a city that is dealing with a lot of racial issues and until we address that, we're just going to find ourselves going back and forth in the same issue."

On snitching culture and creating a better relationship between the community and police

Gary Tuggle: "As a nation, we have an issue with respect to generational violence in the same households. You can look throughout, not just Baltimore, but other major metropolitan areas, where you see multi-generations in the same household involved in violence. This whole stop snitching culture, this idea that to have a positive relationship with the police department is a bad thing. We in law enforcement have surely recognized that we as a profession need to do more to engage with the community, and engage the community in different ways. We're still sort of hamstrung by this whole mentality that folks shouldn't be talking to the police and it's hurting us."

On bridging the gap between community and police

Rev. Charles Harrison: "In the communities, even though a lot of times people may not talk to police, there are conversations taking place within the community and you do know the individuals who killed your loved ones. They ended up even coming to the wake and the funeral of my brother, which infuriated me because I was aware that they were involved in the killing. So certainly, there is conversation. The problem is, how do we get the community to communicate that information to police and be willing to testify to put those in prison that are committing these kinds of heinous acts in our neighborhoods?

"In 2009-2011, the Indianapolis Police Department led the country in clearance rates of homicides. And I think one of the keys was, you had the deputy chief of investigation who grew up in Indianapolis, and most of the detectives that were working in homicide were part of the neighborhood. And they really had strong relationships with the community and community groups, working with groups like Ten Point, that were able to get people to come forward and give information to police that led to the arrest of those who were committing these kinds of crimes."

From The Reading List

Washington Post: "An Unequal Justice: Killings of black people lead to arrests less often than when victims are white" — "In the past decade, police in 52 of the nation’s largest cities have failed to make an arrest in nearly 26,000 killings, according to a Washington Post analysis of homicide arrest data. In more than 18,600 of those cases, the victim, like Jackman, was black. Black victims, who accounted for the majority of homicides, were the least likely of any racial group to have their killings result in an arrest, The Post found. While police arrested someone in 63 percent of the killings of white victims, they did so in just 47 percent of those with black victims."

Washington Post: "Where Killings Go Unsolved" — "The Post has mapped more than 52,000 homicides in major American cities over the past decade and found that across the country, there are areas where murder is common but arrests are rare."

Over the past few years, the murder rate in the U.S. has been creeping up, and with it, a shockingly high rate of unsolved murders. Especially if the victim is black. A Washington Post analysis of murders across America found that when whites are murdered, police make an arrest more than 60 percent of the time. But if the victim is black or Latino there are no arrests in a majority of cases. It’s a crisis of policing and of unequal justice in America.

This hour, On Point: murdering with impunity.

— Anthony Brooks

This program aired on July 31, 2018.


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