Gun Violence Spiking Across American Cities
A marked rise in shooting deaths is going largely unnoticed.
From New York to Los Angeles and Chicago to Atlanta, homicides are up markedly across the United States. But the confluence of a Presidential election, a pandemic, and massive protests has rendered this a virtual non-story in the major print media. (I don’t have much idea what’s on broadcast or cable news.)
It wouldn’t have caught my attention at all, except that Dave Schuler has been lamenting the spree in his own city of Chicago and a news aggregator pointed me to a New York Daily News story originally headlined “41 shot overnight in NYC with at least 4 dead in citywide explosion of gun violence” (the current headline is less inflammatory, despite the death toll increasing to six).
The front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post, both the two leading papers in the country and ones to which, unlike the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, I have subscriptions, are silent on the matter. The more propagandistic papers on the right and the Fox News website (and, one presumes, their cable programming) are covering it more, but I don’t trust their coverage.
CNN had story dated 1 July headlined “Gun violence surges in major American cities in the midst of a pandemic and a policing crisis.” After a lot of anecdotal coverage, it reports,
Over the weekend, more than 60 people were shot — 14 of them fatally — in 49 shooting incidents in the Windy City alone.
Chicago is among several major US cities experiencing a big spike in shootings and homicides so far this year. The increase in gun violence comes at a time when the heat is rising — literally and figuratively — on the streets, as cities reopen during a pandemic and mass anti-police brutality protests have led to law enforcement reforms and budget cuts.
In Philadelphia over the past weekend, seven people were shot in a span of three hours, according to CNN affiliate KYW-TV. One person was killed and two others critically wounded.
Shooting incidents in Philadelphia are up 57% from last year, the station reported, citing police records. Homicides, at 201 as of Monday, were up 24%
In Milwaukee, homicides have jumped 95% — to 82 — so far this year, according to police.
In the first week of June alone, the Los Angeles Police Department reported that homicides increased 250% compared to the previous week.
New York City has seen a 44% spike in shootings this year to 511, from 355 during the same period in 2019, according to the NYPD. There have been 176 murders, which is 23% higher than last year.
That’s a rather staggering pattern year-over-year. The reporting seems to imply that the spike has been brought on by a combination of warmer-than-usual weather and less policing. Absent substantial evidence, I’m incredibly skeptical on both counts.
The cops are definitely pushing that narrative, though:
Police blame the surge in gun violence on a combination of the early release of people from jail during the pandemic, the effects of a new state’s bail reform law and other factors.
“More people not in jail,” NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan told CNN. “Rikers Island (jail) in New York is empty. Between Covid, between bail reform, the protests caused animosity towards the police, which took us out of neighborhoods that needed us the most.”
Earlier this month, the NYPD disbanded its anti-crime unit, roughly 600 plainclothes officers whose aggressive tactics in fighting violent crime were often met with controversy.The NYPD said 272 uniformed officers filed for retirement between May 25 and June 23 — which Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch attributed to cops being at their “breaking point” during an anti-police climate. Last year, 183 officers had filed for retirement during that period.
“We are all asking the same question: How can we keep doing our job in this environment?” Lynch said in a statement.
This seems like self-serving nonsense. Aside from the woe-is-me whining, the notion that taking slightly more past-their-prime cops off the beat than usual during a narrow time frame has led to a 44 percent increase in homicides in the largest city in the country is, frankly, absurd.
Christopher Herrmann, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former NYPD analyst who focused on gun violence, said the week-to-week increases in New York shootings and homicides were unprecedented.
Herrmann said the numbers were due to people starting to emerge after months of coronavirus stay-at-home orders plus the warmer weather, when gun violence in larger cities tends to jump up to 30%.
Experts also noted the intense scrutiny of law enforcement and tensions with communities of color since Floyd’s death. The killing led to nationwide — and sometimes violent — protests, a wave of police reforms that included chokehold bans and a scaling back of law enforcement budgets in various cities.
That violent crime spikes in the summer is well-documented. But we have summer every year. Has this summer really been that much hotter than usual? I hadn’t noticed.
The combination of the frustrations and economic devastation of the pandemic—and the release after being cooped up for so long—strikes me as more plausible as an explanation.
I’m even sellable that the protests and even-more-strained-than-usual relations between the police and the community have led to more violence. Indeed, we’ve seen it. Presumably, this is the angle the right-leaning sites are pushing. But, surely, the impact on the overall homicide rate of that would be small.
Schuler attributes it to “stress,” without further explanation. And, certainly, these factors all fall within that explanation.
A follow-up report from last night breathlessly titled “Children are among the victims of July 4 weekend gun violence across the US” is completely anecdotal, providing no useful information about the overall phenomenon.
An April 29 report in The Trace (“Shootings Are a Glaring Exception to the Coronavirus Crime Drop“) collects and graphically examines data from several cities and explains,
Drawing broad conclusions from short timeframes and small quantities of data can be risky, and it will likely be months or years before we fully understand how the coronavirus has affected violent crime trends in America. But the unique characteristics of urban gun violence may help explain why shootings have continued in cities under lockdown as other crime fell away.
“With more people hanging around and available to each other, I would expect shootings to stay the same or go up,” said John Roman, an economist who studies crime patterns at the University of Chicago. “People are not in school, not at work and not in training and other things that take them away from their neighborhoods.”
The absence of bystanders — and police — who would ordinarily inhibit some acts of crime may also create space for gun violence to flare up.
“With more people indoors, it is probably less risky to commit premeditated acts of gun violence because there are fewer witnesses,” said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
Experts have also predicted an upswing in cases of domestic violence, much of which is committed with firearms. In a few cities, domestic violence, like gun violence, has fallen less than overall crime, an analysis by The Marshall Project found.
That’s interesting and plausible—and more nuanced than “stress.”
The report also contains this:
“This pandemic has not changed the behaviors of our most violent offenders,” said Kristen Metzger, a spokesperson for the D.C. police, in an email. “They continue to resolve disputes by shooting each other, even during the mayor’s stay-at-home order.”
While amusing, it’s circular. And doesn’t explain the drastic increase.
It’s worth noting, too, that Toronto—which is not experiencing inept management of the COVID pandemic, an election cycle, or massive protests over police violence—is also experiencing a spike in gun violence.
Additionally, while the new stressors are doubtless contributing to the problem, the rise was starting ahead of them. In researching this piece, I found a PBS report from October (in the beforetimes, when no one had heard of COVID-19 or George Floyd) titled “Gun deaths started to rise after more than a decade of being stable.”
The rate of gun deaths in the United States has experienced an uptick that started four years ago, a new study says — the first significant increase in these fatalities in 15 years.
Since 1999, the number of gun deaths held steady year after year — at 10.4 firearm fatalities per 100,000 people. But in 2015, the rate began creeping up nationwide to 11.8 deaths per 100,00 people-marking a 13.8-percent increase.
According to an analysis of death certificate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published Monday in the journal Health Affairs, more than 610,000 people died in the U.S. as the result of a firearm between 1999 and 2017-the most recent year available. There were more than 114,600 firearm deaths from 2015 to 2017 — accounting for nearly a quarter of all gun-related deaths since 1999. Almost 59 percent of those deaths were determined to be suicides, while another nearly 39 percent were tied to homicides.
The why is not explained. And it would be more useful for our purposes to disaggregate suicides and homicides.