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Stop calling the US murder crisis a “crime” problem. It is something much worse.


It was the kind of reporting that would have been quite shocking … before March 2020, anyway. A daily occasion normally associated with joy – a baby shower – turns into a quarrel over something trivial. In this particular saga, which unfolded last weekend in a suburb of Pittsburgh, the argument was over who would carry the shower gifts. Somehow it turned into an altercation – but after a few brief brawls, the future dad abruptly pulled out a 9mm handgun and started shooting his guests.

This time three people were injured, but luckily no one was killed. But it happened in a country that in 2020 saw its biggest spike in homicides since modern records began, and still experiences a deadly uptrend in 2021. What struck me about The triple shooting in Lower Burrell Township, Pa., is that it’s no more a rare “man-bite-dog story” to read about guns – or other extreme violence, but generally firearms – in situations where weaponry would have been unimaginable in the past.

During a Major League Baseball game, or at high school football games – Again and again and again. A woman driving on I-95 for a Carolina beach vacation. Cut a gas line in hurricane-ravaged Louisiana, or fight for a parking spot at Walgreen’s, or a feud over a $ 10 pass. A supermarket clerk in Georgia who asked a customer to put on a mask – one of seven such murders so far in 2021. A shooting between two 9-year-old children in Washington, DC, which the cops described as “a targeted shootout”.

A recent murder during an argument at the iconic Pat’s Steaks in South Philly was notable as it was the second time in 2021 that a customer has been killed at a location where the only fear of death is supposed to be your rate of death. soaring cholesterol.

This week, the FBI attached a number to what Americans already know: This country has a murder problem, especially around guns. Homicides across the country increased dramatically by almost 30% during the pandemic-stricken year 2020, erasing the previous record annual increase (interestingly, in 1968, another year when America seemed s ‘collapse, with assassinations and riots). Some 5,000 more Americans were murdered last year than in 2019 – a number higher than the death toll in the United States during the entire Iraq war – and most murders were committed with guns ( about 77%) than in any previous year.

Statistics for the current year 2021 are incomplete and incomplete – for complicated reasons – but many jurisdictions see the upward trend in homicides continuing. One of the most dramatic examples is right here in Philadelphia, where 393 murders were recorded as of Wednesday night, a 17% increase from 2020 and almost certainly setting an all-time record, in the sixth largest city in the country.

READ MORE: There is nothing more progressive than preventing city children from getting shot | Will be bunch

Warnings ? There are a few big ones. The large nationwide increase in 2020 came out of a period of very low homicide rates by modern standards, meaning that overall, the number of murders in the United States is still below the half of its peak years in the early 1990s. The other asterisk is, in my opinion, even more relevant when it comes to talking about solutions: Murder is on the rise, but in almost every other category, crime has fallen, continuing a long-term trend. The FBI said this week that all major crimes fell about 4% last year. Of course, unlike homicides, most other crime statistics are affected by what citizens choose to report or what laws the police choose to enforce. But overall, it seems clear that America’s murder problem and its criminal situation are going in different directions.

It is important.

This divorce between the murder rate and other crimes appears to be happening due to changes in the reasons and how Americans kill each other. In the years when murder and crime generally increased in tandem – the steady rise in the 1970s, when street crimes like so-called “assaults” or robberies gone wrong were often a factor, or wars against drugs of the 1990s – it was an important economic component of our homicides. I think of a friend who was murdered, Daily News columnist Russell Byers, who in 1999 was stabbed to death while buying ice cream in a Wawa by a man demanding money.

For the record, the vast majority of murders making the news in the 2020s are not about money, but pure and unvarnished rage. In Philadelphia and other major cities, most weekends result in one or more incidents where one person comes in and shoots in a crowd. Everytown reports that the number of people shot or injured in so-called ‘road rage’ incidents has doubled since the summer of 2020. You will likely hear the same statistic about ‘air rage’ killings – those kinds of incidents have also skyrocketed – if there wasn’t an effective ban on firearms on commercial flights.

Too often, I have seen some of my liberal or progressive friends on Twitter dismiss coverage of the US murder crisis as the hype of sensational media. They point to this overall drop in crime to insist that there is not really a problem. I get the thought: there is a valid fear on the left that bad actors will use the growing number of homicides to scuttle much-needed police reforms raised during the George Floyd protests in 2020 or to revert to the mass incarceration regime of these last years. But – as I have argued before in this space – nothing could be less progressive than ignoring the very real pain of our neighbors who have lost a loved one to gun violence.

“The fact that gun violence is on the rise should not be seen as an attack on criminal justice reform,” Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based crime analyst, told me, noting that in 2019 , murder rates in his hometown of Louisiana had fallen in tandem. with the prison population. Like other crime experts, Asher said it was difficult to extract motives from crime statistics, and that the 2020-21 spike in murder appears to be a toxic mix of factors – COVID-19 stress, a worsening lack of trust between communities and the police after Floyd’s murder; and an increase in the number of people buying guns and carrying them in public.

Some things seem clear. One is that too many Americans use guns in situations that don’t require firepower – like moving gifts at a baby shower or getting cut off from the I-95 – because too many Americans have guns in the first place. This 30% increase in murders occurred in a year 2020 in which 40 million Americans – an increase of about 40% – bought guns, and 2021 saw no slowdown, in part due to the Jan. 6 insurgency on Capitol Hill. Thus, gun reduction will have to be part of any solution, even though most current gun control proposals tinker with largely on the margins and legislators are struggling to get them through.

The other obvious conclusion is that while murder, like the 2020s, is more and more about people’s inability to control their anger – due to social alienation which has only gotten worse. during the pandemic, or because of frustration with politics or a change in culture or their economy. critical situation – then traditional crime-fighting solutions like “breaking windows police” or targeting neighborhoods or harsher sentences won’t do much. Perhaps now is the time to pick up on some Republicans for their occasional cries that mass shootings are a mental health issue by investing more money in mainstream mental health programs to look more broadly at what can be done. to reduce societal anger and the need for retaliation.

The new numbers “suggest we have to try a lot of things here,” Asher told me, adding that some ideas will likely fail, but with the idea that “if they fail, fail quickly” so that different approaches can then be tried. . The only thing that will absolutely not work is to bury our collective heads in the sand. No, America does not have a new crime problem. But when people turn baby showers into shooting ranges, we certainly have a gun violence problem and an accompanying murder crisis. The sooner our society agrees on this, the sooner we can solve this problem.

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