Friday, January 2, 2009

Safer in Iraq

Another Chicago student was murdered at year end. Esteban Martinez, 15, was a student at one of the small schools in Little Village High School. As usual, killing number 500 in Chicago this year, was dismissed by the police and in the media as “gang related.”

It sparked a few attempts at statistical analysis after year-end figures showed a 16.8% jump in the murder rate from ‘07.

Freakonomics author Steve Levitt goes after a study by Northeastern criminologist, James Alan Fox, which shows a “boom” in black youth murders from 2000-2007. Levitt argues that data taken over the last 20 years show an overall decline in the overall murder rate and in every age group, including black teens. They may both be right depending on how long a trend line you want to analyze. But the real question is, what to do about it? Fox uses his numbers to push for "restoring federal funds for crime prevention and crime control." Levitt wants end the war on drugs.

Few good options

No matter whose numbers you buy, they all show that a young African-American male is probably safer in Iraq than he is on the streets of Chicago.

More than 500 murders (mostly young people of color) last year, averages out to about one murder for ever 5,600 Chicagoans. Over one weekend last April, there were 19 so-called “gang-related” murders. In all of war-torn Iraq last year, the murder rate was less than 1 per 100,000. Even if you factor in American combat deaths which dropped to 314 last year (they’re up in Afghanistan), Iraq is still a lot safer, if you’re a black teen.

Combine these numbers with slim-to-none legal youth employment prospects in coming years and it’s easy to see why military recruitment is on the upswing. Massive budget cuts, more selective-enrollment schools and military academies replacing closed inner-city neighborhood schools, and rising college costs, all make for fewer good options for many Chicago teens in the year ahead.

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