THURSDAY, Jan. 26 (HealthDay News) -- The typical victim of gang-related homicide is a young minority male killed with a gun, but most of these murders aren't drug-related, according to a new U.S. government report.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers analyzed 2003-2008 data from large cities in 17 states. They say five cities have the highest levels of gang murders -- Los Angeles; Oklahoma City; Long Beach, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; and Newark, N.J.
In 80 percent of cases, males were the victims, with guns involved in more than 90 percent of killings (significantly more than non-gang-related homicides). Bystanders were the victims in less than 6 percent of gang-related homicides, the CDC said.
The toll in lost lives is significant, the agency noted. In Los Angeles and Long Beach, for example, gang murders accounted for the majority of murders among 15- to 24-year-olds (61 and 69 percent, respectively). Victims of gang-related murders are typically younger than victims of non-gang murders, the CDC said, and murder remains the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds across the United States.
"Violence -- including gang homicides -- is a significant public health problem," Linda Degutis, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said in an agency news release.
Minority youth are hit especially hard, the agency added, although patterns differ by locale. For example, Hispanics accounted for a significantly higher proportion of gang murder victims in Los Angeles and Oakland. In Oklahoma City, blacks accounted for a significantly higher proportion of gang murder victims than non-gang murder victims.
One surprising finding: Despite the public's belief that many gang murders directly involved drugs, the CDC report found that not to be the case.
In the cities covered by the study, the proportion of gang homicides linked to drugs and other criminal activity ranged from zero to 25 percent, the agency said. In Los Angeles and Long Beach, less than 5 percent of all murders were associated with known drug trade or use. In Oakland, 12.5 percent of gang murders and 16.5 percent of non-gang murders involved drug trade/use. In Oklahoma City, 25.4 percent of gang murders and 22.8 percent of non-gang murders involved drug trade/use.
Newark was the only one of the five cities where there was a significantly higher rate of gang murders (20 percent) than non-gang murders (6 percent) that involved drug trade/use.
In Los Angeles and Oklahoma City, drive-by shootings accounted for 24 percent of gang murders.
The study is the first to compare gang-related murders with other types of murders using city-level data from CDC's National Violent Death Reporting System, the researchers said. The findings are published Jan. 26 in the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
So what's to be done? According to Degutis, education and outreach with children and youth at an early age are key.
"Investing in early prevention pays off in the long run," she said. "It helps youth learn how to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence and keeps them connected to their families, schools and communities, and from joining gangs in the first place."
For more on efforts to help prevent youth violence, head to the CDC's STRYVE campaign.
-- Robert Preidt
SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Jan. 26, 2012
All rights reserved