A violent summer has given way to a red-hot autumn. Los Angeles, along with other cities in the United States, suffers a wave of violence that has spread over 18 months, from May 2020 to this November. Álex Villanueva, the sheriff of the Californian city, recently gave a warning voice in a region where several crimes have been on the rise, mainly homicides, which have increased by 16% and aggravated assault – which is a felony for doing so with a weapon or other motive – 23%.
Villanueva, one of the main peacekeepers in Los Angeles, believes that the obligation to vaccinate police officers is “an imminent danger to public safety” and has become an obstacle to fighting crime in the midst of crisis. The sheriff assures that respecting this policy – which came into force last Monday and will become increasingly demanding until January – has created a “mass exodus” that has caused the departure of 655 people from an organization with 18,000 employees.
“The mandate will cause a significant drop in the patrols. It would have to take drastic measures to reduce services. The specialized units, including the air and the special office, as well as the central detective office, would be close to disappearing, ”Villanueva said earlier this month. In the coming weeks, 4,000 employees would leave the office, which has an immunization rate of 52%. Of these 3,100 are official.
All five Los Angeles boroughs have seen an increase in homicides. In the geographic center of the city, with predominantly black neighborhoods, the increase in murders was 60% until the end of October. In the Long Beach district to the south, the rise was 73%. While waiting for the November data, the city surpassed 320 homicides in October, close to the 355 documented in all of 2020, the most violent year in a decade. If the figure reaches 400 victims, this will be the bloodiest year in the last 15.
The Los Angeles Police Department attributes much of the violence to gangs. Social workers say that the pandemic has played a major role in the explosion of violence. The health crisis cut a series of aid aimed at the Hispanic and black populations, communities that have left the most victims on the asphalt. In the last year, there was a 46% increase in violent deaths of Latinos, who represent 49% of the population, according to official figures. Among African Americans, who make up 9% of the city, the rise was 27%. White murder victims grew marginally: they are 29% of the population, but only 8% of the deceased.
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The United States is in the wake of a spring of discontent. Homicides began to increase across the country immediately after the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020. “The connection, if there is one, between social unrest and the upswing in violence remains uncertain, ”warns Richard Rosenfeld, Emeritus Professor of Criminology at the University of Missouri. The summer of last year left a 36% increase in murders. Cities like Austin (Texas), Louisville (Kentucky), Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Nashville (Tennessee), Washington DC, and Detroit (Michigan) are documenting more homicides this year than last. In St. Petersburg, Florida, they have soared 129%.
“The increase in homicides beyond normal seasonal changes is deeply worrying and requires immediate action by politicians,” adds Rosenfled, who has documented the behavior of various crimes throughout the pandemic. Although the murders are above the average of the last three years, the expert explains that the murder rates per 100,000 inhabitants are still much lower than the historical peaks that were experienced in 1993.
Other experts estimate that the worst is yet to come. This is the case of Garen Wintemute, a doctor from the prestigious UC Davis University who specializes in the impact of violence on public health. Wintemute points to the 21 uninterrupted months in which gun sales have increased in the United States, a country that has more guns than people. In October alone, searches for criminal records grew by 60%, a procedure that must be done before buying pistols or rifles. “There has never been something like this. We know that increases in arms purchases are followed by increases in violence, ”he explains.
The doctor appreciates a change in the profile of gun buyers. Fans continue to do so, but as hate crimes increase – in the 16 largest cities in the country they increased more than 160% between January and April – and skepticism about the response capacity of the police also grows, gun shops have every more and more customers.
Wintemute has just published an academic essay where he claims that political anger and polarization may become factors in fueling violence heading into the 2022 mid-term elections, where a new House of Representatives, 34 members of the Senate and governors will be elected. of 36 States. These elections are preceded by the defeat of former President Donald Trump, which he still does not recognize, and his call for violence. The pandemic has also polarized Republicans and Democrats on issues like face masks and vaccines.
“All of this has resulted in an increase in the number of people who contemplate violence to defend the society in which one wants to live. A third of adults believe that force should be used to restore traditional American ways of life. This has no comparison with other times in modern life, ”warns Wintemute. The perfect storm seems to be forming in the most armed nation in the world.
The wave of violence represents a huge challenge for the authorities, who must investigate and solve the killings. The task is getting more and more complicated. Los Angeles detectives, for example, in 2019 had the extraordinary ability to solve nearly eight out of ten murders. The mark is above the national average of 61% nationally documented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Los Angeles police resolution rate fell in 2020 to 55% according to the department itself. Something similar happened at the state level. California went from solving 64% in 2019 to 59% last year.
Adding to the increased workload is the threat of the coronavirus. Many uniformed men still refuse to be vaccinated. In Massachusetts 150 officers resigned to avoid being punished for being mandatory. In the San Francisco police, 70 elements were separated last week for not complying with the mandate. One of these passed away on Thursday. Covid-19 has become the leading cause of death among American police officers. It has claimed 523 lives, according to the Officer Down page. This year has left more victims than last with 270 (253 in 2020). The number far exceeds the 54 who have died in shootings in the line of duty.
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