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Short-Term Anti-Violence Remedies Called 'Mainly Punitive'

Urban gun violence around the U.S. has had relatively little attention from the news media. Anna Harvey, a public safety researcher at New York University, tells the New York Times that the concentration of violence in minority neighborhoods probably explains why. White and affluent Americans have been less directly affected by the murder spike, and they are more likely to influence what news outlets cover and what politicians talk about. The violence remains an example of racial inequality. Experts say there are real solutions, with strong evidence, to deal with the problem, but those measures need support from the public and lawmakers to go anywhere.

Why did the murder total rise last year? Social services and supports that help keep crime down vanished overnight during the pandemic. Schools could no longer keep unruly teens safe and distracted. A broader sense of disorder could have fueled a so-called moral holiday, in which people disregard laws and norms. Yet other countries didn’t experience similar spikes during the pandemic.

More of the public lost confidence in the police amid protests over George Floyd's murder, possibly reducing the kind of cooperation needed to prevent murders. The timing supports this theory, with homicides rising unusually quickly after the Floyd case. Killings also spiked in 2015 and 2016, after protests over policing during those years.

Americans bought many more guns in 2020 and 2021 than they did in previous years, and the weapons seemed to be used in crime more quickly than firearms bought in previous years. In the short term, there’s solid evidence for more focused policing, targeting the people and places most likely to be violent.

“I’m as much a reformer as anybody, but the short-term solutions around high violence are mainly punitive,” said John Roman of the University of Chicago. “There’s no getting around that.”


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