The pandemic undoubtedly played a significant role, causing economic and mental stress, forcing people together for longer periods and creating a climate of uncertainty and unease. Millions of Americans lost their jobs, businesses and in some cases their housing, because of the pandemic. The widespread sense of desperation helped to fuel social friction and crime. Many Americans also experienced the trauma of losing loved ones.
The pandemic also meant that police departments sometimes struggled with the number of officers under quarantine, while the pandemic curbed public services like mental health counseling and simultaneously aggravated related problems like homelessness.
“This is a country where everybody is suffering a little post-Covid traumatic syndrome, and not knowing what is going to happen,” said Peter N. Winograd, a professor at the University of New Mexico who works as a consultant for the Albuquerque Police Department. “That is huge.”
The report also breaks down the murder victims by race, ethnicity and sex, with 9,913 Black people killed in 2020, 7,029 white people, 497 from other races and 315 of unknown race. There were 14,146 men killed and 3,573 women.
While various medium-sized cities were rocked by a record number of homicides, certain major cities, while still enduring high murder rates, were well down from their worst years.
New York City, for example, experienced about 500 murders in 2020, compared with 319 in 2019, but both figures were far below the city’s worst year, 1990, when there were more than 2,200. Chicago had 771 murders last year, compared with about 500 in 2019 and 939 in 1992, one of the city’s most violent years. There were 351 murders last year in Los Angeles, versus 258 in 2019; its record is 1,010 murders in 1980.
The protests that erupted after the killing of George Floyd were also an important factor, although experts differ about why. Some argue that the police, under intense scrutiny and demoralized, pulled back from some aspects of crime prevention. Others put the emphasis on the public, suggesting that diminished respect for the police prompted more people to try to take the law into their own hands.
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