Pubdate: Sat, 27 Dec 2008
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (Jackson, MS)
Copyright: 2008 The Clarion-Ledger
Author: Kathleen Baydala


The killings in Jackson so far this year were fueled by drugs,
arguments or revenge. Others were robberies gone bad, and a few were
the result of domestic. Sometimes the victims knew their attackers.
Sometimes they didn't. In most cases, both victim and suspect were of
the same race.

Jackson's 73 homicides have happened in every corner of the city, from
outside nightclubs to shady motels and vacant buildings. Some victims
also were discovered in their own homes or cars.

The homicide figure, Jackson's highest since 1995, likely will put the
city near the top of the national rankings in homicide rates, with 41
per 100,000 residents, when the FBI releases its national crime report
next year. That number also is a one-year jump of 57 percent.

Jackson police officials have not pinpointed what caused the increase,
and Chief Malcolm McMillin has said he is at a loss as to what to do
about it.

The city's 73rd homicide occurred late Saturday in northwest Jackson's
Queens neighborhood.

"As far as having a blueprint to stop this, I know at this time we
don't have that," he said in mid-December from his office inside the
Hinds County Sheriff's Department, where he has split his time as
police chief and sheriff since November 2007. "The great majority of
these homicides are committed by people who know each other. They can
be over drug deals. They can be family disturbances.

"Then you have murders that are committed in the act of armed robbery,
you know, other types of robberies that we can impact on by increased
patrols and by our interdiction program getting guns off the street,"
McMillin continued. "We can have an impact there. But as far as
domestic violence, drug deals gone bad, these type things, I can't
think of a way to change that. I mean, it's a cultural thing that I
think everybody is experiencing."

The city is three-quarters African American, and its homicides reflect
that racial makeup, as most were African-American men killing each

Jackson police have named 56 suspects in the slayings, with some
suspects accused in the same homicide.

Of that number, 82 percent are black men, and about two-thirds of
their victims are black men. Of the five white suspects, all have been
accused of killing white people.

Nationally, 54 percent of known murder suspects are African American,
while 45 percent are white, with 1 percent of another race. Also, 90
percent of known suspects are male. Among victims, 49 percent are
black, 47 percent are white and nearly 80 percent are male.

The average suspect in Jackson's homicides is a 26-year-old black man
who lives somewhere between Fortification Street to the north and U.S.
80 to the south in neighborhoods devastated by poverty. The average
victim was a black man around 30 years old.

While the suspects tended to live in south Jackson, the killings
occurred in every ward. Almost 40 percent of the killings took place
north of Fortification Street. A third of the suspects have spent time
in prison. One in five victims had prior indictments.

While Jackson police have labeled a lot of this year's homicides as
"domestic," that does not explain the increase. Historically, most
people are killed by people they know. According to FBI statistics, in
homicides where the circumstances are known, three out of four victims
knew their attacker.

The Rev. John Cameron Sr., pastor of Greater Mount Calvary Baptist
Church, has seen two dozen homicides within two miles of his church.
Like McMillin, he points to societal problems, including drugs, but is
troubled by the "lack of urgency" he sees among city leaders to combat
the wave of violence.

"I think one of the most pressing issues now is the recognition of the
breakdown of the fabric of the family - absence of fathers - and we
have the defiance of law and order from too many of the young people.

"I think that it's got to be a new sense of urgency that must take
place in order to combat this senseless killing. A lot of it has to do
with the drug-trafficking," he said. "There really has been a lack of
real leadership in the city and the state to combat drugs. Nobody is
really trying to stop it at the top."

Cameron said the response to the killings cannot just come from law
enforcement. Poverty, unemployment and the disparity in sentencing on
drug crimes all play a role in perpetuating a cycle of violence in the
inner city, he said.

"We need to address the totality of the problem and not piecemeal it,"
he said.

Cameron said he addresses the violence in the surrounding community
frequently from the pulpit, but fears that the message is not getting

"People are asking the question, 'What is the church doing about it?'
But the people who are committing these crimes don't go to church," he

This month, the Foundation for the Mid-South, a community development
group, released a report on the issues facing black men in
Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, including crime and

Chris Crothers, the author of the report, said the foundation released
the study in an effort to spark discussion in the nonprofit community
on a group often overlooked by policymakers when they take aim at
social ills.

"There is a lot of focus on families or on women and children and very
little on males in general and especially on males of color," he said.
"The whole idea was to get more people to talk about it."

Nationally, the homicide rate has stayed relatively steady throughout
the decade. But a report released this past summer by researches at
the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health found
that the national figures masked an increase in firearm homicides
among black and white men.

Susan Baker, one of the study's authors, said Jackson's poverty, the
general economic downturn, lax gun laws and a dearth of social
services for recently released inmates all may be playing a role in
the upswing of violence in the city. The city is not alone in facing
this dilemma, according to findings in the report.

An increase in incarceration in the 1990s produced a short-term
decline in homicide rates, but large numbers of recently released
inmates are prone to reoffending. According to the study, ex-convicts
are released from prison into the most disadvantaged neighborhoods,
and half commit another crime within three years.

"I don't know that the solution is to lock them up for forever and
throw away the key, but the people who are being released are being
released to situations of unemployment and lack of social services,"
she said.

Johns Hopkins professor Daniel Webster, another author of the report,
said the nation's rising level of incarceration is not proving to be
the answer to violent crime.

"We just can't afford to lock up as many people up as we have been
over the past few decades," Webster said. "But arresting people on
drug charges has become addicting for the police, politicians, and
prison guard unions. ... They think they're cleaning up the streets
and making neighborhoods safer, but it leaves neighborhoods full of
young people who spend time in jail and severely compromise their
ability to get good jobs and stay out of trouble long-term. When they
get out of jail, there's a predictable upturn in crime and violence."

McMillin said he is searching for solutions. He supports a uniform
closing time for bars and nightclubs in the city, but he failed to get
the necessary support of the Jackson City Council. At least seven
people were killed outside Jackson nightclubs this year.

"I'm really disappointed in the City Council's failure to act on the
proposed ordinance for a 2 a.m. closing of bars and after-hours
clubs," he said. "If they want to allow them to stay open and don't
want them regulated, we're certainly going to answer calls and make
our presence known. ... I feel that council is not as concerned about
it. Their vote clearly indicates it."

Councilman Frank Bluntson said he voted against the uniform closing
time because he didn't think it was fair and didn't think it would
deter violent crime.

"I didn't think all clubs in the city should be penalized for what a
few have done," he said. "And a majority of these homicides didn't
happen in nightclubs. They were in the streets and in the

Rather, JPD should adopt a "no-tolerance" policy against minor crimes
as a way to prevent major crimes, he said.

"I think if you crack down on folks violating laws like speeding or
running red lights, that would help. People don't tolerate that
clowning in other cities, like Ridgeland," he said. "You know, a lot
of times when you stop folks who are (committing minor violations)
you'll find them with guns in their cars or drugs."

McMillin also blames a lack of police manpower, the availability of
guns and drugs and an unraveling social fiber for contributing to
violent crime.

"A lot of these murders are fueled by the drug trade or the need to
have the resources in order to purchase a drug," he said. "I would say
if we didn't have a drug problem we'd have less homicide. Now, as to
how we would go about (eradicating) it, I would say that we've been
working on the drug problem here since the early '60s and we haven't
solved it yet."

While JPD's top brass seem uncertain of how to lower the homicide
rate, they take satisfaction that the department's homicide clearance
rate - measured by arrests of suspects - is about 70 percent and has
hung close to that for the past two years.

The figure, though, is cold comfort to some families of homicide

Kenyatta Payne, whose brother was Jackson's 70th victim, said he
doesn't trust JPD to solve his older brother's killing. Adrian Payne
was gunned down in an apparent robbery attempt Monday and died a day
later in the hospital.

"We'll definitely have our ears to the ground," he said, gesturing to
a dozen of his friends who had gathered on Adrian Payne's yard on
Tuesday. "Jackson's not that big. Word will start to float around.
When I get my answers, I'm not going to call the police."
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