In Detroit, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and even smaller Grand Rapids, Michigan and Milwaukee, 2020 has been deadly not only because of the pandemic, but because gun violence is spiking.
Authorities and some experts say there is no one clear-cut reason for the spike. They instead point to social and economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 virus, public sentiment toward police following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody and a historic shortage of jobs and resources in poorer communities as contributing factors. It’s happening in cities large and small, Democrat and Republican-led.
Two years ago, Detroit had 261 homicides — the fewest in decades. The tally has hovered around there with about 786 shootings for a city of more than 672,000.
But with only a few days left in 2020, homicides already have topped 300, while non-fatal shootings are up more than 50% at more than 1,124 through the middle of December.
“I think the pandemic — COVID — has had a significant emotional impact on people across the country,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said. “Individuals are not processing how they manage disputes. Whether domestics, arguments, disputes over drugs, there’s this quickness to use an illegally carried firearm.”
About 7,000 guns had been seized through mid-December in Detroit, with more than 5,500 arrests for illegal guns. There were 2,797 similar arrests last year.
“I’ve not seen a spike like this. But when it’s happening in other cities — some smaller — what do we all have in common?” Craig said of the slayings and shootings. “That’s when you start thinking about COVID.”
Crime in parts of the U.S. dropped during the early weeks of the pandemic when stay-at-home orders closed businesses and forced many people to remain indoors.
University of Pennsylvania economics professor David Abrams said crime began to spike in May and June when initial orders in some states were lifted.
Some people “may have been a little stir crazy,” Abrams said. “At the end of May, George Floyd’s killing led to protests and looting. That led to police reform movements. Any of that could have potentially affected individual behavior and also the police response to that.”
Nowhere is that more true than inside people’s homes. “The COVID crisis and the economic shutdown is forcing people into their homes, creating conditions where people are more volatile,” said Kim Foxx, the top prosecutor in Cook County, which includes Chicago. And the most jarring statistic that illustrates that volatility is this: The number of domestic-related homicides in the nation’s third-largest city are up more than 60% compared with last year.
President Donald Trump claimed spiking crime was related to massive protests over police brutality that swept the nation this year, but the majority of those protests were peaceful. Trump also claimed the crime was concentrated in Democratic-run cities, but there have been spikes in Republican-run cities as well. Federal agents and resources were poured into Detroit and a number of other cities this summer to help local authorities collar the rising crime rates.
There were 354 killings in New York through Oct. 11 — 90 more than at the same time last year.
Even smaller cities like Grand Rapids are suffering. By mid-December there were 35 homicides compared with 16 through all of 2019 and nine the year before. From this January to October, non-fatal shootings topped 200 in the city, which is home to about 200,000 people. Over the same period last year there were 131 non-fatal shootings.
“This year, is it because of COVID? The political polarization we have seen?” asked Sgt. Dan Adams, spokesman for the Grand Rapids Police Department. “This year has been a year like no other. I don’t think you can point to any one ‘why.'”
Reporting by the Associated Press.