Black cities across the US are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines. Milwaukee, has had more killings this year already than all of 2014.
As in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, tensions over race and police conduct have risen in Milwaukee, where the population is 40 percent black, compared with 6 percent statewide.
Demonstrators took to Milwaukee’s streets after the death of Dontre D. Hamilton, 31, a black man who was shot in a downtown park last year by a white police officer.
With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year — after 86 homicides in all of 2014.
More than 30 other cities have also reported increases in violence from a year ago. In New Orleans, 120 people had been killed by late August, compared with 98 during the same period a year earlier.
In Baltimore, homicides had hit 215, up from 138 at the same point in 2014. In Washington, the toll was 105, compared with 73 people a year ago. And in St. Louis, 136 people had been killed this year, a 60 percent rise from the 85 murders the city had by the same time last year.
Law enforcement experts say disparate factors are at play in different cities, though no one is claiming to know for sure why murder rates are climbing.
Some officials say intense national scrutiny of the use of force by the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals, though many experts dispute that theory.
Rivalries among organized street gangs, often over drug turf, and the availability of guns are cited as major factors in some cities, including Chicago.
But more commonly, many top police officials say they are seeing a growing willingness among disenchanted young men in poor neighborhoods to use violence to settle ordinary disputes.
A criminologist from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said homicides in St. Louis had already begun an arc upward in 2014 before a white police officer killed an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in nearby Ferguson.
Capt. Mike Sack, a homicide commander in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, cited killings there that had grown out of arguments over girlfriends, food and even characters on a TV show.
“Most remarkable is that individuals get so upset over things that I or others might consider petty but resort to such a level of violence,” he said.
In Milwaukee critics say low investment in the city’s African-American neighborhoods and mistreatment of black residents by the police, contribute to murders.
Most of the victims in Milwaukee and the suspects in their killings are black men under 30, police data shows, who come from neighborhoods where foreclosures, joblessness and poverty are high.
The most common motive in the slayings was not robbery or gang rivalry but an argument.