When Andre Avery drives his commercial truck through the Midwestern US city of Detroit, Michigan, he keeps his pistol handy.
Avery, 57, grew up in Motor City and is aware that homicides and shootings are on the increase, even though before the pandemic they were decreasing in Detroit and elsewhere. His weapon is legal and he carries it with him for protection.
“I remain extremely alert,” said Avery, who now lives in nearby Belleville. “I’m not in the crowds. If anything looks a little suspicious, I’m off to it.
In Detroit, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and even more in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Milwaukee, 2020 has been fatal not only because of the pandemic, but also because gun violence is on the rise.
Authorities and some experts say there is no clear reason for the spike. They rather point to the social and economic upheaval caused by COVID-19 virus, public sentiment towards police continued George floydthe death of Minneapolis Police custody and a historic shortage of jobs and resources in poorer communities as contributing factors. It happens in cities big and small, run by Democrats and Republicans.
Two years ago, Detroit had 261 homicides – the fewest in decades. The tally hovered around there with around 786 shootings for a city of over 672,000 people.
But with just a few days in 2020, homicides have already passed 300, while non-fatal shootings have increased by more than 50% to more than 1,124 through mid-December.
“I think the pandemic – COVID – has had a significant emotional impact on people across the country,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said. “People don’t deal with the way they deal with conflict. Whether it’s domestic workers, arguments, drug disputes, there is this speed to using an illegally transported gun.
About 7,000 firearms had been seized up to mid-December 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 happens in other cities – some smaller – what do we all have in common? Craig spoke of the murders and shootings. “This is when you start to think about COVID.”
Washington, DC, a city of about 700,000 people, has seen more than 187 homicides this year, eclipsing more than 20 last year’s total. Among the most gruesome: a 15-month-old baby boy was shot dead in a car shootout. .
“We are all sick of the heinous crimes committed in our city,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Crime in parts of the United States plummeted in the first weeks of the pandemic as stay-at-home orders shut down businesses and forced many to stay indoors.
David Abrams, a professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania, said crimes began to escalate in May and June when initial orders in some states were lifted.
Some people “maybe got a little bit crazy,” Abrams said. “At the end of May, the murder of George Floyd sparked protests and looting. This led to police reform movements. All of this could have potentially affected individual behavior and the police response to it. “
Calls to some cities to cut funding for policing may have led some officers to take a less aggressive approach to policing, he added.
What the coronavirus did exacerbated all the frustration and anger some members of black and brown communities were already facing, according to Carl Taylor, retired Michigan State University professor of sociology. The virus has killed more than 333,000 people across the country, with minority communities the hardest hit.
“COVID was absolutely the trigger for an eternal bomb that exploded in many parts of our community,” Taylor said.
Nowhere is this more true than inside houses. “The COVID crisis and the economic shutdown are forcing people to return home, creating conditions where people are more volatile,” said Kim Foxx, the Cook County attorney general, who includes Chicago. And the most shocking statistic that illustrates this volatility is this: The number of homicides related to domestic violence in the third largest city of the country has increased by more than 60% compared to last year.
President Donald Trump has claimed that the increase in crime is somehow linked to the massive protests against police brutality that have swept the country this year, but the majority of those protests were peaceful. Trump also claimed crime was concentrated in Democratic-ruled cities, but there had also been spikes in Republican-ruled cities. Federal agents and resources were invested in Detroit and a number of other cities earlier this year to help local authorities tackle rising crime rates.
By early October, more homicides – 363 – had been recorded in Philadelphia than the 356 committed in 2019. There had been 354 murders in New York until October 11 – 90 more than in the same period last year .
Between January 1 and November 5, 165 homicides were recorded in Milwaukee, the most since 1991. And in Chicago, after three years of declining homicides, the total skyrocketed to 739 in mid-December , compared to 475 at the same time last year.
Even smaller towns like Grand Rapids are suffering. As of mid-December, there had been 35 homicides compared to 16 throughout 2019 and nine the year before. From January to October, non-fatal shootings exceeded 200 in the city, which is home to around 200,000 people. During the same period last year, 131 non-fatal shootings took place.
“This year, is it because of COVID? The political polarization that we have seen? Asked Sgt Dan Adams, spokesperson for the Grand Rapids Police Department. “This year has been a year like no other. I don’t think you can name anybody, “why”. “
The same goes for other mid-sized cities. Last year there were 18 homicides in Rockford, a town of about 170,000 people in northern Illinois. More than 30 people have been killed so far this year, including three on Saturday at a bowling alley.
“As we come to the end of this most difficult year and look forward to the New Year on us, we know this type of violence must stop,” said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara.