There is a violent crisis bubbling under the surface of America’s pandemic.
In the first six months of 2020, murder rates have climbed noticeably in major cities across the US.
In Chicago, a city fabled for its gun crime, the month of July ended how it began – mourning the death of a child whose only mistake was venturing outside to play when someone armed with a gun came to the neighbourhood hunting for an enemy.
Recounting the tragedy of nine-year-old Janari Ricks, police this week released statistics which showed the month had been one of the deadliest in the history of the city.
From January 1 through the end of July, there were 440 homicides in Chicago and 2,240 people were shot. July was especially violent as the city recorded 105 homicides and 584 shootings.
That’s compared to 44 homicides and 308 shootings in July 2019.
Despite the increase in violent crime, overall crime, which includes violent crimes, burglaries and thefts, was down nine per cent compared to the same period last year. The decrease was driven by a 26 per cent decline in thefts and a 19 per cent decline in sexual assaults, police said.
A similar trend, albeit with varying degrees has been playing out in cities across the US which have seen a surge in gun violence this year.
In New York City, there have been 237 homicides in 2020 compared to 181 for the same period last year.
In Atlanta, the totals are lower but the surge is apparent: 76 homicides so far this year compared to 56 for the first seven months of 2019. Of this year’s total number of homicides, 23, or nearly a third, were recorded in July alone.
It has been a similar story in Boston. After recording 25 homicides in the first seven months of 2019, Boston had 35 during the same period this year. And 15 of those were during July.
Updated data on 23 big cities (250k+) with crime statistics available through June.— Jeff Asher (@Crimealytics) July 30, 2020
Murder is up a combined 23% in those cities, but overall crime is down 7.2% with violent crime down 2.2% and property crime down 8.8%. pic.twitter.com/AzxtGsO1cr
Children among the shooting victims
Just how many of the year’s victims are children is difficult to say. But every day headlines around the country tell story after story of children dying while doing nothing more than being children.
In Ohio, in little more than a week, a 14-year-old boy in Columbus died on July 25 when he was shot while riding a scooter, an infant was killed and his twin brother wounded when someone fired shots into their home on July 22. And on Sunday (local time) a one-year-old was killed in Akron and two adults wounded when someone opened fire on a home.
It was not immediately clear exactly how many children were homicide victims this year in Ohio, but in Columbus alone, the total stands at 13.
In Philadelphia, a seven-year-old shot in the head over the weekend during a shootout between three men in front of his home later died of his injuries. The boy was sitting on his porch when he was shot.
Theories over cause of growing gun violence
While the murder rates is still down compared to previous decades, it’s not entirely clear as to what’s driving the recent rise in gun violence and homicides in US cities, but it’s believed the coronavirus pandemic is a major factor.
So too could be defiant and disgruntled police unions in the wake of increasing scrutiny and criticism stemming from George Floyd protests. There have been numerous stories of officers pulling back from their duties in the face of greater community distrust in police officers, which could be leading to more unchecked violence.
Another potential factor is a large increase in gun purchases this year with sales of firearms surging in May and April as the novel coronavirus spread throughout the country. As the pandemic kicked off, videos posted online showed people queueing down the block to buy guns.
Others point to the bad economy brought on by the pandemic and subsequent shutdown, leaving economically insecure citizens with more time on their hands.
With the US one of the worst hit countries in the world to date, others suggest the more basic consequences of the pandemic such as boredom and social displacement as a result of the need for social distancing has led to people acting out.
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