Across the country, more than a million black men are “missing” from everyday life, according to a recent New York Times article. There are more than 70,000 missing black men in North Carolina.
The term “missing” is used to note the difference in black male population for ages 25-54 to black female populations of the same age across the country. Typically, “missing” results from incarceration or premature death. Other factors like military deployment take a minor role, but jail and death are the overwhelming causes, according to the New York Times article.
“Missing implies that they are hiding out some place,” said Wizdom Powell, an assistant professor of health behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “They are being stolen by crime and other social conditions that catalyze health-damaging behaviors."
In 2013, 2,170,000 black residents lived in North Carolina. Of that population, 878,028 were between 25 and 54 years old, according to data from the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management. The New York Times considered this age range the “prime-age years.”
The research cited Charlotte as top ten cities with the "most missing black men," but the gap between black men and black women is consistent throughout North Carolina.
There are 73,324 "missing" black men in North Carolina. In 2013, the state had:
402,352 black males ages 25-54
475,676 black females of the same age
This gap is much more narrow for prime-age white populations in North Carolina. In 2013, only about 5,000 more white females lived in North Carolina than white males. The Times article found that a gender gap does not exist in early childhood. Data from 2013 shows black males under the age of 18 outnumbered black females living in North Carolina. The “missing” black men phenomena does not appear until prime-age years. “Young black males are not born to be more involved in criminal behavior and they are certainly not born predisposed to premature death,” Powell said.
The Role of Gun Violence
In Durham County, there are about 6,000 “missing” prime-age black men. Durham has recently seen economic growth with a spotlight on its prosperous downtown, but behind the curtain of its boom the city still struggles with high crime rates.
Homicide rates due to gun violence for young Black males in Durham is eight times higher than the national average, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Diane Jones lost her son David to gun violence in 1997. After her son’s murder, Jones said nobody called her from the police department, and nobody came to her house trying to solve the case.
“A year went by with the investigator avoiding me and treating me like I was nothing,” Jones said. “I had no answers. All I knew was my son was dead and I had to bury him without any facts about the case.”
When Jones eventually talked to the investigator, she said there was not a list of suspects or leads, instead the talks were about her son’s criminal record.
“I was there to find out who killed my child but was made to feel he was just another black man that has been killed in Durham,” she said.
Jones leads the Parents of Murdered Children’s Durham Chapter. While she said she is disappointed with the handling of her son's case, she still retains faith in law enforcement to help people like Jones as they look for answers.
North Carolina's Prison System
Along with early death, incarceration is a leading cause of these “missing” black men. In 2010, African Americans made up more than half of the state’s jails, while only comprising 22% of North Carolina’s total population.
There are more than 19,000 black men of all ages incarcerated in North Carolina state prisons.
Powell said this is a process that starts in black male adolescence.
“We have a well-documented school-to-prison pipeline for young men of color,” Powell said.
"This process of becoming involved with the criminal justice system generally happens over a period of time and is linked to a lack of supportive social structures, resources, and harsher prison sentences. You can’t point to one moment or individual decision that create higher incarceration rates among these young men.”
Powell said in order to halt the “missing” black men, opportunities for upward social mobility and employment need to be created and sustained. In 2012, 17% of black residents in North Carolina were unemployed, higher than the national average of 14%.
“When we increase the capacity for black males to be socially productive, they have more resources to protect themselves against incarceration and premature death. This also protects and builds strong families, which as a nation we need to thrive,” she said.
“When young black male coverage is no longer a sexy public conversation, when the attention span of policymakers and funders shorten, we as a state need to have structures in place to support them. “
The number of “missing” black men in North Carolina shows that race continues to be a factor in the state. We want to hear from you about your experience with race in North Carolina. You can give us a call or fill out our form here. These messages and stories may be shared on our website.