In a year marred by a deadly pandemic and rocked by civil unrest over policing in America, Chicago endured a level of violence in 2020 that reversed recent progress, with homicides increasing by more than 50%, according to official statistics, reported the Chicago Tribune.
Through Sunday, Chicago had recorded 762 homicides this year, a 55% jump over the same period in 2019, when 491 people in the city were slain, according to official Chicago police data. It is among the highest year-over-year increases in recent city history.
The total number of shootings this year also was up sharply. That figure rose by 53%, to 3,237 from 2,120, according to the police information.
City leaders and experts say the increase in violence likely was a byproduct of more than one factor. The spread of the coronavirus forced an economic shutdown and stay-at-home order, exacerbating economic woes in some neighborhoods and limiting some social services. The high-profile killings of Black people by police officers sparked a national reckoning on race issues, and in some cases generated instability across the city and increased distrust of police officers, eroding their ability to rely on community members for help.
Those who have long studied homicide rates say 2020 is also a clarion call to policymakers to reevaluate traditional attempts to reduce crime that rely heavily on police.
“What worries me is just how much has changed in the past year and how bad it (got) this past summer,” said Patrick Sharkey, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, calling it a key time to find new strategies. “This is the moment. The trust in the old model has fallen substantially.”
Asked this week about the increase in homicides, Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged some communities have endured a particularly heavy loss of life from both crime and the coronavirus, exacerbating existing troubles.
“It’s been a hard time,” Lightfoot said. “Frustration, anger, unfortunately some of that is playing out in violence. A lot of things that are manifestations of trauma and mental health challenges have been in full bloom.”
The mayor’s hand-picked police superintendent, David Brown, said in a statement that violence reduction will take the cooperation of partners including the police, community organizations, faith leaders and others.
“The criminal justice ecosystem, however, was profoundly impacted and disrupted by the global coronavirus pandemic and the death of George Floyd,” Brown wrote of 2020, noting the violence problem was not unique to Chicago. “Our Chicago Police officers faced an unprecedented set of circumstances in contending with a spike in violent crime, made even more difficult by having to contend with a health pandemic while facing extended periods of heightened civil unrest and looting.”
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