While violent crime has been at historic lows nationwide and in cities like New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, it is rising sharply in many other places across the country, the New York Times reports. While such crime in the 1990’s was characterized by battles over gangs and drug turf, the police say the current rise in homicides has been set off by something more bewildering: petty disputes that hardly seem the stuff of fistfights, much less gunfire or stabbings. Suspects say they killed someone who “disrespected” them or a family member, or someone who was “mean mugging” them, which the police loosely translate as giving a dirty look. More weapons are on the streets, giving people a way to act on their anger. Police Chief Nannette Hegerty of Milwaukee calls it “the rage thing.”
In Milwaukee, where homicides jumped from 88 in 2004 to 122 last year, the number classified as arguments rose to 45 from 17, making up by far the largest category of killings, as gang and drug murders declined. In Houston, where homicides rose 24 percent last year, disputes were by far the largest category, 113 out of 336 killings. In Philadelphia, where 380 homicides made 2005 the deadliest year since 1997, 208 were disputes; drug-related killings, which accounted for about 40 percent of homicides during the high-crime period of the early 1990’s, accounted for just 13 percent. “When we ask, ‘Why did you shoot this guy?’ it’s, ‘He bumped into me,’ ‘He looked at my girl the wrong way,’ ” said Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. “It’s not like they’re riding around doing drive-by shootings. It’s arguments – stupid arguments over stupid things.” The police say the suspects and the victims tend to be black, young – midteens to mid-20’s – and have previous criminal records. “We’re not talking about a city, we’re talking about this subpopulation, that’s what drives everything,” said David M. Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.