A new study reveals that while the race gap in the commission of violent crime has significantly narrowed in certain parts of the country, murder arrest rates for African Americans has been out-distancing those for Whites, particularly in large urban areas like the District of Columbia and Atlanta, where the rates have grown significantly over the past four decades. Violent offenses generally comprise  homicide, forcible rape, robbery and assault.

The study most notably points out that the trend in the District is now nearly three times greater than in the 1960s.

“From 1960 to about 1985, the gap in Black and White homicide rates narrowed by almost 50 percent,” said Gary LaFree, a University of Maryland criminologist who co-authored the study. “Then it widened a bit between ’85 and 2000,” he continued.

“So what’s interesting is that Washington was one of the few cities in the country in which that was not true.”

The study, “Separate and Still Unequal,” which was conducted by UM in conjunction with Florida State University and the University of Oregon, also lent focus to Baltimore, finding that in comparison to the District, the gap there has remained mostly steady.

The study, which was released in early March after 10 years in the making, details the ratio of Black versus White annual murder arrests for each of the 80 cities surveyed. It exemplifies, for example that, for every White person arrested for murder, 12 Blacks are taken into custody under the same charges. In his reference to the table, UM spokesman Neil Tickner, said the rates for Baltimore have remained “flat,” going essentially from 5.32 percent in the 1960s to 7.56 percent in the 1990s.

At the same time, rates for the District went from 5.48 to 15.15 percent, with rates for Atlanta nearly doubled, having widened from 5.67 percent in the 1960s to 10.07 percent in the past decade.

The study also found that the increase of immigrant Hispanics may have played a vital role in cities like Los Angeles and Dallas where the racial murder arrest gap between Blacks and Whites has been reduced. 

Commenting on the glaring divide between the nation’s capital and Baltimore, LaFree said the variables used to predict a narrowing of gaps, explains why the District hasn’t fared as well.

In such cases, “We’ve found the best predictors in cities where there’s the greatest gap between Blacks and Whites are economic inequality and unemployment, places where Blacks have had a disproportionate problem with crack cocaine and where there’s a greater gap in the Black/White divorce rate,” LaFree said.

In addition, urban Black Americans have been arrested and imprisoned at alarming rates since the early 1980s, according to a 2008 report by Washington, DC-based Sentencing Project.

Marc Mauer, the Project’s executive director, said he hadn’t seen LaFree’s study, but he stressed there’s no doubt that Blacks are very disproportionately arrested than other ethnic groups.

However, “We know that those disparities are not always fully explained,” said Mauer, who added that arrests also have to do with police activity and their response to behaviors.

“We see it most clearly in drug offenses where there are very high disparities in arrests that are far out of proportion African Americans who use and/or sell drugs,” Mauer said. “We’ve seen that it’s pretty clear that this results from instances of more law enforcement in communities of color and harsh sentencing policies for drug offenses.”