With 39 murders this year on its ravaged streets, this is the grim statistic that makes Camden, New Jersey one of America’s most deadly towns.
Last month, 27-year-old Robert Carstarphen was shot dead in an alley during a fight over drug dealing territory between members of the Bloods street gang. The following day, two more men were dead after a retaliation hit.
The deaths brought the total number of homicides for July to 13 – making the month the city’s worst since September 1949 when mass murderer Howard Unruh left the same number dead in a shooting spree.
Last year, there were 48 murders in Camden but a record of 58 homicides in 1995. Most of the murder victims this year were male, with the youngest a 16-year-old boy and the eldest a 42-year-old woman.Â
Camden was once a bustling industrial town but drugs and alcohol abuse now run rife in an area that is economically deprived – 44 per cent of residents live below the poverty line.
In the last decade, crack houses have sprung up amid the boarded-up factories and burned out houses. People live in fear of being robbed or shot as addicts roam the streets looking to fund their habit.
Most of the killings were gang members involved in drugs although there were innocent victims including a 39-year-old father of six who attempted to break up a fight.
According to the AroundPhilly blog on Yahoo, one resident said: ‘We don’t have any real policing in Camden. They’re just out here to pick up the bodies.’
Nearly half of the police force has been axed in recent years, leaving officers overworked and unable to chase down suspects in homicide investigations.
In the 39 murder cases, charges had been filed in 17, according to police. There were 103 shootings in total from January to July this year.
Members of the local clergy have been taking part in anti-violence walks on the streets to try to build relationships and ease tension among the disenfranchised and the vulnerable.
Young people were becoming swept up in the booming drug trade after being targeted by dealers as they face lighter sentences if caught.Â
Revered Heyward Wiggins III of Camden Bible Tabernacle told Philly.com: ‘Right now, we are going to funerals of a lot of victims of the violence in the city, but we would love to bring about an atmosphere where we don’t have to attend funerals.’