COLUMBIA — Bryan and Laura Rankin treasure small memorials to Bryan "Phatman" Rankin Jr.: a photo collage in the living room, embroidered Cardinals hats in the closet and the black ink tributes to him tattooed on their forearms.
Rankin’s father, Bryan Rankin Sr., guards his son’s clothing and drum kit as if the 17-year-old will come back for them any minute.
In Columbia, according to a Missourian analysis of Columbia Police Department data:
- There were 20 total homicides from 2007 to 2012.
- 17 (85%) were male; 13 (65%) of whom were black males. (No black females were murdered.)
- The average age of black male homicide victims was 25.
Across Missouri, according to an analysis of the most recently available FBI crime statistics (2009) by the national nonprofit, The Violence Policy Center:
- There were 239 black victims of homicides in 2009.
- Missouri’s black homicide rate was 34.72 per 100,000 population, the highest in the nation and above the national homicide rate.
- 206 (86%) were male.
- The average age of all black homicide victims was 28.
“I’m keeping all his stuff like he’s still living,” Rankin said.
Rankin Jr.'s death April 7 still baffles his parents, who find themselves revisiting the details of what happened the night he was shot in the stomach outside a party on West Sugar Tree Lane.
The fatal shooting falls into a broader statistical trend in Columbia, and across the state of Missouri, where black males have fallen victim to homicide at higher rates than any other group. In Columbia, 0f 20 homicide victims in the past five years, 65 percent of them were black males.
Missouri has the highest rate of black homicide in the U.S. per 100,000 population, and across the country blacks are murdered at a significantly higher rate than the national average, according to an analysis of 2009 FBI crime statistics by the national nonprofit, The Violence Policy Center. The 2009 FBI numbers were the most recently available at the time the nonprofit analysis was released earlier this year.
Guns were the most commonly used weapon in black homicides in Missouri and Columbia, according to the analyses by the Missourian and the Violence Policy Center.
At least 75 percent of homicide victims in Columbia over the past five years were killed with guns. The cause of death was unknown in two cases.
In that time 84.6 percent, or all but two black homicide victims in Columbia, were killed with guns. In Missouri in 2009, guns were used to shoot and kill 87 percent of black homicide victims.
Rankin Jr. is identified in police statistics as black, but he thought of himself as being both black and white because he is mixed-race, his father said.
Rankin always warned his son about hanging around the wrong crowd, specifically black friends. He remembered the fights that would break out at parties of black people when he was growing up and warned his son to stay away.
"My black people make us look bad, and they make us look bad by doing the stupid stuff they do,” Rankin said.
Rankin blames "stupidity" for the high number of young black male deaths — the "stupidity" of young adults with nothing to do who get their hands on a gun.
Laura Rankin, mother of Rankin Jr., said young people don't understand the gravity of killing another person. She said, especially if there is just one parent at home, young adults could fall into the trap of emulating older people engaged in "immoral activities."
“They have the wrong idea of what a role model should be," she said.
The Columbia Community Non-Violence Initiative was founded in the wake of this year’s murders to address what organizers see as a broader challenge.
“The problem isn't African-American males,” spokesman Jonathan Lowe said, “The problem is that lives are being taken, and we want to do our best to curtail that.”
Lowe said a number of factors contribute to the violence: potential drug activity, “agitated individuals who hold grudges” and “idle time.” The initiative believes a lot of the violence would stop if young men and women of any age and race were occupied by school or work, Lowe said.
Across the nation in 2009, the total number of homicides dropped 7 percent compared to the previous year, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Preliminary analysis of last year's national FBI data shows homicides are down 1.9* percent.
The Rankins moved to Columbia in 2007 from Davenport, Iowa, for jobs, and expected a safe and peaceful city in which to raise their family.
“It was great at first,” Rankin said, “I never thought I’d bring my son here to die.”
The Rankins now live down a gravel road and across from a field of hay in Fulton, away from the "riff-raff" of Columbia. Bryan Rankin Jr.’s ashes fill a 20-pound etched-metal urn that rests on the fireplace mantle.
“I wish I had more time with him,” Rankin said. “Death is so final.”
A suspect in the shooting of Bryan Rankin Jr. will appear for a hearing at 9 a.m. Aug. 23 in Boone County Circuit Court to determine whether he will be prosecuted as an adult.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.