From “Murder Capital” to National Model: A Mixed-Methods Study of Gun Violence Dynamics in Richmond, California
- Author(s): Barragan, Melissa
- Advisor(s): Reiter, Keramet
- Tita, George
- et al.
Up until the late 2000s, Richmond was considered one of the most violent cities in the nation. However, over the last ten years, the city has reduced its homicide rate by nearly seventy percent. Integrating ethnography and historical description with longitudinal crime analysis, this dissertation traces Richmond’s transformation by examining the local-level conditions and processes have shaped violence dynamics in the city since the turn of the century.
Considering first the role of community structure, quantitative analyses suggest that racial/ethnic change, and Black population loss in particular, was the strongest predictor of gun violence patterns in the city pre-homicide decline (2003-2009), whereas young adult population change was the strongest predictor of gun violence patterns in the city post-decline (2009-2017). Given that Black population loss also emerged as a leading explanation within my interviews, I leveraged my qualitative data to unpack why this specific form of racial/ethnic transition is related to gun violence patterns in the city. In addition to identifying three sources for displacement that have unduly impacted Richmond’s Black community – including housing access and affordability, intensified law enforcement pressure, and exposure to gun victimization – my findings indicate that these processes matter for gun violence insofar as they reconfigure the group-based, place-based, and/or kinship-based networks that can either trigger or prevent gun violence. However, contrary to theoretical assumptions, further analyses reveal that these social and demographic shifts have not entirely undermined informal social control processes. Since the mid-2000s, the city has built a robust network of community-based strategies that aim to reduce gun violence via social service provision and community capacity-building. By documenting the nature and development of this network, I argue that the city may have minimized the crime-inducing consequences of continued Black displacement and residential instability in the 2010s because residents and local leaders were able to devise a variety informal crime control strategies that did not rely upon traditional forms of within-neighborhood or within-group engagement. The theoretical and policy implications of my findings are discussed, specifically as they relate to collective efficacy development, racialized displacement, and community-based gun violence prevention in urban cities.