Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Gun violence on the rise in some big cities

Gun violence has been rising lately in some of the biggest American cities. It’s happened in New YorkChicagoPhiladelphia and, perhaps most notably, Minneapolis, the scene of the brutal killing of George Floyd and the intense protests that followed, reported the New York Times.

The trend raises a question: Is it possible to change the nature of policing in the United States — and to make it less violent, as protesters are demanding — without unleashing other kinds of violence?

First, the crime increase is not just statistical noise. It’s real, even if there are sometimes multiple causes, depending on the city. “It is a pattern,” Sharkey said. “When there have been large-scale protests against police, it is pretty clear that some police have stopped doing their jobs, and that’s destabilizing.”
Before this year, the biggest examples were in 2015, in Baltimore and in Ferguson, Mo., where crime also rose after protests. “I worry this is going to be a violent summer in a lot of cities,” Sharkey added.

But a second point is also vital: The rise in violence is not inevitable.

It happens because some police officers respond to criticism by staging a work slowdown — and because the U.S. relies on the police to fulfill so many roles that other civic organizations could accomplish. That reliance also has huge downsides.

“Police are effective at controlling violence, but there are all these costs,” Sharkey said. They include mass incarceration and widespread violence committed by the police, often against Black men.

“But there are alternatives that maintain safe streets without the costs,” says Sharkey, who was previously the scientific director of Crime Lab New York and is now a Princeton professor. “There is now a body of evidence showing these are not just feel-good stories. The effects are very real.”

The alternatives include conflict-resolution counselors, addiction and mental-health programs, summer-jobs and after-school programs and more. The Cure Violence program, in Chicago, New York and elsewhere, is an example. (For more detail, read this 2017 Times article.)

“We’ve asked police departments to be the primary force that responds to many situations,” Sharkey said. That’s not the only option, of course. But when it’s the approach that cities take — and when police then respond to protests by pulling back — violence often does increase.

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