Posted on July 23, 2021

Homicides Are Up 36% In Bay Area’s Biggest Cities

Rachel Swan and Susie Neilson, San Francisco Chronicle, July 15, 2021

Eighteen-year-old Demetrius Fleming-Davis sat in the middle seat of his friend’s truck, riding home through East Oakland when the gunfire started.

Police believe a nearby pedestrian was the intended target. But a bullet flew into the truck as it traveled down International Boulevard, striking the teenager in his head. Panicked, the driver swung around a corner, found patrol officers and requested help. Paramedics arrived and pronounced Fleming-Davis dead at the scene.

It was April 10. The lanky, churchgoing high school student, known for charming teachers and solving math problems in his head, was Oakland’s 41st homicide victim of the year. That toll would climb to 65 by the end of June — and drive a 36% increase in Bay Area homicides through the first six months of 2021.

While two other Bay Area cities saw their homicide percentages jump notably between the first halves of this year and last, it was Oakland that propelled the region’s 15 most populous cities past a 24% national surge in homicides since 2021 began.


According to a Chronicle analysis of police data, Oakland accounted for three-fourths of the region’s uptick in homicides. It’s part of a grim trend that criminologists attribute to the pandemic and its warping after-effects: job loss, economic pressures, school and facility closures, the impacts of a ruthless disease.


Like COVID-19 itself, the pandemic’s effect on homicide rates has been strongest in Oakland’s lower-income neighborhoods.

The Oakland Police Department divides the city into five districts: So far this year, homicides have risen most in Area 5, which encompasses much of the flatlands below Interstate 580. The area has seen 24 homicides as of July 4, a 71% increase compared to the same period in 2020.

Area 5’s homicide rate so far this year is roughly 27 per 100,000 residents. Meanwhile, Area 2, which contains many of the city’s wealthier northern neighborhoods, had a homicide rate of 8 per 100,000.


In Richmond, violence-prevention efforts continued during the pandemic, said Sam Vaughn, program manager at the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety. He submitted letters to designate each of the city’s outreach workers as an essential employee the day before the lockdown began last year.

Nonetheless, Richmond saw homicides escalate — particularly in June, when a shooting left three people dead at a house party on Dunn Avenue. Homicides rose last year as well, a trend Vaughn links to economic strife and despair from being isolated at home. He cited a string of tragic incidents related to the decline in mental health, including a murder-suicide.


This year, he added, many shootings appear to stem from neighborhood feuds and score-settling.

Richmond police Chief Bisa French agreed with Vaughn that last year’s homicide rate was largely fueled by the pandemic, while many of this year’s shootings appear to be reprisals. {snip}


At the same time, trust in the police has eroded in many cities — a phenomenon that Muhammad called “a legitimacy crisis” for law enforcement. French observed signs of it when she worked on the Fourth of July.

“The amount of pushback that we received, just trying to enforce the law, was very concerning for me,” she said. “It was almost like people were daring us to do something about the crimes that they were committing. … And then everybody brings out their phones and they’re just waiting for us to take some action to get on camera. It’s hard to work under those conditions.”


Oakland may be on pace to meet or exceed the mark it reached nine years ago, when 126 homicides were recorded by the state Department of Justice. Homicides in the city declined in the years after that, dropping to 69 in 2017.

But through July 11 of this year, Oakland police were already investigating 68 deaths as homicides.