The increase in the murder rate nationwide could set a record this year

2020 has been a uniquely bad year. That’s not just because of the deadly pandemic and the devastation of the economy that came with it. Whatever big city you live in or near you’ve probably seen a lot of headlines lately about the increase in violent crime this year. Specifically the murder rate is up sharply around the county. For example, in Washington, DC:

Data from the District’s government and police shows almost 200 people have died from gun violence in the Nation’s Capital in 2020.

The last time D.C. experienced a higher murder rate was 16 years ago, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

Similar increases are happening all around the country, including Tacoma, Washington, where the number of murders is the highest it has been since 1994. In Houston, the city has seen 400 murders this year, the highest murder rate seen in 13 or 14 years. The pattern is similar in America’s other large cities, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago. Murder rates are breaking recent records almost everywhere.

Today the founder of a data analytics company posted his own spreadsheet showing the murder rate was up in 51 of the 57 cities for which data was available. And in most cases the change wasn’t a slight increase. In about 2/3 of those cities, the rate was up more than 30 percent over 2019:

Asher suggests we are now on track for the largest increase in murder rate ever reported (since 1960):

The broad trend in the murder rate has been a peak around 1992 followed by a decline for the next several decades. But this year we’re effectively jumping backwards more than a decade. We’re still not near the peak of the murder rate but we’ve erased a lot of progress in one year.

What no one knows at this point is why this is happening. Various experts disagree about that. The pandemic and the downturn probably play a role but the death of George Floyd was the moment when there was the largest spike of violence nationwide:

To be sure, 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 Richard Rosenfeld, lead author of “Pandemic, Social Unrest and Crime in US Cities,” a new report. “This round of crime increase is unprecedented.”…

The biggest spike in gun violence, notes Mr. Rosenfeld, came in the weeks of social unrest in late spring and summer after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis….

“When society’s norms and values are in flux or have disappeared or disintegrated, people don’t know how to behave,” says Ms. Davies, a sociologist who studies the dynamics of violent crime. “It’s a kind of normlessness that gives way to ‘Nothing matters.’ [The murder increase] is similar to spikes in suicide when we’ve had economic depressions. But nothing like this has ever happened.”

So it’s probably a mix of things. The death of George Floyd provided a spark of anger which led to a lot of protests, many of which turned violent. And if that had happened in a normal year, maybe things would have settled down quickly. Instead, it happened in the midst of pre-existing chaos caused by the pandemic and the lockdowns.

The big question now is whether or not this is a blip or the new normal. If we have a successful vaccine rollout by April-May of 2021 and things gradually begin to return to normal for the rest of the year, will the murder rate also recede to 2019 levels or is the new spate of violence going to be with us for a while?