Nearly half of black males, age 15 to 19, who died in 1988 were killed with guns, according to a government report released Thursday.
Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan called the figures "appalling and heartrending.""As a black man and a father of three, this really shakes me to the core of my being," Sullivan said Wednesday night, addressing the Black Family Conference at Hampton University in Hampton, Va. "Do you realize that the leading killer of young black males is young black males?"
The report did not indicate how many young black males were shot by young black males.
The report showed 48 percent of the black males age 15 to 19 who died in 1988 were killed with guns, compared to 18 percent for white males.
Gun-related deaths of teenagers rose more than 40 percent from 1984 to 1988, according to the study by the National Center for Health Statistics. In one year alone, from 1987 to 1988, the rate jumped 20 percent.
The report also showed that black teenagers were 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun than white teenagers. For black teens, the firearm death rate more than doubled from 1984 to 1988, and jumped 38 percent in one year alone, from 1987 to 1988.
Among all races, one in five of the deaths in 1988 of young people, age 15 to 24, was caused by a firearm, and more male teenagers died from gunfire that year than from all natural causes.
"During every 100 hours on our streets, we lose more young men than were killed in 100 hours of ground war in the Persian Gulf," Sullivan said.
"Where are the yellow ribbons of hope and remembrance for our youth dying in the streets? This is a war against ourselves, and it is devastating our communities," he said.
Firearm-related deaths among young males have increased rapidly between 1984 and 1988. For teens, the rate jumped by more than 40 percent over the period, and it rose 20 percent from 1987 to 1988, reaching the highest level ever, 17.7 per 100,000, the report said.
The report used statistics for 1988 because that is the most recent year for which figures are available.
In that year, 17,249 firearm deaths occurred among people ages 1 through 34, 15 percent of all deaths in that age group. More than 16,500 of the gun-related deaths were among those age 15 to 34. Homicide was the cause of more than half, while suicide accounted for about 40 percent, the report said.
In his speech to the Hampton audience, Sullivan pointed to the center's new report in repeating his frequent call for a return to a "culture of character."
This, he said, means "a culture in which parents invest time and attention in their children, and the children of their neighborhood. A culture in which children growing up without a father are a small minority, not the majority. And a culture in which neighbors become actively involved in making their neighborhoods a safe haven for children."
"Lasting solutions to the problems of the black community will be found within the black community and will involve revitalization of the spirit of family and community," Sullivan said.