The Wall Street Journal opinion writer and crime analyst Heather Mac Donald reports that, according to early numbers, it appears that the United States “saw the largest percentage increase in homicides” in its history, with murder rates rising an average of nearly 40% in 57 of the country’s largest cities.
“The local murder increases in 2020 were startling: 95% in Milwaukee, 78% in Louisville, Ky., 74% in Seattle, 72% in Minneapolis, 62% in New Orleans, and 58% in Atlanta, according to data compiled by crime analyst Jeff Asher. Dozens of children, overwhelmingly black, were killed in drive-by shootings,” Mac Donald writes on Tuesday. “They were slain in their beds, living rooms, and strollers. They were struck down at barbecues, in their yards, in malls, in their parents’ cars, and at birthday parties. Fifty-five children were killed in Chicago in 2020, 17 in St. Louis, and 11 in Philadelphia. In South Los Angeles alone, 40 children were shot, some non-lethally, through September.”
The trend pans out across the country, according to a number of local stories published in the closing weeks of 2020. The St. Louis, Missouri, homicide rate spiked the highest it has in half a century, according to St. Louis Today. Chicago had its single deadliest day since the mid-1960s back in May. And even in Texas, where Republicans control most positions of authority in state government, saw a statewide hike in the murder rate, according to local outlets.
Asher noted that nearly every city that has reported crime data from 2020 has seen an increase.
“Murder up 36.7% in 57 agencies with data through at least September (though most have data through November). Murder up in 51 of 57, 37 of 58 agencies reporting murder up more than 30%,” he posted to Twitter, adding that the worst increase previous to 2020 was in the mid-1990s when gang violence was at a zenith. “The largest national % increase ever reported (data since 1960) was 12.7% in 1968 and the largest # increase was 1,938 in 1990. A 15% increase this year (and I think it’ll be much larger) would mean 2,400 more murders & be the worst one year increase in murder ever recorded.”
Most outlets note a correlation between the end of the pandemic and the rise of crime. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said as much when attempting to explain the city’s unprecedented rise in crime late last year.
“It’s clearly related, in part, to the coronavirus and to the fact that people are cooped up,” de Blasio said. “And it’s certainly related to the fact that the criminal justice system is on pause and that’s causing a lot of problems.”
Mac Donald suggests that while the correlation cannot be understated — particularly given that pandemic-related lockdowns appear to have driven the largest rise in poverty in 50 years — there’s another trend that also correlates with the rise in crime: the rise of the “defund the police” movement, that while generally unsuccessful even in progressive cities like Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, had a dramatic effect on officer morale and cities’ willingness to put more officers on the streets to handle issues, leaving many crime-prone neighborhoods further exposed.
“Cops now face a poisonous environment. Since the summer, they have been shot in the head, firebombed, and assaulted with lethal projectiles. An officer providing first aid at a crime scene may be met with a hail of rocks and bottles. Resistance is now the norm. Officers believe they face a political and legal environment that is eager to sacrifice them in the name of racial justice,” Mac Donald says. “As a result,” she adds, “the calculus for engagement has changed.”
Some cities seem to be faring no better in 2021. Murders are down in Chicago, but carjackings have trended up, with the city on track to see nearly 2,000 carjacking incidents in 2021.