Murders increased in 2020 in cities across the United States


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The United States saw its biggest increase in a year of murders in 2020, according to new figures released by the FBI on Monday, with some cities hitting record highs.

Although major crimes have declined overall, 4,901 more murders were committed in 2020 over the previous year, the largest jump since the national records began in 1960. The significant increase in homicides has roughly coincided with the 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The high murder rate continued into 2021, although the pace slowed as the year progressed.

Globally, the death toll of about 21,500 people killed last year is still well below the record set during the violence of the early 1990s. Yet several cities – including Albuquerque, New Mexico; Memphis, Tennessee; Milwaukee; and Des Moines, Iowa – have the highest number of murders on record, according to the report.

There is no simple explanation for the large increase. A number of key factors are behind the violence, including the economic and social toll of the pandemic and a sharp increase in firearms purchases.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Chief Harold Medina of the Albuquerque Police Department. He cited COVID, fallout from social justice protests and other contributors. “There is not just one factor on which we can indicate why we are where we are,” he said.

The FBI report, which compiles the number of crimes reported by nearly 16,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, also showed that murders were more prevalent, occurring in all parts of the United States and not limited to big cities.

And the report showed that the use of firearms has become much more prevalent. About 77% of reported murders in 2020 were committed with a firearm, the highest share ever reported, up from 67% a decade ago, said Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based crime analyst. . Gun sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic, although experts have noted that it often takes years for legal gun sales to filter through the illegal gun market that afflicts people. cities like Chicago. Non-fatal shootings have also increased.

The wider geographic distribution of the murders differs from previous decades, Asher said. In 1990, New York and Los Angeles accounted for 13.8% of murders in the United States, up from 3.8% in 2020, he said.

Murders so far this year have increased by about 10% from 2020 in 87 cities for which current figures are available, Asher said. The FBI releases statistics for the previous year each year in September, so the 2021 figures are not yet fully available this year.

The pandemic has undoubtedly played a significant role, causing economic and mental stress, forcing people to stay together for longer periods of time and creating a climate of uncertainty and unease. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, businesses, and in some cases, homes because of the pandemic. The widespread sense of hopelessness has helped fuel social friction and crime. Many Americans have also experienced the trauma of losing loved ones.

“People are desperate and don’t have a lot of options, so they look to violence as a way to solve problems,” said Enrique Cardiel, community organizer and public health worker in the Albuquerque neighborhood with the greater number of murders in the city.

The pandemic has also meant that police departments have at times struggled with the number of quarantined officers, while the pandemic has hampered public services such as mental health counseling and simultaneously exacerbated related problems such as l ‘roaming.

“It’s a country where everyone is suffering from a little post-COVID traumatic syndrome, and don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Peter Winograd, professor at the University of New Mexico who works as a consultant for the Albuquerque Police Department. “It’s huge.”

The report also breaks down murder victims by race, ethnicity and gender, with 9,913 blacks killed in 2020, 7,029 whites, 497 of other races, and 315 of unknown race. There were 14,146 men killed and 3,573 women.

While various mid-sized cities were rocked by record numbers of homicides, some large cities, while posting high murder rates, were far behind their worst years.

New York City, for example, saw around 500 murders in 2020, up from 319 in 2019, but both numbers were far lower than the city’s worst year of 1990 when there were more than 2,200. Chicago recorded 771 murders last year, up from around 500 in 2019 and 939 in 1992, one of the city’s most violent years. There were 351 murders last year in Los Angeles, up from 258 in 2019; his record is 1,010 murders in 1980.

The protests that erupted after George Floyd’s murder were also a big factor, although experts differ on the reasons. Some argue that the police, under scrutiny and demoralized, have withdrawn from certain aspects of crime prevention. Others focused on the public, suggesting that diminished respect for the police has prompted more people to try to take justice into their own hands.

“Mistrust of the police, low morale among police officers, the fact that the police are less proactive because they legitimately fear being supported by their superiors” were contributing factors, according to Winograd.

Law enforcement officials, including Medina, also cited what they called the revolving prison door created by bail reform as a factor in increasing violence, although Critics of this hypothesis have noted that violent crime has also increased in places where these changes have not occurred.

Other factors are more constant. The combination of drugs, money and weapons, for example, has long been the trigger for violent deaths among young men.

“A lot of it really comes down to people stressed by poverty and mental health issues and addictions, and the resolution of a lot of these disputes with guns,” said Liz Thomson, who supervised homicide investigations for the Albuquerque Police Department.

Even before the pandemic, people seemed thornier, with minor disputes escalating into violent confrontations that ended in murder, law enforcement and other analysts noted. This trend has only deepened during the pandemic, they said, with personal insults seen among the most common motivations for the murder.

There have been two murders this year in Haskell, Oklahoma (population 2,000), the kind of small town that has rarely, if ever, been on the murder map in recent years. A man was stabbed to death in an argument over money, and a young woman was shot dead in a car.

“It’s not something we typically encounter,” Haskell Police Chief Michael Keene said of the eight-officer department.

Thefts were another common reason. And although domestic violence murders have declined slightly from recent years, they were still a factor.

In late May, southwest Albuquerque police were dispatched to a fake adobe house to discover that Lee Marco Cuellar had murdered his wife in an argument, strangling her to death with a sleeveless white T-shirt. .

Cuellar, 41, an ROTC instructor at a local college, told officers that after dinner with his wife – Rosalejandra Cisneros-Cuellar, 26, known as Ally – he became convinced she was a demon who would harm his family, so he had to kill her, according to the criminal complaint.

Murders tend to have the most devastating impact of all crimes and gain the most attention, but they are actually a small percentage of major crimes, a classification that includes rape, assault with a weapon, robbery and auto theft.

As people stayed at home much more during the pandemic, some categories such as burglaries fell in 2020, according to FBI figures. Overall, serious crime has declined by about 5%. The downward trend in overall crime began years before the pandemic.

With murders still high in 2021, but slowing down, it’s hard to predict how long the current wave of violent crime could last. Patterns of crime tend to be cyclical in nature.

FBI data shows that the gun violence that caused much of the outbreak is concentrated among a relatively small number of people in communities where retaliatory fire is more common. The pandemic has hampered both community outreach programs and law enforcement agencies that have helped bring killings and other violent crimes under control.

“It is these people and places, the impact of the pandemic on these people that matters most,” said Thomas Abt, senior researcher at the Council on Criminal Justice. “For the men most exposed to violence, living in poor communities of color, they were usually already under pressure, they were already under pressure, they were already marginalized and isolated, and the pandemic has dramatically exacerbated this. “

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