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There was a 5% increase in homicides in 2021 compared with 2020 and a 44% increase compared with 2019, according to an analysis of 22 US cities by the Council on Criminal Justice.
A separate CNN analysis of police department data also found an increase in 2021: “More than two-thirds of the country’s 40 most populous cities saw more homicides last year than in 2020 … Ten of those cities recorded more homicides in 2021 than any other year on record.”
The rising homicide rate will feed into a national narrative of rising crime that has included recent outbreaks of police shootings and carjackings.
Crime, however, is a very local issue, as the CCJ data makes clear. Some cities saw murder rates rise in 2021, such as:
- St. Petersburg, Florida — 108% increase.
- Austin, Texas — 86% increase.
- Los Angeles and Philadelphia — 13% increase each.
- Baltimore — 1% increase.
Other cities saw their murder rates fall, such as:
- Seattle — 25% decrease.
- Omaha — 24% decrease.
- Phoenix — 6% decrease.
- Nashville — 5% decrease.
Despite the recent rise, homicide rates are still far below their levels in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Congresswoman’s car struck by gunfire. Anecdotally, there is evidence of violence reaching every type of American — including elected officials.
In a statement on Twitter, Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri acknowledged her vehicle was struck by gunfire in the St. Louis area. Bush, who has been a leader in the effort to spend less money on policing and more on social services, talked about a holistic approach to addressing violence.
She was not in the car and noted no one was harmed, but that “any act of gun violence shakes your soul.” She added: “That’s why our movement is working to invest in our communities, eradicate the root causes of gun violence, and keep everyone safe.”
Focusing on violence and police reform. Many US cities are in a very different place politically than they were two years ago, after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota led to calls for police reform at the national level. An effort to enact nationwide policing reform, named for Floyd, stalled in Congress.
Today, there is much more focus on crime rates and gun violence.
A top Justice Department official, Lisa Monaco, told CNN’s Evan Perez and Tierney Sneed the Biden administration will still move to address both safety and policing.
“This is not an either/or,” Monaco told CNN in an exclusive interview Tuesday. “We have got to do both.”
Perez and Sneed wrote: “The department, under President Joe Biden, has doubled down on investigations into allegations of discriminatory policing after the Trump administration scaled back that work. But the Biden administration has also bolstered the resources the department’s offered law enforcement, with the department making $1.6 billion in grants available last year for policing programs aimed at reducing violent crime.”
Politics of crime and violence. Republicans are likely to say there’s a crime problem. Democrats are likely to say there’s a gun problem. Regardless, a surge in violent incidents is fast becoming a major political issue, particularly when Democrats are already in danger of losing their House majority in the November midterm elections.
There is also cause for concern about a very specific kind of crime that drives politics: attacks on police.
CNN’s Emma Tucker and Priya Krishnakumar wrote:
“According to preliminary year-end data provided to CNN by the FBI, 73 officers died in felonious killings in the line of duty in 2021. The year marks the highest total recorded by the agency since 1995, excluding the 9/11 attacks.”
Shootings are far from the top cause of death among police officers — 336 line-of-duty police officers died from Covid-19 in 2021, according to the story.
Where violence happens. There is a tendency to focus on murder rates in large US cities, like New York, Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, DC.
That misses a key element of the murder rate story, which has to do with guns.
A study published last week by the nonprofit group Everytown for Gun Safety found a direct correlation in states with weaker gun laws and higher rates of gun deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidental killings.
The organization, which advocates for stronger gun laws, gave a score to states based on their gun laws and compared those scores with the rate of gun deaths in 2020, using data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mississippi had the weakest gun laws, according to the group’s scoring, and the highest rate of gun deaths per 100,000 residents.
Massachusetts has some of the nation’s toughest gun laws and the second-lowest rate of gun deaths. See maps of the two sets of data.
On the ground in Jackson. CNN’s Krishnakumar and Peter Nickeas documented the toll of the gun violence problem in Jackson, Mississippi, at the end of 2021. It’s a city, and a state, where the homicide rate is far above the rest of the country.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba took them around the city.
“We see lifelong friends kill each other, we’ve seen a son kill his mother and sister, have seen crimes that are based on social determinants and an inability of people to be engaged in institutions in which they thrive,” he said.
The New York situation. Violence is also among the top issues facing New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat. He’s a former cop who promised to make the city safer, and weeks into the job, is facing high-profile violence — including a woman who was shoved off a subway platform, an officer killed in the line of duty and a baby shot in the Bronx.
CNN’s Greg Krieg told me via email these crimes are impossible to ignore, especially if you read the tabloids, where they’ve dominated the headlines:
Not to focus too heavily on “vibes,” here, but there’s also a really pervasive tension in the city. Fewer people are around because of office closures, which is an economic dud and has the effect of making folks feel less safe. Add to that a general sense of gloom and exhaustion over Covid — Omicron is receding, but it’s been a real blow to a city that was starting to get its feet back — and uncertainty over the present and future are palpable. A rash of violent, apparently random crime spices up an already nasty brew.
People look to the police and mayors to protect them. In New York, mayors get very little patience from the public. A key element of Adams’ plan to cut down on crime is to reinstate a controversial plainclothes officer unit.
More from Krieg:
The political dynamic to all this is that Adams’s signature thing — his only thing, many would argue — was a promise to restore both a reality and perception of public safety. He often calls it “the prerequisite to prosperity,” a way of marrying his law and order pitch with an economic one. But now he’s in the soup because, even though it’s only been 3.5 weeks, that core promise is on the line. And no single human, or mayor, can totally change the fundamentals of whatever’s causing what’s going on here. (The irony here being, of course, that his I Alone Can Fix It message during primary has put him in this corner… and even a visit from President Biden and the love of national Democrats won’t save him if his “blueprint” to stop the violence doesn’t deliver immediate results.)
A warning on Philadelphia. Former Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican, wrote for CNN that Democrats in Philadelphia and the rest of Pennsylvania must focus on safety as a key issue.
He rattled off a string of incidents involving his own family members encountering violence.
- “During the last six weeks of 2021, my son, who is a student at Temple University, was shaken down for money by three robbers at a north Philly gas station.
- My daughter, a fourth-year medical student at Thomas Jefferson University who spends a significant amount of time working at medical clinics serving indigent residents, was assaulted by a deranged woman within the shadow of City Hall.
- My niece, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, lives in a West Philly neighborhood where there have been numerous carjackings.”
Dent argued that unsafe neighborhoods are tied to economic issues, which can be exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“What’s worse than the political costs are the impacts on the lives of our fellow citizens who fear for their safety in their homes and neighborhoods. Crime drives residents who can afford to leave their homes, leaving behind more vulnerable people with more limited incomes. Poverty becomes more pervasive as disinvestment saps the strength of those left behind.”
Meanwhile, the top Republican in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, told a gathering at the US Conference of Mayors recently that safety is always key to elections, and it will be in 2022.
“Crime is going to be probably the biggest issue in any election,” McCarthy said. “It doesn’t matter, you want to feel safe, and it doesn’t matter what part of the city you are in. And this is really the core: You’ve got to feel safe. Your children have to feel safe.”