Broward County’s soaring murder rate follows a national trend that baffles law enforcement and criminologists
June 25, 2006
by WANDA J. DeMARZO
The Miami Herald
Sharon Smith checked in on her ailing mother, who had recently suffered a stroke, and then went to sit with her 2-year-old grandson, Dai’on, to watch television.
It was shortly after 11 p.m. June 3.
She had just nestled on the couch with the toddler when an armed Thomas Allen Johnson stormed into the Dania Beach apartment. Johnson, 21, was looking for his ex-girlfriend, Smith’s daughter, Candace Langston.
Johnson didn’t find Langston, but authorities said he opened fire, killing Smith in front of the child and within range of her ill mother. Then, as Langston returned home, he shot her, wounding her and her new boyfriend.
”It’s so horrible what he did to our family; my mom hasn’t said a word about my sister’s death,” said her sister, Sandra Sunkins. “Not one word about it since it happened.”
Johnson was arrested, and Smith was given a case number at the Broward County medical examiner’s office — logged as yet another on the county’s growing list of homicides reported this year.
As of May 31, 41 people had been killed in Broward — 15 of them in May alone. That compares with 25 to that date last year.
But unlike Miami-Dade County, Broward has no discernible pattern to its murder rate, Medical Examiner Joshua Perper said.
”The victims come in all ages, races and were killed for all sorts of reasons,” Perper said.
Four of the 41 murder victims were 18 or 19 years old. More than half of the victims were shot to death; one man was burned to death, and a woman was shot and stabbed.
If the trend continues, the end of the year could see a record number of murders, Perper said, estimating that the number could reach 100, far surpassing last year’s 78 — and the highest in the last decade.
The medical examiner usually sees a spike in murders during the hot, sticky summer months, when tempers flare over minor incidents, Perper said.
”The availability of guns makes it much easier to discharge your aggression by shooting someone,” Perper said. “It’s a remote-control way of ending a dispute. With a gun, you are placed remotely from the individual, and there is very little to do.”
Broward’s high murder rate reflects a similar upward trend in other South Florida counties. There were 70 murders in Miami-Dade in the first five months of last year, compared with 106 for the same period this year.
”Homicides tend to be a leading indicator of the crime rate, and the overarching explanation is that the crime decline we’ve seen over the last decade has stopped,” said Jeffrey Butts, a national expert on juvenile crime and a research fellow at the University of Chicago.
“A factor could be the effects of a slowing economy, economic conditions. It doesn’t mean that the sky is falling — just that it is something that we should be looking at.”
In San Antonio, every 2 ½ days someone becomes a statistic, The San Antonio Express-News reported last week. As of June 17, the city had recorded a 70 percent increase from the same time last year. San Antonio police say they cannot explain the spike. The murders are not gang-related. And narcotics-related murders are at the same level as last year, police say.
Even New York City, which had boasted tumbling rates of violent crime the past few years, is experiencing a jump in homicides– 12 percent so far this year.
Like their counterparts across the country, Broward homicide investigators say the increase could be attributed to a number of factors.
”It could be social conditions, the lack of treatment for people with mental illness, the easy access to handguns,” Broward Sheriff’s Office homicide Sgt. Bob O’Neil said. “It also seems that the young worship violence, and that altercations lead to a high number of murders. To end the altercation, someone pulls out a gun.”
It was an altercation last month that led to the shooting death of Willie Crite.
He was gunned down in Pompano Beach on May 19, after arguing with Kishawn Calvin Dowe earlier in the day, BSO officials said.
As Crite’s cousins watched, Dowe pistol-whipped Crite with one handgun and shot him with a second, according to the BSO.
Crite’s cousin, Sabrina King, 17, said that Dowe stood over Crite for a minute as the young man lay bleeding and crying, ”Help me, help me,” in the gravel parking lot. He died before paramedics could arrive, 19 years after his father died from a gunshot wound a few blocks from their family home.
Crite’s killing, one criminologist says, reflects the callousness that some young people have toward violence and death.
”The national statistics show that the 17-to-24 age group falls in the largest group of homicide victims and the largest group of offenders,” Florida Atlantic University Professor Richard Mangan said. “And I think it comes from the casual attitude the young have because of their exposure to death and violence through TV and video games. There is definitely a trend where the young people are more oblivious of the consequences and the wrongfulness of crime. And I’m afraid it will continue.”
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