African Americans have the highest chances of being murdered in Memphis, according to current homicide statistics. Their attackers are most likely to be black, as well.
Eighty-eight percent of all homicide victims are black. Of those, the Memphis Police Department (MPD) classifies 64 percent of them as "black-on-black" crimes. However, except in cases in which the attackers are unknown, all African-American homicides were committed by African Americans.
"This is a majority-black city, and if you look at the crime patterns, they present a perfect overlay of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the community," said Mike Heidingsfield, president of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission. "Demographics are clearly at work."
According to 2000 U.S. Census data, Memphis' population is 61.1 percent black, 33.4 percent white, 2.9 percent Hispanic, and 2.4 percent Asian.
Sixty-five of the 87 murders through June 15th were "black on black." One was "black on white"; five were "white on white"; and one was "Hispanic on white." Fifteen are unclassified because the suspect is unknown.
Last week, MPD began targeting high-crime neighborhoods. Though police are not releasing specifics about those areas, an MPD public information officer confirmed they are mostly African-American neighborhoods.
MPD homicide director Joe Scott said that lifestyle, gang activity, and involvement in other criminal behavior are the leading reasons people end up as murder victims, regardless of race. But where a person lives can play a part.
Cheryl Beard, executive director of Urban Youth Initiative, works with at-risk youth in the inner city.
"When people are oppressed by systems, they begin to attribute to their own oppression in many ways. They begin to strike out at the people closest to them, and that's other black people," said Beard.
Heidingsfield pointed out that criminal offenders tend to perpetrate crimes within one mile from their home. "It's very unusual for offenders to drive and drive to find a target for a crime. That's the case across the country," he said.
The racial breakdown of murders is not unique to Memphis, either. According to 2004 statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, blacks were six times more likely than whites to be the victim of a homicide.