By a Biometrica staffer
This past weekend, Chicago police noted six shooting-related deaths and at least 39 injuries in the city over the four-day period beginning in the evening of Friday, Aug. 20, and ending early in the morning on Monday, Aug. 23. Waking up to a litany of violent crimes and gun deaths every Monday morning has become a weary routine and surprisingly commonplace for many.
The country, law enforcement, and elected officials have been grappling with a recent spike in gun-related offenses and violent crime, not all of which is attributable to the seasonal spike recorded every summer. The good news is that fresh research seems to suggest there has been a reduction in the rates of criminal offenses like robberies, residential burglaries, larceny, non-residential burglaries and drug offenses this year, compared to 2020.
However, a permanent reduction in such violent offenses is far from a reality, with that same study finding that although the growth in the homicide rate between the first and second quarter of 2021 slowed in comparison to the same time last year, the number of murders did actually still increase.
Much of the violence seems like it could be tied to easing of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, as well as the financial and general societal instability many Americans are currently experiencing, as a result of the pandemic.
In fact, a sharp, unexpected spike in homicide rates in Los Angeles, after almost a decade of record-low rates, can be chalked up to the pandemic, new data suggests. There have been 239 murders reported in the city so far this year (as of Aug. 14, compared to 355 in 2020 and 256 in 2019. In fact, the murder rate in 2019 was one of the lowest the city has ever seen in the last five decades.
The upward trend began last year, when the homicide rate rose 34% — the largest increase in the figure in five years — and data so far this year shows that has only continued.
Experts have chalked up this nationwide rise in killings to “psychological strain and economic hardship” that resulted from the pandemic, while law enforcement officials say it could also be due to a forced release of inmates from jails and prisons to reduce overcrowding.
Meanwhile, a new study released by a research team at Rutgers University–Camden found a link between high evacuation rates in some Philadelphia neighborhoods and high rates of crime, homicide, and burglary. Dan Semenza, the professor behind the study, which looked at the eleven-year period between 2006 and 2016, says that evictions cause financial and medical turmoil for families, and “often drives them into worse conditions than where they were living before.”
He added that destabilization caused by transience in a neighborhood affects the community at large, which in turn can drive up crime. Given the timeframe of the research, the study naturally did not consider Covid-19 and associated evictions, which Semenza said is likely to have had a compounding effect on the problem that his team had already noted before the pandemic hit.
He said, “With violent crime spiking in many cities, including Philadelphia, more evictions may cause further disruption on top of the already harmful effects of the pandemic.”
For context, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) instituted a federal moratorium nationwide on evictions last September,, to prevent overcrowding in public spaces and the spread of the virus. The policy expired on July 31, following which the Biden administration unilaterally renewed it until October, albeit while also limiting its applicability to areas deemed to have particularly high infection rates.
Now, the matter is before the Supreme Court once again, after the justices ruled 5–4 in June to reject a landlords group’s bid to strike it down. At the time, however, they indicated that Congress would have to pass legislation to extend the moratorium, something that has not yet happened.
As federal, state, local, and Tribal governments work to pass legislation to address the gun violence epidemic, more communities around the country are doing what they can to mitigate violence in their surroundings.
For instance, this past weekend, on Saturday, Aug. 21, organizers in Roanoke held a gun buyback event, during which they collected 91 unwanted firearms and handed out $14,000 in grocery gift cards in return. Nineteen of the firearms were handed over by their owners without a gift card exchange.
The collection included rifles, revolvers, shotguns, and semi-automatic pistols. The plan is for each of the catalogued weapons to be destroyed. The event was co-sponsored by a number of local non-profits, as well as the city police and the Roanoke Gun Violence Prevention Commission. There have been over 40 people wounded or killed by gun violence so far this year in Roanoke.
On the other hand, community organizers in Connecticut scored a landmark win when Governor Ned Lamont officially signed into law a bill that would allow Medicaid funds to be used in addressing gun violence and other such crimes. The new law will allow cash-strapped community-based violence prevention services to apply for and receive state and federal Medicaid funds. These programs are typically based in hospitals and involve trained experts and professionals intervening in the aftermath of shootings to interrupt and disrupt the cycle of violence and retaliation from escalating.
The state recently also passed another piece of legislation aimed at curbing gun violence that will allow family members or medical professionals to apply for a “risk warrant” or “risk protection order,” which would trigger off a law enforcement investigation into whether a given person in possession of a firearm or ammunition is a danger to themselves or others.
Biometrica has written extensively about the ongoing and worsening gun violence epidemic, ranging from the federal government’s initiatives targeting a reduction in such crimes and New York’s own plan, to bloody holiday weekends over the Fourth of July and the first-ever official Juneteenth celebration.