More research needed for gun violence surge

Officers at a crime scene
Philadelphia Police investigate a crime scene at 49th and Cathrine streets in the 12nd district at a double shooting where two men were shot, one shot multiple times and a cook from a nearby pizza shop was shot in the foot. Monday, July 5, 2021

By Octavia Johnson

NABJ Monitor

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues this year, some cities saw an increase in gun violence, which led to some concerns that the pandemic is the reason. However, some experts are not concluding that the pandemic is impacting gun violence data shown for 2021. 

Cities like Chicago experienced an increase in shootings during the pandemic. According to the Chicago Police Department crime statistics, 2,176 people have been shot this year as of August 15th, which is a 12% increase from the same time period a year ago. 

Number of bullet casing indicators sit in the parking lot of the Lowe’s Home Improvement store in South Philadelphia after a shooting on Monday, October 5, 2020.

“It’s too early to say if the pandemic has impacted [gun violence],” said Dr. Brian Williams, professor of trauma and acute surgery at the University of Chicago. “As an academic and researcher, we still need more time to review the data.” 

Dr. Williams works to end gun violence by helping the university with the statistics and research to understand where the increase in gun violence stems from. He understands that there is an increase, but “it’s not confirmed if it’s a coincidence or causation.” 

“It’ll be interesting to look at the data from many trauma centers across the country, over the next year or two, to see what that increase in gun violence actually means,” Dr. Williams said. “We can say gun violence increased during the pandemic. Why that is, that’s still to be determined.”

Dr. Williams also encourages people to understand that gun violence affects everyone whether they’re in parts of the city that has an increase or not.

In Philadelphia, 1,462 people were shot this year — including 249 homicides, according to the Philadelphia Police Department crime statistics. 

A crime scene investigator picks up a handwritten evidence marker at the scene of a triple shooting on 60th Street near Walnut in West Philadelphia, where bullet casings and fragments numbered more than 100, July 5th, 2021. Killed in the shooting was Sircarr Johnson Jr. and a 22-year-old man whose identity has not yet been released. A 16-year-old girl was also injured by the gunfire, which erupted at a July 4th cookout Johnson was holding at his clothing store, Premiére

The Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting Director Jim MacMillan said that although the rate of shootings continues to increase this year, it’s not as dramatically as last year. 

“It’s hard enough to imagine where the pandemic is going before imagining how that might continue to affect rates of gun violence,” he added. “We don’t have a final answer on the cause of that increase.”

MacMillan also expressed that gun violence is preventable, by disrupting the cycle of violence that some people face. 

“One thing that’s missing very often is research and the funding for the research, to think and figure out why,” he said. “We really need a great deal more research to figure out what’s going on and what’s going to work.”

Although Washington D.C. doesn’t have the highest increase out of the major cities, the nation’s capital still saw an increase in gun violence, including homicide victims, this year. According to the Metropolitan Police Department crime statistics, as of July 31st, D.C. had 469 shooting victims. Last year, D.C. had 922 shooting victims with 198 homicides. 

“It is not known, in all cases, what the motive is behind the violence,” MPD spokesperson Alaina Gertz said. “Nonetheless, MPD is building upon relationships with the communities we serve to make them safer. MPD has just deployed our new Community Focused Patrol Unit, which is a data-driven unit that will assist in supplementing our existing patrol districts in areas of the city that are experiencing higher volumes of criminal activity, emerging crime trends, and/or significant events.”

Gun violence continues to affect community members, especially those in the Black community. According to the Philadelphia Center of Gun Violence Reporting, 75% of shooting victims are Black men. In D.C., the data showed that over the past four years, 93% of Black people were victims of homicides, according to the Metropolitan Police Department crime statistics. 

“When I look at the big picture, it’s hard to believe that this nation will turn the tide in gun violence,” Macmillan said. “For me, that means I have to be strategic if I want to have an impact. Even for those that are closer to the beginning of their careers, I think the same thing would be wise, if you want to have an impact, you have to develop a strategy.”

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