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Portland crime scene
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

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This scourge has plagued the entire U.S., which has seen a dramatic reversal from two decades of relative declines in murders. In 2020, homicides rose 30 per cent countrywide. Analyses by criminologists showed further increases in most large U.S. cities in 2021.

Community leaders, police and scholars are struggling to understand why. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic threw people out of work, shut down social networks and caused immense personal stress. In 2021, the economy was roaring, wages for entry-level jobs were climbing and most pandemic restrictions had been lifted. Yet the violence worsened.

Some blame the lingering effects of the pandemic, which disrupted work and school, and diverted resources from social programs. Others point to the country’s reckoning over police brutality, contending that officers have eased up on enforcement out of fear of committing misconduct. And increased mistrust of police in marginalized communities has made it harder to solve crimes.

To many, the immediate trend is just the heightened outcome of long-running structural problems: the U.S.’s plentiful supply of guns and lax laws controlling them, and pervasive racial and economic inequalities. No other wealthy country, after all, is this bad. The U.S.’s homicide rate – 7.5 per 100,000 people – is nearly four times Canada’s rate, more than six times Britain’s and 25 times that of Japan. Black Americans are 10 times more likely to die from gun homicide than whites.

To Ms. Anderson, president of Thrive Chicago, a group that designs programs to help disadvantaged youth across the city, her stepson’s killing and the wave of shootings of which it is part are wakeup calls to a country that has for too long avoided addressing the root causes of gun violence.

“It shows our fates are deeply intertwined. You can’t quote-unquote outrun this, because it impacts every single one of us,” she says. “All the pandemic did was shine a bright light on the cleavages that already existed in our society.”

— Adrian Morrow and Nathan VanderKlippe in Deadly surge in U.S. gun violence brings inequities of the pandemic, police violence and firearms laws into sharp focus

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