Of all Americans, black men have the most to fear from violent crime. Even Latino men, who suffer their own high homicide rates, are much less likely than black men to be murdered.
Older black men, like 50-year-old Charles Malone, interviewed here, are at serious risk--a neglected high-risk group. While advocacy efforts tend to focus on young people, more black men aged 40 to 50 were hospitalized for assault-related injuries than black youths 18 and under, according to 2001-2006 data from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. In 2004, black men 45 to 54 in Los Angeles County were nearly five times more likely to be murdered than Latino men in the same age group, and 14 times more likely than white men.*
Name: Charles Malone, 50
Occupation: None, since he was disabled in a shooting in 1996. At various times before that, he has been a juvenile delinquent, a Southwest College student, a school-district worker, a detention officer for the department of probation and an instructor at a local gym. He has also spent time incarcerated--for grand theft when he was 40.
Residence: Walnut, formerly of Watts, where he was interviewed.
Chance he will be murdered in a given year*: 4.8 in 10,000.
Chance a Latino man will be: 1 in 10,000
Chance a white man will be: 1/3 in 10,000
HR: How did you get the scar?
Malone: I was standing at a bus stop at Crenshaw and Hyde Park. I was coming home from work, still wearing my gym uniform -- a shirt and shorts. It was summer twilight. I was looking up the street for the bus, and had my back turned.
That's when I heard really loud pops behind me. Really, really loud, like a few feet away. I ran about 10 feet, and then I felt something trickle down my buttock. I reached back. It was blood. I just stopped. Someone was yelling at me to sit down, so I sat.
The paramedics came and ripped my clothes off me and took me to King-Drew. I had been shot five times. Three times in the stomach, twice in the buttock. The last thing I remember was going into surgery. King-Drew hospital saved my life.
HR: What was your recovery like?
Malone: I remember waking up three days later on a machine. I was in the hospital for two weeks and it took me four months to recover. I had to be wheeled around on a gurney. My mom and sister had to do all that. I had a colostomy bag for three months.
HR: Does it affect you now?
Malone: All the time. I have pain like permanent arthritis. The doctors told me my intestinal tract would never work right again, and it hasn't. I can't eat any fried food or drink milk. I can't eat a lot of things, and I have pain down there. It hurts all the time.
I have psychological effects, too. I never had a reason to watch my back before. But now, at the slightest bang I want to climb under a car. I have nightmares about it, then I wake up in a cold sweat. It's like it's happening again. At first, I had nightmares every other week. But I have them less now.
HR: Did they catch anyone?
Malone: No. They were black men or teenagers. I was in my 40s--too old to be a gang member. The police told me it was a case of "mistaken identity." They told me it's a war zone over there, just so many different gangs. They just shot up the bus stop.
HR: You got kicked out of school and spent time in Youth Authority as a teenager. So do you understand the aggression of the young men who attacked you?
Malone: Sure. I grew up around here. I had to survive. You know, if you back a cat into a corner, he gonna come out some kinda way--by any means necessary. And that's how it is. You grow up here, and that's how it is. Now you gonna stop people from picking on you all the time, thinking you're weak, and taking everything from you that your parents give you to go to school. But killing? No. I don't relate to that. It's the most dramatic experience anyone could ever have--to have someone try to kill you.
HR: Why are you willing to talk to me?
Malone: To make people conscious and aware. ... To help the next generation.
(Above, Malone has a single scar like a deep furrow down his abdomen from the shooting, and two other scars from the other bullets on each side.)
* The homicide risk calculations above are based on homicide figures from the Los Angeles County Health Department in the year 2004. The figure for Malone's risk is derived from homicide death rates for black males ages 45 to 54, versus white and Latino men in the same age category.