Randolph Roth


On the ultimate causes of various kinds of homicide

Cover Interview of December 06, 2011

The relationship between violence and feelings about government has often tracked separately by race in this country.

In the last five decades, the black homicide rate peaked between 1971 and 1974, when black trust in government reached a post-World War II low.

The white homicide rate peaked in 1980 during the final year of the Carter administration, when white trust in government reached its postwar low because of accumulated anger over busing, welfare, affirmative action, the defeat in Vietnam, and the seizure of American hostages in Iran. That rate—7 per 100,000 white persons per year—was by itself three to fifteen times the homicide rate in other affluent nations.

African Americans and other racial minorities, who live disproportionately in America’s cities, were more deeply affected than anyone else by the election of 2008, and it is likely that their greater trust in the political process and their positive feelings about the new president led to lower rates of urban violence.

Of course, not everyone is enamored of President Obama. In Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, the states with the largest percentage of counties that voted more heavily Republican in 2008 than they did in 2004, the homicide rate rose 11 percent in cities of over 100,000 that have reported to date.

Until the FBI releases full data on the race of homicide victims and suspects, we will not know for certain whether homicide rates fell farther for minorities than for whites or whether the downward trend in homicides was countered in certain regions by an increase in homicides by whites. What we do know, however, is that the homicide rate fell farthest in cities, where African Americans and other minorities predominate, and that it appears to have risen in the states where the most politically alienated whites live.