While President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have emphasized the national murder rate when discussing their strategies for tackling violent crime, The Trace has argued that drilling down to the neighborhood level is the best way to understand gun violence. New data appears to bolster the case that murder inequality is one of the starkest, and most consequential, forms of inequality.
The Guardian and the Gun Violence Archive have mapped gun murders in 2015 to the neighborhood level, a project that shows how even within cities deemed “violent,” risk is not evenly distributed. St. Louis, as a prime example, had the highest homicide rate per capita in the United States over the last three years. The homicide rates in several neighborhoods in the city are so high that — as we’ve noted — they exceeded those in Honduras, the deadliest country in the world. In other neighborhoods, especially those that are majority white, the risk is negligible.
Using The Guardian’s data, we identified the 15 census tracts where the most lives were lost in fatal shootings in 2015. Five of these tracts appear so high in the rankings because of single incidents that may sound familiar. They are home to places where a total of 31 lives were lost in mass-casualty shootings, including a biker bar in Waco, Texas, where nine people were killed in a shootout, and a home in Houston, where eight people — including six children — were killed in a horrific domestic shooting.
We would wager that you haven’t heard about the gun deaths that happened in the other 10 census tracts with the most fatal shootings. The people who died in violent parts of St. Louis, or New Orleans, or Chicago, are victims of what we think of as everyday gun violence. Because people are shot so often, and because the victims are overwhelmingly poor, and black, news about individual incidents rarely punches through to the national consciousness.
Here’s an overview of America’s deadliest census tracts in 2015:
In any given year, the census tract that appears at the top of this list is not so hard to guess. Mass shootings, also known as rampage shootings, attract huge media attention. In 2015, the most lethal of these attacks was carried out in San Bernardino, a down-on-its-heels industrial city east of Los Angeles, in California’s Inland Empire. On December 2, 2015, two attackers who had declared fealty to the Islamic State fatally shot 14 people at a county public health department’s Christmas party. The perpetrators were killed by police later that afternoon.
At more than 16 square miles, this tract encompasses a significant portion of eastern New Orleans. However, because it is located on the outskirts of the city, next to a CSX rail yard and with a highway running through it, the area is sparsely populated, with fewer than 1,000 residents, according to the most recent census data.
In one killing, a 45-year-old man was found shot dead in his home off the Chef Menteur Highway. A local minister’s son discovered the man’s body on a Sunday morning, when he stopped by to see if he would attend the day’s services.
The sleepy southern Oregon city used to be known, if it was known at all, as a lumber town. On October 1, 2015, it became yet another place in America bloodied by a mass shooting, when a student at Umpqua Community College gunned down a professor and eight of his classmates before committing suicide.
St. Louis has the highest murder rate per capita in America, a terrible distinction that stems almost entirely from the extreme rates of violent crime in the northern half of the city. Rivalries, and romantic entanglements, often play a role in gun homicides — and both seemed to be at play on on June 26, 2015, when a former girlfriend of Jehoward Primus Jr., and the 2-year-old son they had together, were dropped off at Primus’s home by the woman’s current boyfriend.
Primus and the boyfriend began arguing in the front yard, and the boyfriend shot him in the stomach — a few feet from the child. Primus, who was 21, called for his grandmother to help. He later died in the hospital.
In the city that leads the nation in fatal shootings, young adult black males are at highest risk. Just five days before Primus was fatally shot, another 21-year-old, Edward Dill, was gunned down in broad daylight in the middle of the street a few blocks to the east, in a neighborhood called The Greater Ville.
This census area is in the center of downtown New Orleans, running from the Superdome to the banks of the Mississippi River, and borders on the city’s bustling French Quarter. In one shooting in September 2015, a gunman opened fire in the early morning hours on a group of people just one block from Canal Street, the area’s main thoroughfare. Three people were hit in the attack. One of the victims, a 35-year-old man, died at the scene.
A 10-minute drive north from the MGM and Bellagio casino hotels sits this census tract, which connects the city’s downtown with North Las Vegas. In one incident, a man was walking down the street when a van pulled alongside him. The front passenger fired a single fatal shot before the driver fled. The killing marked the city’s 50th suspected homicide of 2015.
This census tract encompasses a part of the heart of downtown Dallas, including the convention center and the Omni Dallas Hotel. But the neighborhood responsible for this area’s high rate of fatal shootings lies on the south side of Interstate 30, which bisects Dallas. One of those occurred on Joseph Perez’s 21st birthday: July 18, 2015. Perez was celebrating, and was apparently drunk, when he grabbed a handgun and began shooting. His family took the gun away, but he later managed to retrieve it. He accidentally shot himself, and died soon after.
On June 17, 2015, nine people were shot and killed during a bible study at a historically black church. The gunman, Dylann Roof, was convicted of the murders in a federal trial in January, becoming the first person sentenced to death for a federal hate crime.
On May 17, 2015, a shootout between two motorcycle clubs took nine lives. The groups had been at war for at least two years, the vice president of one of the clubs said, but the skirmish that day was sparked by a patch worn by one of the groups that represented turf.
This tract includes the village of Brooklyn, a tiny municipality on the Mississippi River founded by freed slaves, along with a sliver of East St. Louis. Almost every resident is African American and almost half live below the poverty line. In one incident, Oscar Carbajal was leaving a Phillips 66 gas station when a man approached and asked for a beer. A scuffle ensued, and Carbajal dropped a beer can to the pavement. It broke open, and the man who had asked for it was splashed. He went to his car, retrieved his gun, and shot Carbajal dead.
The Austin neighborhood of Chicago consistently ranks at the top for homicides in the city, and this small patch — .39 square miles — of land sits right in its center. The area is notorious for gang activity, and retaliatory shootings. In one such incident, three men were shot in broad daylight while driving down the road. A 19-year-old man was killed in the attack. All three victims were documented gang members, police said.
At four million residents, Harris County is America’s third largest county. It’s also earned the distinction of having a exceedingly high number of domestic violence homicides. In a particularly horrific incident, a man with a lengthy, violent criminal history executed his son, his ex-girlfriend, her husband, and their five children. When asked about the murder of his 13-year-old son Nathaniel in a jailhouse interview shortly after the killings, the gunman said, “I love Nate. I love Nate to death.”
Here is yet another exceptionally violent census tract in northern St. Louis. This one also falls in the small neighborhood of The Greater Ville, a once-vibrant middle-class black community that is literally falling apart. So many homes are missing their back walls that they have earned a nickname: “doll houses.” It is, to put it bluntly, a terrible place for a young African American man to be born, and live. Darius Collier, 24, was almost certainly was aware of these stark facts before he was shot in the head and dumped in a trash bin. He died on June 29, 2015.