CHICAGO (AP) — A spate of shootings over the past several days has law enforcement on edge, with some warning that a turbulent brew of a pandemic, protests against racism, historic surges in gun sales and a rancorous election year could make it an especially deadly summer.
Although mass shootings — often defined as four or more killed, excluding the shooter — are down sharply this year, other non-suicidal gun deaths are on pace to exceed last year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
That increase came before the start of summer, when there is traditionally a spike during as people venture outside more, and before Independence Day, which historically has been one of the deadliest days each year.
The spike may have many causes, gun experts say, including an American public increasingly stressed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has roiled the economy and kept them at home, deep divisions over racial justice and policing, and the political divides of a presidential election year.
“There’s something going on at the moment, these underlying tensions,” said James Densley, professor of law enforcement and criminal justice at Metropolitan State University. “Everyone’s been cooped up for so long with the pandemic, and then we had this sort of explosion of anger and grief after George Floyd’s killing.”
In just the past few days, more than 100 people were wounded in shootings in Chicago, including a 3-year-old boy who was killed while riding in the back seat of a car with his father. Police said the boy’s father was the intended victim. That’s the most people shot in one weekend in Chicago since at least 2012 but not the deadliest this year; over Memorial Day weekend, 20 people were fatally shot in the city.
In North Carolina, three people were killed and six were wounded early Monday when unknown gunmen opened fire during an impromptu block party in Charlotte. An annual birthday party in Syracuse, New York, over the weekend was marred by gun violence that wounded nine people.
In Minneapolis, people fled a popular nightlife and retail area as gunfire broke out, injuring 11 people early Sunday. Separately, a man was fatally shot in the city’s downtown that same night.
And for the second time in less than 48 hours, there was a shooting in Seattle’s protest zone. A 17-year-old victim was shot late Sunday night in the area known as CHOP, for “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest,” a day after a 19-year-old man was fatally shot and a 33-year-old man critically injured in there.
Densley said that pace of gun violence may be a harbinger of a rough summer ahead.
“You’ve got people who are frustrated, angry, struggling in life and have been at home during this time processing all this and often processing this alone, maybe with the help with the internet,” he said. “Once the door starts to open, there could well be an uptick in violence.”
While nationwide protests have focused on police violence against Black people, the recent shootings also highlight another scourge that falls disproportionately on Black and minority communities: gun violence that law enforcement has not been able to curb in many cities. That violence has plagued some big cities for some time, even before the pandemic or protests.
In Detroit, the city has seen overall crime drop amid stay-at-home orders. However, violent crime — particularly shootings — has risen; this past weekend, there were 18 different shootings that led to four people dead and 25 injured.
Police Chief James Craig said most of them were over minor arguments — but in these particularly tense times, small fights are turning violent.
“What we’re seeing manifesting is these argument-based, senseless shootings among people who are acquainted, who are attending block parties, and so it’s got to stop,” Craig said. “We recognize there’s been tremendous tension in this city, as well as with others, starting with COVID.”
In some cities around the country, law enforcement has struggled to with how to handle protests of police — some of which have been violent and many of which have required significant resources merely because of their size — while also patrolling the rest of the city.
“We’ve seen it in other cities where there are blocks have no presence of police. We saw cities where there’s been a retreat of police,” Craig said. “We’re not retreating in the city of Detroit.”
In metro Atlanta’s Dekalb County, the police chief said they have not seen an increase in homicides. But the usual tactics the agency uses to get ahead of potential violence in the summer — such as basketball camps for youth — aren’t available this year due to the pandemic, Chief Mirtha V. Ramos said, so the agency hopes increased patrols will allow officers to engage with the public.
“We’re going to stay out there, we’re going to stay present and we’re going to stay strong,” Ramos said.
While some violence seen recently may have deep, long-term causes, gun-rights activists are pointing to historic numbers of background checks for firearms purchases this year as evidence that the public at large is increasingly worried about personal safety. Gun-control advocates say more firearms will only lead to more violence.
There is perhaps one silver lining that has emerged from the pandemic: This year is on pace to have half as many mass shootings as the record-breaking 2019. A big reason is the “contagion” effect, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who, along with The Associated Press and USA Today, has been tracking mass killings back to 2006.
With people focused more on a deadly virus and other woes, mass shootings no longer get the attention that can end up inadvertently spurring such crimes. A similar effect happened in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, he said.
“We’ve been distracted,” Fox said. “We are no longer obsessing about mass shootings like we were in the past couple of years.”
Pane reported from Boise, Idaho.
This story has been updated to correct that no one was killed in the shooting in the popular Minneapolis nightlife area, as police originally said; police said they confused it with a fatal shooting from another area of the city.