From the Washington Post news section:
By Griff Witte and Mark Berman
June 22, 2021 at 5:00 a.m. PDT
The killings rolled over the country like a fast-moving storm. From Savannah to Austin, from Chicago to Cleveland. In six hours one night this month, four mass-shooting attacks. And in their wake, a sober recognition from city leaders that they don’t have many options left for curbing a surge in homicides that is traumatizing communities nationwide.
“We have done almost all we can do,” said Van Johnson, the mayor of Savannah, Ga.
The tools for fighting back are “limited” without state and federal help, said Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D).
“It’s going to get worse,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson (D) said.
As the homicide rate climbed through a year of pandemic-imposed shutdowns and civil unrest, officials held firm to their belief that the rise was driven by that exceptional set of circumstances. As life returned to normal, the theory went, the killings would slow.
But even as coronavirus restrictions have been lifted and protests have quieted in recent months, the violence has not subsided. Indeed, it has continued to grow. And now, local leaders are grappling with a possibility they had long feared: that a decades-long era of declining murder rates in America’s cities may be over, and that the increased killings may be here to stay.
“There’s nothing,” said Jackson, “that’s going to bring this down in the near future.”
Officials and criminal justice experts offer abundant reasons: A nation awash in guns, now more than ever. Deep mistrust between police departments and the communities they serve, particularly in high-poverty areas. The still-painful stresses caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. A cycle of violence that, once set in motion, is hard to break.
But not the media-declared “racial reckoning.” That couldn’t have exacerbated the murder problem. It just couldn’t.
“The thing about violence is that it builds on itself. It cascades,” Princeton sociologist Patrick Sharkey said. “Each shooting brings the possibility of a reprisal.”
While the causes may be known — or at least theorized
Just so long as nobody theorizes that Black Live Matter got a whole bunch of black lives murdered.
— the solutions are more contested.
Going back to what we were doing on May 24, 2020 is inconceivable because it would require a lot of experts to admit they were wrong.
Even now, there is widespread disagreement over why the homicide rate fell for so long.
Because murder is bad, so anti-murderists took a whole bunch of reasonable steps to reduce it? Because we used to believe that all lives mattered?
How to bring it back down has become a subject of vigorous debate, with the issue taking center stage in Tuesday’s New York mayoral primary and offering yet another flash point in the country’s partisan divide.
Democrats almost universally say tighter gun laws are needed to curb violent crime, along with investments in education and jobs programs to reduce historic inequities.
“Guns and poverty are the two outliers that we have compared to other countries,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D), whose city saw a near-doubling of homicide rates last year.
I can think of a third outlier.
“There are just guns everywhere.”
But new gun restrictions are a nonstarter in Washington, where Republicans have blocked repeated efforts, and in many GOP-controlled state legislatures the laws have been loosened this year.
Republicans — along with many police unions and some chiefs — say the real cause of the spike in killings has been an overzealous criminal justice reform movement that has devastated morale in departments and allowed too many criminals to go free.
“Nowhere do you see recognition that there are some people who cause incredible harm to the community and who unfortunately need to be in jail,” said Bill Bratton, a former police commissioner in New York, Los Angeles and Boston.
The argument that reforms are to blame for the increase in homicides doesn’t hold water, said the Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, a pastor and activist in Boston, which saw homicides rise last year but decline so far in 2021.
After all, what does Bill Bratton know about reducing crime?
“People don’t wake up and go, ‘You know what? I’m going to shoot you because of police reform,’ ” said White-Hammond, who is also the city’s top environmental official but spoke only in her capacity as a pastor and an activist. “If you know young people who are engaged in this world, they’re not emboldened because of police reform.”
They wake up and think: “Should I take my illegal handgun with me to the club? Are the cops likely to stop and search me? Or are they afraid I’ll go George Floyd on them and they’ll be all over the Internet in an hour so they are just going to drive on by?”
Putting reforms in place could lead to “a period of transition that’s tough” as officials figure out how to change things, she said. But the solution, White-Hammond said, “is to lean in and do the work to figure out how we’re going to shift, rather than being halfhearted and coming up with excuses to leave in place a system that doesn’t work, that takes people’s lives unnecessarily.”
“Is that what you’re saying?” she said of people linking reforms to the rise in killings. “We should just leave in place a broken system, because fixing it will be messy in the short term?”
Bratton, who helped pioneer the “broken windows” theory of policing in which even petty violations are punished to prevent more serious crime, had long posited that widespread urban violence could be kept at bay almost indefinitely.
By his own admission, the past year has proven him wrong.
… The violence has extended into the summer. In Philadelphia, homicides and shootings are both already ahead of last year. As of June 13, there were 238 homicides, up from 179 at the same point last year, along with more than 1,600 shootings, up from more than 1,300, according to police.
In New York, there were 181 slayings as of June 6, up from 162 on that date last year, police reported. And there were 687 shootings by that date, up from 409 a year earlier. Police in Los Angeles reported 148 homicides by last week, up from 121 over the same period in 2020.
But, keep in mind that the 2020 murder surge really only got into high gear around May 30 of last year, when Chicago had 18 murders in 24 hours during the George Floyd Memorial Pillaging. I don’t know whether murders are still increasing relative to the last seven months of 2020 or whether we’ve merely arrived at the Racial Reckoning’s New Normal.
… While some commentators have sought to link the increase in killings to the demonstrations that followed George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing push to cut police funding, Asher said there was no relationship between places with the heaviest protests and the largest increase in homicides.
Homicides and shootings were already up in several cities, including New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, among others, before Floyd’s death. Asher also found no connection between the increases in homicides and police funding, with little difference in the rise in bloodshed regardless of whether a city’s police budget rose or fell.
The increase is also not localized in big cities, but is extending to “cities of every size,” Asher said, including smaller communities.
But we know that the murder boom was focused on black neighborhoods. It’s almost as if last year blacks were encouraged to act out.
“Given how widespread it was, it suggests that there was a big national thing that drove it, or more likely, big national things that drove it,” Asher said.
I’m stumped as to what a big national thing related to crime and law enforcement there might have been last year.
Seriously, because the fact that the black minority makes up the majority of murderers in the U.S. is not news that’s fit to print, it’s hard for people to think productively about what the effect of Establishment rhetoric on the murder rate might be. In minds stuffed with approved ideas, there is no connection between how blacks are encouraged to behave and the national murder rate.
You know and I know that blacks were 55.9% of known murder offenders in 2019, so it’s not hard for us to conceive of the possibility that if blacks in 2020 are repeatedly lectured that the cops are the bad guys and they are the good guys, that that might have a big impact on the national murder rate. But many Americans don’t know this fact in the part of their brains that is devoted to thinking about controversies in the media (on the other hand, they do know it in the other part of their brain that thinks about real estate decisions and the like, but never the twain shall meet).
Experts and law enforcement officials alike point first to the flood of guns on American streets.
Gun sales swelled last year, particularly in the spring as the pandemic took hold and then in the summer after nationwide protests over racial injustice and policing, a Washington Post analysis previously found. That increase in people buying guns continued into the start of this year.
An increase in legal gun owners likely drives up the rate of completed suicides, but what percentage of murders are committed by the legal owners of rifles?
The sheer ubiquity of guns, said Bryanna Fox, an associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida and a former FBI special agent, “facilitates impulsive decision-making.”
“Somebody who would’ve been able to calm down, walk away and make a better choice 30 minutes later now has access to a gun and can use it in a very destructive way,” she said.
In other words, people with criminal records who can’t legally own a gun should be too scared of the cops to be packing heat, but during the racial reckoning, they stopped worrying as much about the cops stopping them and find their gun and sending them to prison.
… Barnes [in Madison] said the people committing acts of violence in his community are notably younger than in the past, and he said for these people, shootings are seen as a way to gain “instant credibility” among their peers.
In other words, the incremental shooters in Madison are … young black males.
One thing I’ve noticed although I don’t have the stats at hand is that (non-domestic) white murderers tend to be Hardened Criminals who started breaking bad many years ago and finally worked themselves up to murder, often in their 30s. In contrast, very young killers tend to be black (or sometimes Hispanic).
… That’s particularly true at a time when the legal system in many parts of the country remains inundated by prosecutions after the extended shutdown of the courts because of the pandemic.
Nancy O’Malley, district attorney in the California county that includes Oakland, said she has a 12,000-case backlog, with no realistic prospect of clearing it.
“We’re just dismissing because we know we won’t see a courtroom,” she said.
Those dismissals come after a year in which lawmakers prioritized keeping people out of jails so that overcrowded conditions did not exacerbate the spread of the virus.
True, but the Establishment also prioritized not arresting blacks for racial reckoning reasons.
With bail rules relaxed under emergency orders, people arrested on weapons and other charges were free to roam.
“There was basically no consequence,” O’Malley said. “We saw some people who were released for low-level crimes come back and commit higher-level crimes.”
Those included murder: Oakland had 102 homicides last year, up from 75 the year before. The pace of killings this year is even faster….
Sharkey, the sociologist, said neighborhood by neighborhood might be more like it. Police, he said, have had to step back after community outrage over brutal and racist tactics, with violent crime creeping into the void.
Police leaders say officers might be pulling back in some cases, fearing potential backlash or controversy, but other experts said they were skeptical that “de-policing” was leading to the rise in killings.
Still, the environment could change if community leaders and groups start to fill that space with mentorship and job programs, redesigns of empty lots and after-school activities for youngsters, Sharkey said. All are initiatives, he said, that have been proven to work in reducing crime.
“Police dominating by any means necessary is not sustainable,” Sharkey said. “We need a new model.”
Sorry, but the alternative to the state having a monopoly on violence is not after-school activities for youngsters, but nobody having a monopoly on violence and thus lots more violence.