The Homicide Report

The Times chronicles L.A. County
homicide victims

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Why does the Report talk about race?

June 6, 2007 |  7:38 am

(re-run of a February post)

The Homicide Report includes information on race or ethnicity in its weekly lists of homicide victims issued by the Los Angeles County coroner, as well as the name, gender and age of each victim, and the time, place and manner of death. A number of readers have asked why race is included. Some have criticized the practice.

Racial information was once routinely included in news stories about crimes, but in recent decades, newspapers and other media outlets stopped mentioning suspects' or victims' race or ethnicity because of public criticism. Newspapers came to embrace the idea that such information is irrelevant to the reporting of crimes, and may unfairly stigmatize racial groups.

The Homicide Report departs from this rule in the interest of presenting the most complete and accurate demographic picture of who is at risk of dying from homicide in Los Angeles County.

Race and ethnicity, like age and gender, are stark predictors of homicide risk. Blacks are vastly more likely to die from homicide than whites, and Latinos somewhat more likely. Black men, in particular, are extraordinarily vulnerable: They are 4% of this country's population, but, according to the Centers for Disease Control, they represented 35% of homicide victims nationally in 2004. Local numbers mirror these national disparities. According to an analysis for The Times by county health officials of homicide data between 1991 and 2002, Latino men ages 20 to 24 were five times more likely than white men the same age to die, and black men were 16 times more likely.

The Homicide Report recognizes the peril of dehumanizing victims by reducing their lives and deaths to a few scant facts--particularly racial designations which provide only the roughest markers of ancestry and history. But given the magnitude of difference in homicide risk along racial and ethnic lines--and the extremity of suffering which homicide inflicts on subsets of the population--we opt here to present information which lays bare racial and ethnic contours of the problem so conspicuous in the coroner's data. The goal is to promote understanding, and honor a basic journalistic principle: Tell the truth about who suffers.

As you read The Homicide Report, keep in mind the racial breakdown of the population of Los Angeles County. We are, according to the Census Bureau, about 47% Latino, 29% white, 12% Asian, and 9% black. If homicide were distributed equally among racial groups, not quite half the victims included in The Homicide Report's weekly listings from the coroner would be Latino, and fewer than one in ten would be black.