By Ryan Parker, Keithley Faulkner and Cole Smith
When looking at Omaha one cannot help but notice that like any other city in the United States, there is a sinister side. The Omaha World Herald is quick to report on the negative events that happen in the metro area, but provide us with little information about the victims or economic status of the areas in which the crimes have occurred. What has been found does provide mixed results when compared to past research. This is an analysis of socioeconomic status, unemployment rates and education. For the purpose of this analysis, violent crimes are defined as: assault, rape, murder, and armed robbery, while property crimes will be defined both as destruction of property and theft of property.
Steven Raphael and Rudolph Winter-Ebmer have, after extensive research, theorized that crime rates and unemployment rates are related, although not in the sense one would generally expect. Using crime statistical information from the Federal Bureau of Investigations total crime index, they found that a decline in unemployment rates, actually contributed to an increase in property and violent crimes (Raphael, S., & Winter‐Ebmer, R.). The statistical research shows a stronger correlation of unemployment rates on property crimes than what was seen when looking at violent crimes. Utilizing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics we can see that there has been an improvement in the unemployment rates in the past 5 years (Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA Economy at a Glace). However, reported violent crime rates do not quite fit their theory. The number of reported homicides actually declined for a period of 4 years with a sharp increase in 2015, which appears to be a statistical outlier when compared to the years prior (Criminal Homicides in the Omaha Area).
To provide a more in-depth analysis, newspaper articles that pertained to crimes committed between the years of 2013 and 2015 in Omaha, Nebraska were collected from the Omaha World Herald. These characteristics include the type of weapon used (if available) to perpetrate the crime, and also include the sex, ethnicity and age of the offender or victim (when and if available). The study reviews these characteristics to find the relevance they had in the crimes committed and analyze how each factored into the level of crime found in Omaha, Nebraska.
Of the selected Omaha World Herald articles, those used indicate that the majority of the crimes committed using a weapon, involve the use of a gun. Of all the gathered data pertaining to crimes committed in the city of Omaha, NE, information indicates that roughly 52% of these crimes were committed with the use of a gun, and 34% of those crimes ended in fatality.
To better understand why a gun is used more often for crimes committed in Omaha, it is beneficial to first look at how a person obtains a gun. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office states that to purchase a gun in the city of Omaha, NE, an individual must first apply for a permit. The requirements for applying for a permit are as follows: an individual must be 21 years of age or older, be a US citizen or US permanent resident, and be a Douglas County resident with a current driver’s license proving residency (Douglas County). Once this permit has been issued, all a person needs to do is go to any store in Douglas County licensed to sell guns and present the permit paperwork to finalize the purchase. The weapon must then be registered with the Omaha Police Department. This shows that Nebraska gun laws make it simple to acquire small weapons that can be easily carried and concealed; thus creating an environment in which acquiring an easily managed and lethal weapon can be accomplished with few complications.
The next component involved in gun crimes in Omaha, NE are the possible reasons for the criminal acts. Rosenfeld explains that individuals with low self-control do not specialize in any one type of crime, but will engage in all manner of crimes an opportunity permits (Rosenfeld, R. Crime is the Problem: Homicide, Acquisitive Crime, and Economic Conditions). Given the lack of detailed information in the data source, the assumption that majority of the crimes committed fall within the category of a crime of opportunity is the basis for the following analysis. A crime of opportunity is defined as a crime that is committed without planning when the perpetrator sees that he/she has the chance to commit the act at that moment and seizes it, and that such acts have little or no premeditation.
The Omaha World Herald articles identify that many of the victims or perpetrators in a crime are between the ages of 16 – 26 years old. Working on the assumption that crime is generally committed against those of a similar age range, the next aspect to consider is the ease of acquiring a weapon at a younger age. While it is nearly impossible to obtain exact statistics on the number of illegal firearms for sale, The Department of Justice released a report in 1995 regarding the use of firearms in crimes. Although this information is 20 years old, it does explain that in 1995, there were more than 2 million reports of stolen guns in United States, with 60% of those reported as handguns. This report further states that not only do most interviewed inmates explain that they prefer concealable weapons, but also that Juvenile offenders are more likely to possess guns than adults (Zawitz, M. W.). In addition, Rosenfeld explains that underground markets are omnipresent in lower income communities, and sell anything from common household goods at a lower than retail value to the sale of illegal goods such as illicit drugs and firearms (Rosenfeld, R. Crime is the Problem: Homicide, Acquisitive Crime, and Economic Conditions). Given that the majority of crimes in Omaha, NE have occurred in lower income communities, it can reasonably be inferred that an underground market is where those who cannot legally make a firearm purchase go to obtain a gun. A reasonable deduction from this information is that the underage criminals are acquiring weapons illegally.
A separate analysis occurs regarding the violent crimes committed. When we look at the homicides committed, 7 of 9 crimes show a gun was involved. The American Psychological Association (APA) says, “…the use of a gun greatly increases the odds that violence will lead to a fatality” (American Psychological Association (2013). Gun violence pg.10). When viewing this from a purely scholarly standpoint, we should consider Rosenfeld’s explanation of underground market social control and how this can also be applied to violent crimes outside the underground market environment. Rosenfeld explains that “Illegal Markets are subject to little formal regulation, prompting the use of violence as a means of social control,” and that “violence is likely to be used by disputants as a means of social control” (Rosenfeld, R. Crime is the Problem: Homicide, Acquisitive Crime, and Economic Conditions). Rosenfeld goes further in explaining that the application of the term self-help to these types of conflict is used as a way to save face, uphold honor, or even as a preemptive strike against a person viewed as a rival or adversary. This tells us that communities or even individuals who lack of an effective authoritative or law enforcement presence, whether the perception is real or imaginary, are more likely to resort to the idea of self-help, as a means to resolve disputes (Rosenfeld, R. Crime is the Problem: Homicide, Acquisitive Crime, and Economic Conditions). While the information available in the Omaha World Herald did not specifically say the victims were involved with the illegal trade of goods, in the 2012 homicide case of Joshua Drummond, the Herald made it a point to emphasis that this victim was involved in criminal activity, citing multiple arrests for previously committed offenses. Given this victims’ past, it is possible to infer that this violent act could be associated with past transgressions against another person leading to the retaliatory act of murder.
The use of a gun is not solely found in crimes of homicide. The Omaha World Herald articles have identified one instance in which destruction of property was perpetrated with a gun and another in which theft was committed at gunpoint. In one instance, a man was using a gun or order to commit random acts of vandalism and threatening citizens. This individual was over the age of 21, and thus could have acquired the weapon legally. This act of violence, while not directed at an individual, demonstrates deviant behavior used to instill a sense of superiority or authority, with the gun used as an instrument to create this perception. In the theft, three young men under the age of 21 used a gun to force a driver out of their car. While there was no concluding act of violence, once again a deadly weapon was used to commit this crime.
The above analysis has shown that in Omaha, NE, it is relatively easy to obtain a firearm, be it legally or illegally. Additionally, the use of violence, or a violent threat, can be viewed by an individual in a lower income community as a self-help form of social control. These facts, in conjunction with the ease in which a person can obtain a firearm and how most crimes are identified as crimes of opportunity, lead to the conclusion that the use of a gun occurs more often than any other form of weapon in Omaha, NE based on availability and the perceived power it provides.
Lack of Education
When it comes to education it is a lack there of because of the type of area the individuals committing the crime have created. The North Omaha area it is poverty stricken due to the number of African American adults that are out of work. This may be due to reasons that may be out of their control. (Richardson, J., & Vil, C. S.) There are individuals that are unable to work due to transportation impairments, prior criminal history, education, and environmental surroundings. Getting an education is something that no longer seems like an opportunity because they weren’t prepared and properly stable to go to school. The individuals that keep running around in the streets instead of living a life by what is believed to be the cultural norm have missed the opportunity to get a higher education because now they need to work and care for their families. The types of crimes going on in North Omaha continue to rise because they have to work and care for their families, thus creating missed opportunities. Thus this analysis has determined, one of their only visible options, is to live off the street, where criminal acts are more of a norm in their society and not seen as deviant.
When looking at schools in the North Omaha area, it is obvious that there are disadvantages to the educational opportunities for children. Schools that tend to have higher attendance of children, who live in public housing, tend to have children who test lower and don’t value education. These are the children that tend to drop out of school or miss more instructional time than others because they don’t see the value in getting and education. Lack of education can cause strain on children who receive little to no help at home. When a child lives in a single parent home and is forced to care for family over getting an education this provides an outlet for seeking outside the norm for attention. Being disconnected in such a way, they tend to fall into what will provide for their families. The lack of education is a problem for many cultures however it tends to go unnoticed or be expected of African American students (Ludwig, J., Duncan, G. J., & Hirschfield, P.) The problem that this causes is individuals tend to be unemployable and turn to the streets where some of these deviant crimes are committed because of the opportunity of money is given. In turn this causes them to not continue with there education as a society norm and to work where they an get what they want getting and education and making minimum wage is not what most individuals committing these violent crimes are all about. Black males and unemployment affect the disruption of a family, which causes high rates of urban violence.
Individuals who live in these poverty stricken areas show that violence is an isolation and bringing together of labor opportunities. When work disappears because of a need for higher education it causes a rise in violence because individuals feel that they are at a disadvantage. This causes them to adapt to street code values, using their skills and to get the respect they want. In these neighborhoods, you are either in and accepted, or not, unaccepted and unprotected. This brief analysis of Home life can be used again to determine that children are more likely to veer towards crime, as this appears to be the only available option to make a living (Richardson, J., & Vil, C. S.)
Race and Gender
There are so many racial disparities when it comes to violence. Black men are more likely to be arrested and be sentenced to prison than white men or women. Due to the nature of the deviant and criminal behaviors that they engage in. Another factor is the historic legacy of racism and police brutality. African Americans tend to have negative views of the criminal justice systems compared to whites because they receive differential treatment (Richardson 2015).
People in this area tend to stay in this area. Housing is cheaper due to conditions as well as increased government housing for families with little or no income. No work leads to little or no income, which also leads to survival skills, including illegal activities. Theft is a major problem in this area. In example, Omaha.com created an article, “Man arrested after northwest Omaha pursuit – Jeremy Hummel, 33 was taken into custody after police responded to a report of a hit-and-run” a vehicle was stolen from 51sst & Dodge Streets, abandoning the car at 41st & Charles Streets, getting arrested at 45th & Charles Streets.
Throughout the review of the newspaper articles, youth also seemed to be another big theme, no matter the reason for the crime committed, whether it is a crime of opportunity, a personal interest, anger issues, or anything else. This analysis identified that it seemed like most of the suspects were young and just wanted to do something to get attention, or get a point across. For the purpose of this analysis, we define youth as being 25 years old and younger. In addition, all information discussed below is a direct result of analyzing the newspaper articles. In one article, two young men (19 and 21) were connected to a string of burglaries. They rummaged through people’s vehicles, even going into their homes through unlocked garage doors, taking small things like wallets and electronics that they could easily get away with. The information we have leads us to conclude they took this opportunity because it was quick, easy, and they thought they could get away with it. In another article, three teenagers (16, 16, and 17) were taken into custody for a carjacking. They reportedly pointed a gun at the 42-year-old woman, forced her out of her car, and then stole it. Once again, another quick and easy crime that they thought they could get away with. Onto the next article, an 18 year old was ticketed for criminal mischief, after he splattered a house with 23 paintballs. Soon after, two more teens showed up (17 and 18), and were released to their parents, one of them receiving a citation. The police report lists three others involved in the incident, but none were cited. In a fifth article, two teenage girls (14 and 15) were arrested for assaulting an officer. Apparently, they were destroying property and causing a disturbance, and when police showed up, one girl punched an officer in the face, and the other girl kicked another officer in the back. Tailing off this set of articles, a 19-year-old girl was charged with misdemeanor assault, destruction of property, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and felony assault on an officer. It all started when the woman assaulted her girlfriend, and then started to punch holes in the walls of their room, and then stole her vehicle. When police arrived, the woman kneed one of the officers, and spit in his face.
The previous articles all showed how much young people can be the perpetrator, but these next articles seem to highlight how young people can also be the victims of crimes, especially when it comes to homicide. This article talks about how two cousins, 16 and 20-year-old girls were both shot. Unfortunately, 16-year-old Eriana Carr died in the hospital. She was the 2nd OPS student shot that October, and the third Benson student to die violently in the past 14 months. The article did not say who the shooter was, but it was most likely someone they knew, whether it be from school or work, and they were probably young as well. Now, in a very surprising article, there were four separate shootings. First victim, a 22-year-old male, shot in the head. The suspects were in a red Pontiac, but the police were unable to find them. The victim was Joshua Drummond, who was actually shot once before, in May of 2009. Not only is Drummond a young victim, he is/was also a young criminal. His record includes theft, disorderly conduct, and driving with a suspended license. Next victim of that day’s 4 shootings, Jackson Williams, 17. He was also shot at from a vehicle, suspects unknown. Next, Raysean Barber, 22. Once again, shot at from a vehicle, suspects unknown. And finally, Jennifer Moeller, 23, was driving, while someone shot at her from on foot. She drove herself to the hospital, and her wound was deemed superficial.
Earlier in the year, two little kids (ages 6 and 7) vandalized their elementary school. Not only did they break two windows, but they also threw about 20 eggs, and scribbled on the walls with marker, causing about $2000 of damage (including cleanup). This does show how young people get involved in crime today, even dumb things like vandalism, and unfortunately, even as young as 6 years old. Obviously, most criminals aren’t this young, as shown by Christian Cain, 21, who was cited for misdemeanor criminal mischief. Pulling a prank in a supermarket, he grabbed two gallons of milk, smashed them together, and slipped and fell in the spilled milk as shoppers tried to help him up. As dumb of a prank as it was, it caused between $200 and $500 damage, because the milk destroyed 27 boxes of cereal, 65 boxes of pop tarts, a box of food coloring, and (obviously) two gallons of milk.
As you can see, young people seem to find crime enticing, whether it is for entertainment, personal gain, or taking their anger out on someone/something. This is a very big problem, because while these young people are out vandalizing, stealing, or even murdering, they could be at home with their family, or at school, becoming more educated, creating a better future for themselves. Are there still crimes that are committed by adults? Absolutely. But as these articles show, there’s still a big majority of serious crimes like murder and robbery that are committed by the younger people in our community.
In conclusion, while the Omaha World Herald articles presented only a small amount of information pertaining to the victims or perpetrators of a crime, the use of previous scholarly research allows for the conclusion that violent crime in Omaha, Nebraska, is directly affected by the culture and ethnicity of the communities, age of the deviants, and the ease of access to easily concealed and lethal weapons. The study has shown how the social order in these disadvantaged cultures breeds forth individuals that stray from the social norm, and how this combined with age and opportunity create a fertile environment for crime.
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