The spike in murders in metropolitan areas throughout the nation in 2020 was among the more predictable outcomes for the year. Still, the magnitude of the increase seemed to surprise some. It broke a record for the United States, not for total murders, but for a one-year increase. Homicides rose in the U.S. by nearly 30% over 2019. Major crime overall went down, but there were nearly 5000 more homicides in 2020 than in 2019 and the upward trend is continuing into 2021, albeit at a slightly lower rate. Aggravated assaults increased by 12% in 2020.
Most of the murders involved guns and, according to FBI data, much of the gun violence occurred in areas where gang shootings are common. There were more Black victims (9,913) than White (7,029) and most were shot by other Blacks, not by White police officers. Nearly three quarters of the victims were males.New York City had about 500 murders in 2020 compared with 319 in the previous year, an increase of 56%. Chicago’s total climbed from about 500 to 771, an increase of 54% and Los Angeles had 351 homicides, up from 257 for a 37% jump. Even relatively peaceful San Diego, with the lowest murder rate among the nation’s ten most populous cities, had a 10% increase, although county-wide it was 35%.
Major crime overall, including burglaries, continued to drop, in the case of burglaries, most likely because more people spent more time at home because of pandemic restrictions but also possibly because more prospective burglars realized that a majority of residents now were armed. A burglar’s biggest nightmare is being confronted by an armed and frightened resident with a nervous finger on the trigger. The continued decrease in the overall major crime rate is of little comfort, of course, to those who fear becoming a statistic in the rapidly-rising murder rate or losing a loved one to a murderer. Violent crime overall rose 5.6% nationwide in 2020 from the previous year.
The possible reasons for the increase in murders and other violent crimes are several but their ranking in importance probably depends a lot on one’s political and social perspectives. Pandemic restrictions caused families to spend more time cooped up together, sometimes causing stress, anxiety and arguments that turned violent. So did loss of jobs, businesses and other sources of income. So did growing anger over government policies and mandates. Some sources cited these factors as reasons for the spike in violent crime and they probably did contribute.
More people bought guns and a majority of households now have one or more. Some states permit open carry and certainly guns have become more accessible. Still, municipalities that have the most stringent gun control laws are among those having the highest murder rates. Some data purport to show that that a gun maintained in a residence is more likely to be used against a family member or for suicide than in self-defense but gun ownership is clearly on the rise because of decreased confidence on the part of the public in the ability of the police to protect them.
Another likely reason for the spike in the murder rate is simply a diminished respect for the law and law enforcement and the realization that, with a reduced police presence and limitations on officers’ ability to use deadly force, they are more likely to get away, literally, with murder and other crimes. The reduced police presence and restrictions on policing techniques were a result of the murder of George Floyd and the public outrage that followed. Police budgets in some cities were drastically reduced or even eliminated and calls for defunding and repurposing police departments resulted in plummeting morale and waves of early retirements and resignations, increasing the costs of training and recruiting and some frantic efforts to rehire officers when crime subsequently surged and riots broke out after some rallies protesting police brutality resulted in arson, assaults, looting and attacks on police and police stations. Prosecutors eliminated bail requirements for criminals and thousands were released from confinement because of Covid concerns.
Disregard for laws and disrespect for those charged with enforcing them seems epidemic. Drivers ignore speed limits imperiling others, knowing that police are unlikely to risk high speed chases after them. Shoplifters steal with little fear of being caught, knowing that store owners probably won’t risk a confrontation. Road rage is a growing epidemic. So are assaults on flight crews by passengers angry with restrictions. With so much anger and rage being acted out and so little respect being shown for those who risk their lives to protect us, is it any wonder that violent crime is increasing?
The justifiable outrage over the murder of George Floyd by a policeman unfortunately led to an unjustified overreaction that turned a large segment of the public against the police, resulting in numerous attacks on police, lessening their effectiveness and reducing their ability or willingness to act more assertively to protect the public from violent and dangerous persons. The spike in violent crime was an entirely predictable outcome of these things. The overreaction, far from accomplishing its stated purpose, instead put the public at greater risk, especially minorities who constitute an outsized share of the victims. It diminished public support for the BLM movement. It did not reduce the cost of policing but rather increased it as municipalities act to restore some of the damage caused by defunding as violent crime soars. The trend will not be reversed by simply restoring the cuts to police budgets. It will require the restoration of public respect for the police themselves and it begins with parents instilling that respect in their children at an early age.