Special Report: Murder Crisis in Montgomery

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The number of homicides in Montgomery is up dramatically from years past, and we've uncovered some disturbing similarities many of these killings share.

So far in 2013 someone in Montgomery is killed by someone else once every six days.  At this rate we'll surpass the number of killings in all of last year by early July.  While some of these killings have been random acts, most of them have something in common.

Montgomery has seen 22 homicides in less than 5 months.  There were 32 in all of 2012.

"It's no secret that it's black males who are dying. Ninety percent of the murders in Montgomery," says Alabama State University psychologist Dr. Earnest Blackshear, who has been working with police to try and find ways to stop a trend that's been in place for many years.

Of the 22 homicides so far this year, 13 of the 22 have involved a black male suspect killing another black male. In the six unsolved cases, all the victims are black. In most all of the cases, the victim and the suspect knew each other.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the leading cause of death of black men aged 15 to 34 is homicide at the hands of another black man.

"How long do we have to continue to wait before we say it's a black on black homicide issue? We've taken the guns.  We've blown up the housing projects.  We have to do something different," says Dr. Blackshear.

Montgomery police are trying something different. Working hand-in-hand with public service providers, MPD is using an approach modeled after one used in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that reduced the homicide rate there by 42 percent.

"The come in and, the law enforcement part of it, we give them the basic who, what, when, where and why and also kind of talk about their past, and then they would try to come up with a remedy of how to fix that part when it comes to the community," a Montgomery police officer explains.

"Somehow we have to do a vocational piece, occupational piece, vocational rehab. There has to be a psychological piece about helping them understand that the way you don't value the life of a neighbor is a problem, and the way that you think it's ok to have a child without getting married, that's a problem. And all of these things, economic factors, moral issues, psychological/social issues all come together and it takes the entire community, the government, faith based, the mental health community, all of us to look at this as a public health issue."  

But has Montgomery's black leadership bought in? In a recent column in the Montgomery Advertiser, retired Magistrate Judge Vanzetta McPherson said the city's black leaders aren't doing enough.

"If African-Americans were being senselessly gunned to death by persons of other ethnicities, the black community would be engaged in weekly, in not daily, protests," she wrote. "Our leaders may place a higher premium on remaining in favor with constituents and thereby remaining in office."

"I respect Judge McPherson. Always have. Always will," says District 4 City Councilman David Burkette. Six out of the 22 homicides this year have happened in his district.  "But apparently there is some misunderstanding when it comes down to you judging, and you make it a black and white, a black on black thing. It appears that way, but that's not the surface of it. I think more assessment needs to be done before you can put a finger on it, and we still may not put a finger on it."

Eddie Brown doesn't know what to think.  All he knows is that he lost his son when the 19-year old was shot and killed after an argument. "It's just sad. It's teenagers killing teenagers. It's just disgusting. I hate to say it, but that's what it's all about. Little petty things. It's hard on me."

"They feel outside of the law, and they're value system is called the code of the street. So they won't talk to police. They won't talk to researchers. So how do we begin to crack that code and give them services when they think we're the enemy?" Dr. Blackshear says.  "If we really want to solve this problem, that's what we're up against. It's a war." 

Brown is frustrated with the investigation into his son's death because he knows there were people who witnessed what happened, but who won't come forward. He thinks it's part of that street code.

Dr. Blackshear believes that code is pounded into the heads of young people through the beat and lyrics of some of the hip-hop and rap they listen to.

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