During the second half of 2020, we noted from time to time that homicides were increasing dramatically in American cities — a trend that coincided with BLM protests against the police. Now, the nationwide numbers are in.
Homicide rates were 30 percent higher in 2020 than in in 2019, according to a new report by Professor Richard Rosenfeld and two others. This represents more than 1,268 additional murders (in a sample of 34 cities).
According to Professor Paul Cassell, this is the largest single-year increase in recorded American history. The previous largest was 12.7 percent in 1968, another horrible year.
What explains the shocking increase in homicides? Rosenfeld offers two explanations: the COVID-19 pandemic and the anti-police protests following the death of George Floyd that caused “de-policing.”
Cassell demolishes the first explanation. It’s true that homicides increased somewhat during the Spring, before Floyd’s death. However, that’s normal because better weather typically coincides with more homicides.
The significant spike began in the last week of May. Floyd died on May 25.
Indeed, Rosenfeld’s report acknowledges that homicide rates increased “significantly” in June, “well after the pandemic began, coinciding with the death of George Floyd and the mass protests that followed.” Another study has shown that as of the end of May, “some types of serious violent crime seemed unaffected by the pandemic onset, notably homicide and shootings.”
In Chicago, for example between January 1 and May 28, 2020 there were 191 homicides. During the same time frame in 2019, the number of homicides was 192. But on May 31, as we touched on here, eighteen people were murdered and dozens more were shot in Chicago, making it the single most violent day in six decades.
We’re left, then, with one explanation for the spike in homicides — “de-policing” triggered by the anti-police protests and rioting. This de-policing is evident from decreases in arrests and in stops. And it’s related not only to a pulling back by the police in response to protests and riots, but also to increases in police officer retirements (due to demoralizaton) and decreases in funding.
The decline in stops is noteworthy because, while homicides and shootings rose dramatically in the last seven months of 2020, other crimes decreased. These included robbery, residential burglary, non-residential burglary, larceny, and drug offenses.
That’s the normal pattern when there’s a decrease in stop-and-frisks because, as Cassell says, “proactive policing (e.g., stop-and-frisks) plays a uniquely important role in deterring the carrying of illegal guns and thus preventing firearm crimes.” Thus, in 2016, when stop-and-frisks fell dramatically in Chicago following an agreement between Chicago Police and the ACLU, homicides and shootings increased sharply, while most other crimes did not.
The best, currently available evidence strongly supports the conclusion that the Great 2020 Homicide Spike resulted from the widespread anti-police protests, which in turn lead to a reduction in policing activity directed at fighting gun crimes. To save lives in 2021, we need urgent action to restore proactive policing to its pre-protest levels.
We would see such action, too, if Black lives really mattered to Black Lives Matter.