Cities across the country suffered dramatic increases in homicides this summer. The spikes were remarkable, suddenly appearing and widespread, although often concentrated in disadvantaged neighborhoods. This year is on track to be the deadliest year for gun-related homicides since at least 1999.

The homicide spikes began in late May. Before May 28, Chicago had almost the same number of homicides as in 2019. Then, on May 31, 18 people were murdered in Chicago—the city’s most violent day in six decades. Violence continued through the summer. July was Chicago’s most violent month in 28 years. As of Sept. 1, murder is up 52% for the year, according to Chicago Police Department data.

Chicago’s shooting spike reflects what is happening in many major cities across the country. Researchers have identified a “structural break” in homicide numbers, beginning in the last week of May. Trends for most other major crime categories have remained generally stable or moved slightly downward.

What changed in late May? The antipolice protests that began across the country around May 27 appear to have resulted in a decline in policing directed at gun violence, producing—perhaps unsurprisingly—an increase in shootings.

The sequence of events is straightforward. George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis produced demonstrations against the police in major cities from coast to coast. As a result, officers in most cities had to be redeployed from their normal duties to help manage the protests, some of which turned violent.



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