BATON ROUGE, La.—Police found Silas Gibbs Jr. early in the morning of March 3, slumped against the seat belt in a red Mus­tang, with blood streaming from his ears and mouth. He had been shot, allegedly by one of his closest friends.

Mr. Gibbs, 24 years old, is one of hun­dreds of young black men across the U.S. to die vio­lently in the past six months. Their deaths are over­shad­owed by tragedies like the mas­sacres at the Aurora, Colo., movie the­ater and the Sikh temple in Wis­consin, as well as the killing of 17-​​year-​​old Trayvon Martin in San­ford, Fla. The latter case prompted nation­wide outcry in part because of its racial aspect: Mr. Martin’s killer is white and His­panic, and Mr. Martin was black.

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