Posted on June 24, 2020

Gun Violence Spikes in N.Y.C., Intensifying Debate over Policing

Ashley Southall and Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, June 23, 2020

It has been nearly a quarter century since New York City experienced as much gun violence in the month of June as it has seen this year.

The city logged 125 shootings in the first three weeks of the month, more than double the number recorded over the same period last year, police data show. Gunmen opened fire during house parties, barbecues and dice games, and carried out coldly calculated street executions.

More than a dozen people have been fatally shot, including a teenager at her college graduation party and a clothing designer who was washing his car. “You have to go back to 1996 to have a worse start of June,” Michael LiPetri, the chief of crime control strategies, said in an interview on Monday.

The rising toll of gun violence has become part of a contentious debate over the future of policing in the wake of mass protests against police brutality. Police unions and their supporters have issued shrill warnings that the city was slipping into a high-crime era reminiscent of the early 1990s.

The city is not alone. Shootings are on the rise in other big cities across the country, including Chicago and Minneapolis, a trend that some conservatives have seized on to argue against the recent demands of protesters to cut police budgets and rein in officers.

On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city was sending more officers into the streets and declared he would not retreat from efforts to overhaul the Police Department.

“We’re not going back to the bad old days when there was so much violence in the city,” the mayor said at a news conference, “nor are we going back to the bad old days where policing was done the wrong way and, in too many cases, police and community could never connect and find that mutual respect.”

The mayor’s comments came after a particularly bad weekend in which 38 people were shot over 72 hours. The toll continued to mount on Monday, when a 46-year-old man was shot and killed in Brownsville by a gunman who ambushed him in the lobby of a public housing building, the police said. That evening, five people were shot at a candlelight vigil in Crown Heights.

Other cities are seeing similar violence: In Chicago, more than 100 people were shot over the weekend, the most in a single weekend since 2012, and 14 died. That carnage came just weeks after 24 people were killed among 85 people shot over the Memorial Day weekend. Many were caught in crossfire.

In Minneapolis, police said that 111 people have been shot in the four weeks since the death of George Floyd. {snip}

Nationally, homicide rates were already rising in 64 large American cities for the first three months of 2020 over the previous three years, but on average the pandemic caused them to stall briefly, before ticking up again in May, said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. {snip}

In New York, there were 166 murders through June 21, up from 134 over the same period last year, the police said.


In New York, the police have linked the rise in gun violence to a bail law enacted this year, which limited judges’ ability to keep people in jail before trial if they had been arrested on certain charges, as well as the release of thousands of people from jail and prison to help curb coronavirus. Chief LiPetri said 17 percent of shootings involved people on probation or parole.


“I have been studying this for a long time. I have never seen that much of an increase ever,” said Christopher Herrmann, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who once analyzed crime statistics for the New York City Police Department.


Some criminologists said there is a precedent for crime rising after unrest over police killings.

Homicides rose nationally in the aftermath of the unrest ignited by the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. It went up 15 to 20 percent in the largest cities before subsiding again after two years, Mr. Rosenfeld said. When discontent with the police ran high, people were less likely to call them, deciding to settle matters themselves and driving violence up, he said.


In the past the New York police have relied on plainclothes “anti-crime units” to proactively hunt for people believed to be carrying illegal guns on the streets, but their aggressive tactics had led to many complaints and several police shootings. Commissioner Dermot F. Shea disbanded the units last week.