COVID-19 Justice

2020 saw sharp rise in homicides amid pandemic

In Kalamazoo, gun crimes rose significantly despite despite the state shutdown and the coronavirus pandemic.

2020 was a year scarred by protests and politics and a pandemic that scoured the globe. 2020 also saw the sharpest rise in homicides and gun crimes in the U.S. in years.

Though final data has yet to be compiled, many cities experienced murder rates higher than in recent memory. Chicago had 50% more homicides in 2020 than the year before. Los Angeles’s murder rate went up 30%. And it’s not just big cities facing the problem.

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In Kalamazoo County, gun crimes and gun deaths have surpassed any year this century. Overall, there were 21 homicides in the county in 2020, eclipsing 2016’s total of 20 deaths. That year stands out because of two mass killings – a man went on a shooting rampage killing six and a man in a truck crashed into a group of bicyclists killing five.

Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Vernon Coakley told WWMT that Kalamazoo’s gun problem is not isolated and is not limited to 2020.

“This is a large issue, it’s not just public safety. We all need to come together to fix this,” he said.

In December, the Kalamazoo City Commission took a step toward addressing gun crimes, dedicating $100,000 to several gun violence reduction efforts.

But the best resolution to rising violence may be the coronavirus vaccine.

Many services that would otherwise address violence in the community have been barred from serving due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It requires a great deal of a face-to-face contact, typically, among service providers and the folks who are most likely to both commit these offenses and be the victims of them,” said Yale University Law Professor Tracey Meares in an interview with NPR.

Once the vaccine is widespread, people can get back to face-to-face interaction.

“It’s going to take us to inform, educate, and the last result, prosecution,” said Coakley. “But we have to tell people to put the guns down. We can settle matters in different ways. This violence has to stop.”

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