Coming off a record low in homicides in 2019, New Orleans saw its rate spike by over 50 percent this year. Overall crime has dropped dramatically in the U.S. since the late 1990s, but the 2020 homicide rate “now exceeds the rates of the late ’80s and ’90s, before the big drop,” says criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri St. Louis. This year, 51 cities across the U.S. saw an average 35 percent jump in murder from 2019 to 2020 – a “historically awful” development, says New Orleans-based crime analyst Jeff Asher. A different study of 21 U.S. cities found 610 more murders in those jurisdictions this year over last year. In those cities, gun assaults increased by 10 percent over 2019, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
“We’re seeing it pretty much across the board in places like New Orleans … but also in smaller places like Omaha, Nebraska, that don’t typically have a lot of murders,” says Asher. The biggest spike in gun violence came amid social unrest after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. Much of the violence is occurring in poorer working class neighborhoods that have been hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic downturn and the backlash to calls for police reform. Police activity – or lack of it – “is more likely a symptom of this concept of police legitimacy, where police pull back because people are upset and questioning their legitimacy,” says Asher. Researchers hope 2020 becomes a statistical anomaly. “The strategy to reduce violence is, first and foremost, to subdue the pandemic,” says Rosenfeld. “The second is to redouble smart policing activity. And the third is to take the essence of police reform seriously, because if police aren’t able to repair the relationship with communities … I don’t think any crime reductions that might occur from more policing are going to last long.”