Homicides in Cleveland, with a population of almost 500,000, were down to 80 last year, from 90 in 2002, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Columbus, with a population of 726,000, led Ohio with 111 homicides in 2003, up from 81 in 2002.
One Cleveland neighborhood hard hit by homicides was home to the year’s most shocking crime – the disappearance and killing of 11-year-old Shakira Johnson. The Union-Miles neighborhood, where Shakira was last seen, and surrounding areas had a fourth of the city’s homicides.
Criminologists say homicides often result from hopelessness that stems from joblessness and poverty. Domestic disputes, barroom brawls and drug activity often precede killings. And most people are killed by someone they knew. Typically, young men are the perpetrators as well as the victims, said criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University. In Cleveland, about 40 percent of those killed were 30 or under; of those arrested for the crimes, most were men in their 30s. “Violence is an indicator – not of a high volume of drug activity, but of fluctuations in the drug market,” Blumstein said. “When it’s going down, you get desperate and start getting rid of competitors. You don’t have access to civil forms of conflict resolution.”
Declining drug activity may explain Union-Miles’s several killings, although it is mostly a working-class neighborhood where businesses thrive and many people own their homes. Councilman Zack Reed, who heads the Safety Committee and represents the area where Shakira lived, said, “We need to make the entire city safe.”