A 'slow-moving massacre.' Pa. ranks 7th in Black homicides per 100k residents.

J.D. Prose
Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau

Gun-safety advocates and Black organizations are calling for action following the release of a new study that shows Pennsylvania ranks 7th for Black homicides and that guns accounted for nearly 90% of them.  

The Violence Policy Center’s latest study, based on the FBI’s 2018 Supplementary Homicide Report, found that in Pennsylvania there were 448 Black residents murdered, or about 27.45 homicides per 100,000 residents.  

“Black communities in Pennsylvania are facing a slow-moving massacre from gun violence,” said CeaseFirePA Education Fund executive director Adam Garber in a statement. “Sadly, many elected officials still refuse to pass policies that would help end this constant state of fear.”  

Only six states had a worse Black murder rate than Pennsylvania: Missouri, Alaska, Indiana, Nevada, Illinois and Tennessee.  

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse join the March against injustice and gun violence in Harrisburg on June 3, 2020.

It is the fifth consecutive year that Missouri, with 47.41 Black homicides per 100,000 residents, has had the highest rate of Black homicides, according to the Violence Policy Center.  

Missouri has ranked either first or second in the study for 12 straight years. In the 2020 report, Pennsylvania ranked 7th with 459 Black homicides and a rate of 30.19 per 100,000 residents.  

In the new report, 392 of Black homicide victims in Pennsylvania were men while 56 were women. The average age of victims was 31.  

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'Public health epidemic'

The data for the latest report comes from 2018, and current events show the problem might be worsening, CeaseFirePA said. Its statement noted that Pittsburgh has had a 90% increase in shootings this year and Philadelphia has seen almost 800 people shot, with Black residents likely being a “significant portion” of victims in both cities.  

“Gun violence remains a significant public health epidemic that must be addressed as such,” said NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference president Kenneth Huston in the statement. “Moreover, we must research, identify and institutionalize successful interventions to reduce risks and address the immense trauma families and communities affected by violence continue to experience.” 

With handguns accounting for about 90% of homicides by firearms, CeaseFirePA said the statistics emphasize the need for gun safety and trafficking laws, such as requiring that lost or stolen guns be reported to authorities.  

The Violence Policy Center’s report said that Blacks represented 14% of the nation’s population in 2018, but accounted for half of all homicide victims.  

“The devastation homicide inflicts on Black teens and adults is a national crisis that should be a top priority for policymakers to address,” the report states. “An important part of ending our nation’s gun violence epidemic will involve reducing homicides in the Black community.” 

J.D. Prose is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network's Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jprose@gannett.com.