Homicide rates are hitting decades-long highs in many of the largest cities across the United States as local officials struggle with the fallout of a pandemic and massive anti-police protests.
Homicide rates have increased by double-digits in 36 of the 50 biggest U.S. cities, according to The Wall Street Journal. The spike in killings comes as other forms of violent crime, such as robberies and rapes, are appearing to decrease.
Law enforcement and crime experts say that the rise in homicides is being driven by a mix of factors related to the coronavirus pandemic as well as rising anti-police sentiment that is undermining trust in American law enforcement, WSJ reports.
The pandemic has forced closed many of the social institutions that normally intervene in the lives of potential attackers before they resort to crime. Schools turned students loose in March after the outbreak of the coronavirus and many activities that would normally occupy youth during the summer, such as summer camps or vacations, have been canceled. Churches stopped gathering for months and many still have not reconvened, either barred by government regulations or unable to because of the risk of the virus.
As most communities remain distant because of the pandemic, bored and unemployed youth are connecting with gangs, which is leading to more violence as gang members war over neighborhoods and carry out revenge killings.
“Gangs are built around structure and lack thereof,” Fresno police department spokesman Jeff La Blue told WSJ. “With schools being closed and a lot of different businesses being closed, the people that normally would have been involved in positive structures in their lives aren’t there.”
Chicago police say gang violence lead to at least 15 people injured during a July 21 shootout at the funeral for a young man and gang member. At least 60 shell casings were recovered from the scene after a group of men opened fire on people gathered for the funeral and some in the crowd fired back.
Aside from the pandemic, a wave of protests against police brutality has driven a secondary wave of anti-police sentiment as activists push local officials to defund and abolish police departments. The death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis spurred massive protests across the United States. Floyd died in police custody after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
In Minneapolis, the city council has pledged to completely defund its police department while in cities such as New York City and Los Angeles, local officials have promised to make significant cuts into police budgets and redirect that funding toward social programs targeting low-income and minority communities.
President Donald Trump has authorized an influx of federal agents into American cities such as Detroit, Albuquerque, and Milwaukee to crack down on violent crime and protect federal property. The effort, dubbed Operation LeGend after a boy killed in Kansas City, has made some progress arresting suspects of violent crime though local officials are generally defiant over the federal intervention.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot in Chicago, which is leading the country in the number of homicides this year, said the federal agents operating her city is a “recipe for disaster.”
“Well, I have said it before and I will say it again, no troops, no agents that are coming in outside of our knowledge, notification, and control that are violating people’s constitutional rights,” Lightfoot said in an interview late last month. “That’s the — that’s the framework. We can’t just allow anyone to come into Chicago, play police in our streets, in our neighborhoods, when they don’t know the first thing about our city. That’s a recipe for disaster.”