Last week, the FBI published its Uniform Crime Reporting data for 2020, reported The Appeal. The annual dataset offers the most detailed accounting yet of crime during a year defined by a crushing pandemic and nationwide protests for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd. The report tells an incomplete story—mainly because it relies on voluntary reporting by police departments, which submit data slowly and inconsistently (and sometimes inaccurately). But the topline finding confirms what many had already understood to be an unusually violent year: Homicides rose by nearly 30 percent in 2020, the largest year-over-year increase since the U.S. began collecting national data in 1960. All told, more than 20,000 people were murdered in America last year at a rate not seen since the 1990s—though the U.S. murder rate remains substantially lower than the peaks of the 1980s and early 1990s.
Acknowledging this increase in homicides doesn’t mean giving in to the clamor for punitive responses. It doesn’t mean agreeing with the elected officials and law enforcement groups who’ve been given space in major publications to make unfounded claims blaming the violence on efforts to rein in abusive policing and the harms of mass incarceration.
This data is undeniably concerning, and it should serve as a rallying cry for those who believe violence can be better addressed with methods that don’t rely exclusively on police, prosecutors, and prisons. After all, that status quo is exactly what got us here. For all the debate in 2020 over “defunding the police” and other more modest reforms, few if any jurisdictions actually deviated significantly from the narrow framework that has defined public safety for decades.
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