America is raising a generation of killers, criminal justice researchers said Friday as they presented new evidence of an expanding epidemic of homicides committed by teen-agers.
By distilling decades of police reports, death certificates and homicide files, sociologists and criminal justice experts are documenting the reason a growing number of Americans fear their young: While homicide rates overall are not significantly higher today than at the turn of the century, they have skyrocketed among those under 18.
Since 1985, the juvenile homicide rate has more than doubled--primarily because young people are more heavily armed than ever--even as the murder rate among adults has remained essentially unchanged. The rate among white teen-agers has doubled; the rate for black teen-agers has tripled, the researchers announced at a meeting of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science.
Homicide rates among teen-agers 14 to 17 years old increased 175% in the last decade, while teen-age homicides involving handguns have quadrupled, the scientists said.
"The really bad news is that the worst is yet to come," said James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University.
"I believe we are on the verge of a crime wave that will last out the century. Unless we act today, I truly believe we will have a blood bath when all these kids grow up," he said.
The problem is becoming endemic among teen-agers of every ethnic and racial group, but is particularly troubling among black teen-agers who, while comprising slightly more than 1% of the population, account for 18% of the country's homicide victims and 30% of those who commit the homicides, researchers said. In contrast, homicide rates for middle-aged black men are at historic lows.
Experts at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh linked the rise in the rate at which teen-agers kill to the growing prevalence of guns among the young and the booming crack cocaine industry, which has made the weapons a business accessory for some youths, a fashion statement for others.
All of the homicide rates, the researchers said, were fairly stable until 1985--the year that crack cocaine became the street drug of choice.
Carnegie-Mellon sociologist Alfred Blumstein linked three trends--a doubling of the juvenile homicide rate, a doubling of the number of juvenile homicides committed with guns, and a doubling in the arrest rate of nonwhite juveniles for drug offenses--to conclude that the business of "crack" was behind the increase in teen-age homicides.
"It is not because of the crack in a pharmacological sense, but because of the crack industry," he said.
" If you are in the drug market as a dealer, you have to carry a gun. There was a diffusion of guns from kids in the drug industry to other kids," he said. "As a result, teen fights, which are endemic anyway, now are more often fatal."