Courtesy of Capitalism, with over 5,600 likes and 10,000 shares. This meme claims that the US is 3rd in murders worldwide, but we’d improve to 4th from the bottom if we took Chicago, Detroit, Washington D.C. and New Orleans out of the mix. It fails on both claims.
3rd in the World for Murders?
This is a vague claim by the meme, as there are many ways to define and rank murders. Do they mean absolute number of murders? Murder rate? All homicides, intentional homicides, gun homicides, etc? Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter, as any way the data is looked at the US isn’t in third place.
The most useful metric in examining murders is intentional homicides per 100,000 people, as this corrects for population and includes different methods of murder (gun, knife, poison, etc.). The UN Office on Drugs and Crime publishes the definitive world list, most recently with their 2013 report. Since this formal report, many countries have been updated with more recent data from 2015, and Wikipedia compiles the data in an easy to access format here. (The Meme Policeman has independently verified that these numbers appear to line up with the UN’s reported data in case one is weary of Wikipedia.)
From this report we find that the US is far from being ranked 3rd in homicides. The top 3 nations are:
- El Salvador- 108.8 intentional homicides per 100,000
- Honduras- 63.8
- Venezuela- 57.2
The US rate is 4.9, putting it way down the list at #94 (out of 219).
Even if we count the absolute number of homicides instead of homicide rate, the US still isn’t 3rd. In absolute numbers, the top 3 countries are:
- Brazil- 55,574
- India- 41,623
- Mexico- 20,762
The US is number 8, with 15,696 homicides in 2015.
Comparison Excluding the Major Cities
The claim of having the 3rd most murders isn’t true, but let’s examine the claim that the US would improve to 4th from the bottom if we excluded Chicago, Detroit, Washington D.C. and New Orleans. Statistics below are shown for 2015 (and 2016 for reference).
- Chicago- 468 homicides in 2015 (762 in 2016)
- Detroit- 295 in 2015 (302 in 2016)
- Washington, D.C.- 162 in 2015 (135 in 2016)
- New Orleans- 164 in 2015 (175 in 2016)
- Total- 1,089 in 2015 (1,374 in 2016)
This means the number of US homicides would be knocked down from 15,696 in 2015, to 14,607 without these cities. Incidentally, this would not budge the US’s ranking for absolute number of murders, as #9 is Pakistan, with 13,846. But, what does it do to the more important metric of homicide rate?
To figure that out, we must also subtract the population of these cities from the US total. The Census Bureau projected a population of 320 million in 2015. Chicago’s population in 2015 was 2.7 million, Detroit was 677,000, Washington D.C was 672,000 and New Orleans 390,000. This totals about 4.4 million people, so our new US population sans these murderous cities is 315.6 million.
With these new numbers, the homicide rate for the US would fall from 4.9 per 100,000 to 4.6. While this would improve its ranking, it only moves the US up 4 places to #98th. Still a long ways away from 4th from the bottom, considering there’s 219 countries on the list.
What If We Add Other Cities High in Murders?
To give this meme more benefit of the doubt, let’s add a few more cities often touted as troublesome. Baltimore had 344 murders in 2015, St. Louis had 188 and Oakland had 93. Eliminating these would drop the US murder number to 13,982, still not enough to move Pakistan out of 9th place on the absolute tally. Their populations (621,000, 316,000 and 418,000 respectively) subtract another 1.4 million people, giving the US a hypothetical homicide rate of 4.4 without these 7 cities. This would drop us another two spots to #100 on the list, still not even in the bottom half yet.
Perhaps, if we continued to take out all the major metropolitan areas, we’d see the US homicide rate drop substantially, but that’s where the people live! Over 80% of the US population lives in urban areas, so it would be disingenuous to remove those when reporting US murder statistics. We’d also have to do this for other countries to be fair, as they have large cities, too. Considering that many of the places with the highest murder rates in the US are rural (Coahoma County, MS is #2 with only 25,000 residents, and Phillips County, AR is #3 with just 22,000) the outcome probably wouldn’t change much.
Both of this meme’s central claims are wrong no matter how the data is looked at. The US is nowhere near 3rd in murders, even in absolute numbers, nor would it be anywhere close to the lowest murder-prone countries if we excluded the 4 cities they cite. While it’s true that certain cities have much higher homicide rates that drag the US down in the statistics, it’s not as much as some might believe. There could be a valid argument showing that the stricter gun control in these cities doesn’t work considering their high homicide rates, but it’s wishful thinking to pretend that throwing out a few bad cities noticeably improves the US murder statistics.