America Saw a Historic Rise in Murders in 2020

(Intelligencer) For understandable reasons, “2020” and “coronavirus” are going to be synonymous in the American mind for generations to come. But there was another, quieter public-health menace that killed an alarming number of Americans last year: gun violence.

As Devlin Barrett put it in the Washington Post, “The United States has experienced the largest single one-year increase in homicides since the country started keeping such records in the 20th century, according to crime data and criminologists.”

We only have data for the first nine months of 2020, but according to the FBI there was a 20.9 percent increase in murders compared to the same period in 2019, a genuinely shocking increase. And exploring the reasons behind that increase can help illuminate just how insidious a problem violent crime is and how difficult it is to stem these cycles of violence once they accelerate.

At the most basic level of analysis, experts view the surge as the result of a worst-case confluence of forces — the stresses of a pandemic and the intensity of the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd — that pushed already-frayed neighborhoods into spirals of violence.

That can partly explain why the bloodshed wasn’t evenly distributed. Some places remained as peaceful as ever. In others, the rise in murders was even more dramatic than it was nationally. 

Chicago saw a 37 percent year-over-year increase between the first halves of 2019 and 2020.

And in New York City, by December 20, 2020, there had been a 40 percent increase over the 2019 numbers…

It’s normal for the violent-crime rate to vary a bit year-to-year, of course, but 2020 marked a genuinely historical increase. 

“If you wanted to think of this as potentially erasing several decades worth of progress, that wouldn’t be an overstatement,” said Max Kasputin, an assistant professor at the Department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University, as well as an affiliate at the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Education Lab. 

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