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Half Of The Nation's Homicides Continue To Be Unsolved

Every night since May, two-year-old Nylah Cheese of San Francisco has slept with a crocheted doll wearing a white tee, black pants and a silver chain. Her aunt, Silvia Lopez, had the figurine made in the likeness of Nylah’s father, Brandon Cheese, who was shot and killed at a park in San Francisco the month before. For the past 10 months they’ve been searching for answers about who killed Cheese and why. Police have yet to make any arrests. The family is part of a growing group of Americans who have had a loved one killed but have yet to get the closure of an arrest or conviction, reports The Guardian. Over the past four decades, homicide clearance rates – the metric used to determine how many homicides police solve – have decreased from about 71% in 1980 to an all-time low of about 50% in 2020, according to analyses of FBI data by the the Marshall Project and the Murder Accountability Project. This means that amid an unprecedented increase in homicides in 2020 and 2021, mostly by guns, roughly half of the nation’s killings went unsolved. The drop continued as police departments received soaring budgets, despite calls to defund the police and invest in alternatives and resources after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020.


“We’re on the verge of being the first developed nation where the majority of homicides go uncleared,” said Thomas Hargrove, founder of the Murder Accountability Project. There are several ways a homicide can be cleared. One is if someone is arrested, charged and turned over to a court for prosecution. Homicides can also be cleared by “exceptional means”, including the death of a suspect, another jurisdiction’s refusal to extradite someone, or police identification of a suspect. There is no publicly available government database that tracks homicides and resolutions. What is available in federal, state and local law enforcement databases isn’t broken down by the race of the victim or circumstance of the crime. This means that to get a clear picture of whose murders are going unsolved, researchers must use a patchwork of data from local and federal law enforcement and court records. “This should be a governmental function,” Hargrove said. “It should be mandatory and there should be special accounting made of cases that have gone unsolved. If a murder has not been cleared after a year then greater detail should be reported and made public.” Homicides of young Black and Latino men are the most likely to be left unsolved, said Prof. David Bjerk of Claremont McKenna College in California, while “other demographics have not seen the same or as notable declines.”


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