The Grim Sleeper serial murderer's victim scorecard is beyond grim. Lonnie David Franklin, Jr. convicted recently of murdering nearly a dozen women may have murdered at least 25 women in a killing spree that stretched at least from 1985 to 2007. There are lots of theories from police, prosecutors, and media observers as to why he got away with murder for so long. But the one fact about his long term killing spree that repeatedly jumps out is that his targets were mostly poor women. Some were prostitutes, others drug addicted or with petty criminal records. But all, or nearly all were black.
During the early years of his murder rampage, there was the standard charge that police foot dragged in catching the killer precisely because the victims were poor black women. Critics said then that if the Grim Sleeper's victims had been middle class white women, police and city officials would have pulled out all stops to catch the killer. This is not the first time serial killings of poor black women have brought loud shouts of a racial double standard in how police deal with them. The double standard charge has been made against police in serial killings in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, and in the Washington D.C. area. More than a decade ago community groups in East St. Louis were outraged when they learned that city officials turned down offers from the FBI to help in nabbing a serial killer suspected of killing 13 women during a two-year span. Red faced city officials back pedaled fast and accepted FBI help.
It's not just the race of the victims that have stirred rage. It's also the race of the killers. In Los Angeles and the other big cities, the serial killers have been black. This blows the myth that serial killers are mostly young white males. About one out of five of serial killers are black males. But black on black homicides always fuels suspicion that police take these crimes less seriously.
Police and prosecutors bristle at the charge that they are less diligent when it comes to nailing serial killers who kill blacks than whites. In Los Angeles, police officials pleaded that they were under staffed, lacked the resources, and technology to make a swift arrest when the killings began their years ago. There's truth to that. In the past decade, there's been a tremendous advance in the use of computer matches, and forensic and DNA testing. This has helped police quickly zero in on likely suspects. During the tenures of LAPD Chief Bernard Parks and William Bratton, police went further and set-up special task forces to track down the killer. Yet, it's also true that the serial killer's victims in inner city neighborhoods are not the type of women who reflexively ignite police and public outrage. There are reasons, troubling reasons, for this.
The long running Grim Sleeper killing saga underscores the great threat of murder and criminal violence to many black women. Homicide ranks as a major cause of death for young black females. A black woman is more likely to be raped and assaulted than a white woman. While the media at times magnifies and sensationalizes crimes by black men against white women, it ignores or downplays crimes against black women.
Then there's the drug menace. Nearly half of the women behind bars in America are there for drug-related offenses, the majority are black. Some of the suspected serial murder victims in Los Angeles had a rap sheet for drug use. They easily fit the popular public and media profile of the drugged-out, derelict black woman.
There's also the notion that these women are dangerous women. The police slayings of black women in some cities, the upswing in violent crimes by women, and Hollywood films that show black women as swaggering, trash talking, gun-toting, and vengeful stoke public jitters about these women. One in four women is now imprisoned for violent crimes, and half of them are black.
According to annual reports from the Sentencing Project on crime and imprisonment in America, for the first time in American history black women in some states are imprisoned at nearly the same rate as white men. They are being jailed at even younger ages than ever. American Bar Association studies have found that teen girls account for more than one-quarter of the juvenile arrests, are committing more violent crimes, and are slapped back into detention centers after release faster than boys. Black girls were arrested and jailed in far greater numbers than white girls.
The crusade to catch and put the Grim Sleeper behind bars for good certainly made the public much more aware of the peril that many black women face on the streets; and part of that peril is the possibility of being the victim of a serial killer. That made police even more determined to nail their killer.
Unfortunately, it took an ugly and embarrassing media spotlight on the gruesome serial killings in Los Angeles to heighten police and public awareness that serial killers come in all colors, and more often than not their victims are poor, black women. Let's hope the conviction and harsh penalty that the Grim Sleeper almost certainly will get and deserves will permanently drive home that peril.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is From Sanders to Trump: A Guide to the 2016 Presidential Primary Battles (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Saturdays 9:00 AM on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network