A story for every victim

Why does the Homicide Report include racial identifiers?

Readers who are new to the Homicide Report occasionally question why we include the race or ethnicity of homicide victims. Often those asking for an explanation are offended by the practice.

Two such comments were submitted Monday on a post about the sentencing of Anthony Hall to 25 years to life for killing his girlfriend's toddler son.

Dylis Harrell wrote: "How come the ethnic group of the perp & victim is identified? Is relevant to the story?"

And Brad asked: "Why did you emphasize the fact that this killer, Anthony hall,a 23-year old was a 'BLACK MAN', who killed Nathan Coleman,a 1 year old 'BLACK BOY.' Would you have used a 'WHITE MAN' or a 'WHITE BOY' in describing this sentencing, if in fact it was done by a 'WHITE MAN"? Is there an agenda here with your reporting?"

Yes, the Homicide Report would have and does identify white victims and perpetrators, as well as Latinos, Asians and those identified as "other" by authorities. The agenda is to provide as complete a picture as possible of who is most likely to be the victim of violence in L.A. County.

As frequent readers of the blog already know, from its inception in January 2007 the Homicide Report has included the race or ethnicity of each victim, as reported by the L.A. County coroner, law enforcement authorities or family members. When it is known, the report also has identified the race/ethnicity of those arrested in connection to or convicted of a killing.

Although homicides across racial lines often attract attention, analysis of crime data nationwide consistently indicates that most killers are the same race as their victim. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 1976 and 2005, 86% of white victims were killed by whites and 94% of black victims were killed by blacks.

The Homicide Report's decision to include race differs from the newspaper's standard style. Below is our FAQ post examining why the exception was made. 

-- Megan Garvey

The Homicide Report includes information on race or ethnicity of each homicide victim, as well as the name, gender and age and the time, place and manner of death. A number of readers have asked why race is included. Some have criticized the practice.

Racial information was once routinely included in news stories about crimes, but in recent decades, newspapers and other media outlets stopped mentioning suspects' or victims' race or ethnicity because of public criticism. Newspapers came to embrace the idea that such information is irrelevant to the reporting of crimes and may unfairly stigmatize racial groups.

The Homicide Report departs from this rule in the interest of presenting the most complete and accurate demographic picture of who is dying in homicides in Los Angeles County.

Race and ethnicity, like age and gender, are stark predictors of homicide risk. Blacks are much more likely to die from homicide than whites, and Latinos somewhat more likely. Black men, in particular, are extraordinarily vulnerable: They are less than 9% of the county's population, but they represented nearly a third of homicide victims over the three years of data in the Homicide Report. That means one in a 1,000 blacks became homicide victims over those three years, more than 10 times the rate for whites and nearly four times the rate for Latinos.

The Homicide Report recognizes the peril of turning victims into statistics by reducing their lives and deaths to a few facts -- particularly racial designations that provide only the roughest markers of ancestry and history. But given the magnitude of difference in homicide risk along racial and ethnic lines – -and the suffering homicide inflicts on subsets of the population -- we opt to present the racial and ethnic contours of the problem so conspicuous in the coroner's data.

In making racial and ethnic distinctions, The Times relies largely on the coroner's designation. Occasionally, additional reporting from law enforcement officials or the victim's family may lead us to make changes.

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