A common response to my pointing out that the rate of being a known murder offender in FBI crime stats is 8 times higher among blacks than among nonblacks is that murder is so incredibly rare that it’s pointless even to know this fact.
The argument in effect is #BlackLivesDoNotMatter when it comes to black-on-black victims.
That got me thinking using the example of St. Louis.
Clearly, the murder rate in St. Louis of 87 per 100,000 in 2020 was high in relative terms: the highest of any sizable city in the country last year.
On the other hand, 87 per 100,000 is only 0.087%, which looks like a pretty small number. So how bad can it really be in absolute terms?
If you spent January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020 in St. Louis, your average chance of not being murdered is over 99.9%. (Homer Simpson voice: “I like those odds!”)
On the other hand, some populations in St. Louis are more at risk than others. For example, black males made up 79% of the murder victims. Black males make up, I’m estimating, 22.5% of the population of St. Louis. So the murder victimization rate per 100k was 306. So blacks males had a little under a 99.7% chance of surviving 2020 in St. Louis without being murdered.
But what about not getting murdered over the course of your lifetime? Say you are a black man who wants to live for 75 years in St. Louis and not get murdered?
Well, take 2020’s 99.694% chance of not being murdered and raise it to the 75th power. I come up with your chances of not being murdered over 75 years as a black man in St. Louis are a little under 80%.
I’d say that 2020’s rate of black males being shot in St. Louis, suggesting a one in five chance of being murdered there over the course of a 75-year-lifespan is indeed high in absolute terms.
(If you can think of a better way to do this calculation, let me know in the comments.)
Keep in mind that the national average is better: St. Louis blacks shoot each other at a higher than normal rates. And 2020 was a worse than normal year even for St. Louis, which has had very high murder rates since Ferguson next door in 2014. 2021 looks substantially better than 2020 in terms of the number of murders in St. Louis.