When Andre Avery drives his commercial truck through Detroit, he keeps his gun close by.
Avery, 57, grew up in Motor City and is aware that homicides and shootings are on the rise, although before the pandemic they were on the decline in Detroit and elsewhere. Your gun is legal and you carry it with you to protect yourself.
“I’m extremely vigilant,” said Avery, who now lives in nearby Belleville. “I’m not in crowds. If something seems a little fishy, I’m off.”
In Detroit, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and even smaller Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Milwaukee, 2020 has been deadly not just because of the pandemic, but because gun violence is on the rise.
Authorities and some experts say there is no clear reason for the increase. Instead, they point to the social and economic turmoil 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 factors. taxpayers. It is happening in cities large and small, led by Democrats and Republicans.
But with just a few days to go to 2020, homicides have already surpassed 300, while non-fatal shootings rose more than 50 percent to more than 1,124 through mid-December.
“I believe that the pandemic, COVID, has had a significant emotional impact on people across the country,” said Detroit Police Chief James Craig. “Individuals are not processing the way they handle disputes. Be it domestic, arguing, drug disputes, there is this quickness to use an illegal firearm.”
As of mid-December, some 7,000 firearms had been seized in Detroit, with more than 5,500 arrests for illegal weapons. There were 2,797 similar arrests last year.
“I haven’t seen a peak like this. But when it’s happening in other cities, some smaller ones, what do we all have in common?” Mr. Craig said about the murders and shooting. “That’s when you start thinking about COVID.”
Washington, DC, a city of about 700,000 people, has seen more than 187 homicides this year, dwarfing last year’s total by more than 20. Among the most horrific: A 15-month-old baby was shot and killed in a gunshot.
“We are all fed up with the heinous crimes in our city,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser.
University of Pennsylvania economics professor David Abrams said crime began to rise in May and June when initial warrants were lifted in some states.
Some people “may have been a little crazy,” Abrams said. “In late May, the murder of George Floyd led to protests and looting. That led to movements for police reform. Any of that could have affected individual behavior and also the police response to that.”
Calls for some cities to cut funding for police departments may have led some officers to take a less aggressive approach to policing, he added.
“COVID has absolutely been the detonation of an eternal bomb that is exploding in many parts of our community,” he added.
Nowhere is that more true than within people’s homes. “The COVID crisis and economic shutdown are forcing people to live in their homes, creating conditions in which people are more volatile,” said Kim Foxx, chief prosecutor for Cook County, which includes Chicago. And the most jarring statistic illustrating that volatility is this: The number of home-related homicides in the nation’s third-largest city has risen more than 60 percent compared to last year.
President Donald Trump claimed that the rise in crime was somehow related to the massive protests over police brutality that hit the nation this year, but most of those protests were peaceful. Trump also claimed that crime was concentrated in cities controlled by Democrats, but there have also been spikes in cities controlled by Republicans. Federal agents and resources were invested in Detroit and other cities this summer to help local law enforcement control rising crime rates.
Even smaller cities like Grand Rapids are suffering. As of mid-December, there were 35 homicides compared to 16 in all of 2019 and nine the year before. From January to October, non-fatal shootings topped 200 in the city, which is home to about 200,000 people. During the same period last year there were 131 non-fatal shootings.
“This year, is it because of COVID? The political polarization we’ve seen?” asked the sergeant. Dan Adams, spokesman for the Grand Rapids Police Department. “This year has been a year like no other. I don’t think you can pinpoint any ‘why.’
“As we come to the end of this very difficult year and look forward to this New Year, we know that this type of violence must stop,” said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara.