FACE OF A SOCIETY: U.S.: Record Wave of Fatal Shootings Hits Cities

A Journal of People report

In Philadelphia, at least one person has died violently every day this year, mostly from guns.

As of Aug. 14, Philadelphia has seen at least 262 homicides this year, 30% more than this time last year.

Philadelphia is just one of dozens of major U.S. cities plagued by a horrifying increase in gun violence this year, from New York and Milwaukee to Los Angeles and Denver.

The violence — from nine people shot at a family picnic in Denver in August to three fatal shootings in the same month in Indianapolis — comes amid a backdrop of nightly protests against police brutality, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic devastation caused by widespread unemployment.

Chicago alone has seen at least 432 people shot to death as of July 29, a 40% increase over this time last year, according to the Chicago Tribune’s shooting tracker.

Nationally, at least 11,047 people have died in gun violence so far this year, excluding suicide, compared to 15,208 in all of 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

At this rate, it will easily be the deadliest year for gun-related homicides since at least 1999, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

In July, The U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was dispatching hundreds of federal agents and investigators into Chicago, Kansas City and Albuquerque, among other cities, to assist local police departments as part of Operation LeGend, named for a four-year-old boy who was shot and killed while sleeping at his Kansas City home in June.

The U.S. Justice Department announced the operation was being expanded to Indianapolis, where homicide investigations are up more than 32% in 2020 compared to last year.

Kansas City police announced Thursday they had arrested a 22-year-old man for the death of LeGend Taliferro, the boy whose name has been adopted by Trump’s anti-violence task force. The specific role the federal officials played was not disclosed.

Homicides in Kansas City are up 40% compared to this time last year, according to data compiled by the Kansas City Star, with at least 127 reported so far.

In Milwaukee, a shooting incident found five dead.

In Milwaukee, homicides have doubled to 106 as of Friday afternoon, compared to the same time last year. Non-fatal shootings in the same period have risen from 235 to 408 this year.

Excluding suicides, all gun-related deaths in the U.S. rose from 13,537 in 2015 to 15,112 in 2016 and then 15,679 in 2017 before falling to 14,789 in 2018 and then rising again to 15,208 last year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

“There’s this hopelessness: if you think you’re going to die tomorrow, why does it matter what you do today?,” says Nkechi Taifa, 65, a lawyer, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist, activist and author of the book “Black Power, Black Lawyer: My Audacious Quest for Justice.” “Many people don’t acknowledge the root causes of the crime that’s going on in these communities. When there is lack, and there is so much lack in Black communities, it’s predictable you will have crime.”

Like other activists, Taifa argues that violence-prevention strategies have never been properly funded or given a chance to take root. Although many cities have anti-violence programs, like New York’s Save Our Streets or Chicago’s Cure Violence, they can be short-lived, poorly funded efforts when compared to the amount of money spent on policing. Taifa’s hopeful the “defund the police” movement may finally mean more-than-shoestring funding for these programs.

“We know what has been happening, and we know that it has not worked. We stand at the epicenter of countless systemic failures,” she says.

Police union leader Joe Gamaldi says police officers on the streets are already struggling with conflicting messages: Many communities want violence reduction but are simultaneously cutting law enforcement budgets.

In Seattle, for instance, police chief Carmen Best announced she’s retiring after the City Council cut her department’s budget by 14%, including money it had just received to hire a diverse, highly educated corps of new officers. Like Trump, Gamaldi draws a connection between the Black Lives Matter protests and the increasing violence nationally.

“I believe that these protests and these riots are just turning up the volume on the idea that there are no consequences anymore,” says Gamaldi, the national vice president for the Fraternal Order of Police and the president of the police union in Houston, where he’s also an officer.

Gamaldi, 37, argues that “activist” prosecutors and judges are being too lenient on people caught committing violent crimes. These aren’t children making a first mistake, he says, but repeat offenders who know some cities or counties will go easy on them despite what the community actually wants.

Compounding the problem, he says: Many police officers who know they’ll be second-guessed for every split-second decision they make are dialing back their efforts so they won’t get in trouble.

“You have politicians and police chiefs telling them to back off,” he adds. “This increase in crime that we are seeing, you know who are most impacted by this? Black and brown communities. These numbers are people. These are murders. There are thousands and thousands more people who have been killed. And we need to be talking about that. People at some point are going to have to decide what kind of police officers and policing they want.”

In an acknowledgment of the racial disparities in policing and prosecution, the Trump administration had taken steps to reduce harsh punishments for federal convicts, and in July 2019 released 2,200 inmates under the First Step Act, a 2018 law aimed at softening the longstanding punishments for mostly Black non-violent drug offenders swept up in aggressive prosecutions during the crack epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Former New York City police deputy inspector and police-reform expert Brandon del Pozo says it’s clear most communities want targeted, effective policing. The problem, he says, is that effective community policing takes a lot of resources, even if sending foot patrols through commercial and shopping areas is one way to better connect officers with the communities they serve.

He says increasing the number of detectives assigned to solve crimes is another way to show communities that departments are focused more on specific offenders, rather than stopping and frisking thousands of young men a day in a scattershot approach, a controversial approach long used in New York City. He compared such policies to how medical researchers examine the benefits and drawbacks to treatments, like a potential coronavirus vaccine: Is the cure worse than the disease?

“Police are being given the very clear signal there’s little to no room for error in their work, and that their interventions are not what people want,” says Del Pozo, 45, whose PhD dissertation focused on the relationship between police and the public in democracies. “The problem is there is no ready substitute.”

In Milwaukee, Moore, the 43-year-old activist who spends his days on the streets talking to people in communities with a history of violence,argues targeted enforcement combined with public health-focused outreach can truly make a difference. Milwaukee has developed several anti-violence campaigns, including the “You Matter” program, which aims to help residents feel they have a future worth protecting.

“It’s not about the absence of violence. This work has to be about the presence of justice and opportunity. There has to be a paradigm shift toward care,” he says. “If the only thing the federal government is deploying is cops or investigators, you’re simply banking on having more problems instead of investing in prevention.”

One of the cities singled out by Trump for additional federal officers is Albuquerque. There, city leaders were mystified by his comments about a wave of crime, since statistics show the city is one of the few big American cities not currently suffering a wave of violence.

The city is widely seen as a national leader in its efforts to address longstanding inequities in Black and Hispanic communities, and has launched a new cabinet-level department on par with the police or fire services and intended to address the mental and community health issues activists say must be a key component of any systemic reforms.

Social worker Mariela Ruiz-Angel serves as the coordinator of Albuquerque’s new Community Safety Department, which aims to be fully operational within a year.

Under the program, which is an expansion and extension of existing efforts, social workers and other trained workers will be dispatched by the same 911 dispatchers who normally decide whether to send police officers or firefighters to a call.

Over time, Ruiz-Angel says, that will help build trust within communities plagued by violence, so that people who call 911 when a family member is having a mental health crisis will come to trust they’ll be treated respectfully, setting the groundwork for better relationships with police responding to violent crime.

“Starting something new allows us to start a new culture, to create a system within a system. We have big problems and we need to think big to find solutions,” she said.

Albuquerque police in 2014 agreed to change how they train and deploy officers following several high-profile shootings of people undergoing mental health crises. That agreement came after the federal Department of Justice concluded the department was using an “excessive” amount of force that posed an ongoing risk to city residents.

Back in Philadelphia, Day echoes a similar sentiment: While piecemeal efforts make a difference, real change will only happen when everyone commits. In some cases, that’s as simple as neighbors checking in on each other, or hosting virtual hangouts so kids feel someone cares about them.

He urges people to bear in mind that homicide statistics aren’t just numbers — they are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. Day, who served prison time for armed robbery and spent his youth selling drugs on street corners, says it’s possible to push back against the grinding poverty and hopelessness he sees every day.

“We have to teach these brothers and sisters to actually value life,” he says. “We can’t place it all in the lap of the president or politicians. That has to stir up from within, from our homes. The village has to become a village again. If we all do a little, we can accomplish a lot.”

A July 15, 2020-report – The Wave of Gun Violence in N.Y.C. – in The New York Times said:

“For decades, New York City had embraced the title of the “safest big city in the country.” But now, as it cautiously emerges from months of a coronavirus lockdown, it is battling a surge in gun violence.

“The latest numbers are stark: 53 people were shot — four fatally — from Friday through Monday, the police said. Over the Fourth of July weekend, the police reported 64 shootings.”

The report by Daniel E. Slotnik said:

“For the year, as of Sunday, there had been 634 shootings in 2020, compared with 394 in same period in 2019.”

The report gave the following information:

Here’s what we know about the violence.

The recent casualties

“The 53 people shot in New York City between Friday and Monday included a 1-year-old boy who was killed on Sunday when two gunmen opened fire at a cookout in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and a 17-year-old boy who was shot in the head on Monday night outside a housing project in East Harlem.

“Also on Monday, in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, five people were shot in three drive-by shootings. The victims were expected to survive, a police official said.

“On Tuesday afternoon, there were two more fatalities: a 15-year-old boy and a 34-year-old man. They had gotten into an argument and shot each other, the police said.”

The report said:

“City and police officials have suggested various reasons for the increase in gun violence, and it’s difficult to pinpoint one root cause.

“The start of summer is traditionally a high-crime period, as people spend more time outdoors. The crisis this season may be compounded by virus restrictions that limit indoor gatherings.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio has discussed economic hardship, coupled with the stress of enduring the outbreak, as possible drivers for gun violence.

“The police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, has pointed to the release of inmates from city jails during the pandemic and new regulations on the police — including a ban on chokeholds — as possible factors.”

The report said:

“So far this year, the police have been able to make an arrest in about one in four shootings, instead of the usual one in three, according to my colleague Ashley Southall, The Times’s police bureau chief.

“Police officials have said that recent changes to the criminal justice system, notably a law curtailing cash bail for some defendants, have driven up crime. They also have said the commissioner’s decision to disband some plainclothes units that targeted illegal guns and violent crime may have contributed to the rise in shootings.

“Some critics of the department have accused the police of easing up on enforcement. Chief of Department Terence A. Monahan has denied a purposeful slowdown, though he said on Tuesday that many officers were fearful they might be arrested if they took “proactive” steps to stop crime.

“‘All the rhetoric of Defund the Police, get rid of the police, abolish the police, that’s got to end, that has to stop,’ he told 1010 WINS radio. ‘We need to find a middle ground of cops and communities, working together to handle a lot of these issues here.’”

According to the report:

“Crime in New York has declined drastically since 1990, when there were 2,245 killings and more than 5,000 people shot. Last year, there were about 320 murders.

“Still, Christopher Herrmann, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who once analyzed crime statistics for the Police Department, said the recent jump in shootings was worrisome.

“‘I have been studying this for a long time,” Mr. Herrmann told my colleagues. “I have never seen that much of an increase ever.””

Mass shootings in the U.S.: A few facts

A CNN Editorial Research produced a list of the deadliest mass shootings in modern US history (1949 to present) (Updated 1239 GMT, May 3, 2020):

“Suicides, gang-related incidents and deaths resulting from domestic conflicts are not included. ‘Deadliest’ includes shootings with 10 or more fatalities. Shooters are not included in fatality totals.

“Because there is no universal definition of mass shootings or central database tracking them, this list is based primarily on media reports and may not be complete or representative of all mass shootings.


58 killed – October 1, 2017In Las Vegas, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada, sprays gunfire on a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, killing 58 people and injuring almost 700. Witnesses say the gunshots last between 10 and 15 minutes. Officers breach Paddock’s hotel room to find him dead. Authorities believe Paddock killed himself and that he acted alone.

49 killed – June 12, 2016 Omar Saddiqui Mateen, 29, opens fire inside Pulse, a gay nightclub, in Orlando. At least 49 people are killed and more than 50 are injured. Police shoot and kill Mateen during an operation to free hostages officials say he was holding at the club.

32 killed – April 16, 2007 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. A gunman, 23-year-old student Seung-Hui Cho, goes on a shooting spree killing 32 people in two locations and wounding an undetermined number of others on campus. The shooter dies by suicide.

27 killed – December 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School – Newtown, Connecticut. Adam Lanza, 20, guns down 20 children, ages six and seven, and six adults, school staff and faculty, before turning the gun on himself. Investigating police later find Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, dead from a gunshot wound.

25 and an unborn child killed – November 5, 2017 A gunman opens fire on a small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 25 people and an unborn child and wounding 20 others. The shooter, identified by two law enforcement sources as Devin Patrick Kelley, is found dead after a brief chase, but it’s unclear if it was self-inflicted.

23 killed – October 16, 1991In Killeen, Texas, 35-year-old George Hennard crashes his pickup truck through the wall of a Luby’s Cafeteria. After exiting the truck, Hennard shoots and kills 23 people. He dies by suicide.

23 killed – August 3, 2019 In El Paso, Texas 23 people are killed after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in a case that’s being treated as domestic terrorism. Police say they found an anti-immigrant document espousing white nationalist and racist views, which they believe was written by the suspect, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius. Crusius is indicted on 90 federal charges, including hate crimes.

21 killed – July 18, 1984In San Ysidro, California, 41-year-old James Huberty, fatally shoots 21 people at a McDonald’s. A police sharpshooter kills Huberty.

18 killed – August 1, 1966 In Austin, Texas, Charles Joseph Whitman, a former US Marine, kills 16 and wounds at least 30 while shooting from a tower at the University of Texas at Austin. Police officers Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy fatally shoot Whitman in the tower. Whitman also killed his mother and wife earlier in the day.

17 killed – February 14, 2018 A former student unleashes a hail of gunfire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing at least 17 adults and children. Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

14 killed – December 2, 2015Married couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik open fire on an employee gathering taking place at Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people. They are later killed in a shootout with police.

14 killed – August 20, 1986In Edmond, Oklahoma, Patrick Henry Sherrill, a part-time mail carrier armed with three handguns, kills 14 postal workers in 10 minutes and then takes his own life.

13 and an unborn child killed – November 5, 2009Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan kills 13 people and one unborn child and injures 32 at Fort Hood, Texas, during a shooting rampage. He is convicted and sentenced to death.

13 killed – April 3, 2009In Binghamton, New York, Jiverly Wong kills 13 people and injures four during a shooting at an immigrant community center. He then kills himself.

13 killed – April 20, 1999Columbine High School – Littleton, Colorado. Eighteen-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold kill 12 fellow students and one teacher before dying by suicide in the school library.

13 killed – February 18, 1983Three men enter the Wah Mee gambling and social club in Seattle, rob the 14 occupants and then shoot each in the head, killing 13. Two of the men, Kwan Fai Mak and Benjamin Ng, are convicted of murder in August 1983. Both are serving life in prison. The third, Wai-Chiu “Tony” Ng, after years on the run in Canada, is eventually convicted of first-degree robbery and second-degree assault. He is deported to Hong Kong in 2014.

13 killed – September 25, 1982In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 40-year-old prison guard George Banks kills 13 people including five of his own children. In September 2011, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturns his death sentence, stating that Banks is mentally incompetent.

13 killed – September 5, 1949In Camden, New Jersey, 28-year-old Howard Unruh, a veteran of World War II, shoots and kills 13 people as he walks down Camden’s 32nd Street using a German-crafted Luger pistol. He is found insane and is committed to a state mental institution. He dies at the age of 88.

12 killed – May 31, 2019A shooter opens fire indiscriminately on a Virginia Beach city building, killing 12 people and injuring at least four others. The shooter dies at the scene after a gunfight with police. The gunman, later identified as 40-year-old DeWayne Craddock, was a certified professional engineer in the city’s public utilities department for 15 years and had emailed a resignation letter that morning, citing “personal reasons.”

12 killed – November 7, 2018Twelve people are killed in a shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California. Officials say the gunman, Ian David Long, shot an unarmed security guard outside the bar, then went in and continued shooting, injuring other security workers, employees and patrons. Long dies by suicide.

12 killed – September 16, 2013Shots are fired inside the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12. The shooter, identified as Aaron Alexis, 34, is also killed.

12 killed – July 20, 2012Twelve people are killed, and 58 are wounded in a shooting at a screening of the new Batman film in Aurora, Colorado. James E. Holmes, 24, dressed head-to-toe in protective tactical gear, sets off two devices of some kind before spraying the theater with bullets from an AR-15 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and at least one of two .40-caliber handguns police recovered at the scene. On July 16, 2015, Holmes is found guilty on all 165 counts against him, 24 first-degree murder, 140 attempted murder and one count of possession or control of an explosive or incendiary device. He is sentenced to life in prison without parole.

12 killed – July 29, 1999 In Atlanta, 44-year-old Mark Barton kills his wife and two children at his home. He then opens fire in two different brokerage houses, killing nine people and wounding 12. He later kills himself.

11 killed – October 27, 2018Eleven people are killed in a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. 46-year-old Robert Bowers surrenders to authorities on the third floor of the building and is now facing federal charges, including hate crimes. Bowers told a SWAT officer while receiving medical care that he wanted all Jews to die and that Jews “were committing genocide to his people,” a criminal complaint filed in Allegheny County says.

10 Killed – May 18, 2018Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, allegedly walks into an art class and begins firing, killing eight students and two teachers at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. Pagourtzis is arrested and charged with capital murder and aggravated assault of a public servant.

10 killed – March 10, 2009In Alabama, Michael McLendon of Kinston, kills 10 and himself. The dead include his mother, grandparents, aunt and uncle.

[The sources of these facts are: CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, Hartford Courant (Connecticut), Patriot News (Pennsylvania), Long Beach Press–Telegram (California), Richmond Times–Dispatch (Virginia), Fayetteville Observer (North Carolina), Omaha World-Herald (Nebraska), Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Arizona Republic]

Wally Gordon writes on violence in capitalism:

Despite the pernicious effects of capitalism huge numbers of people support this iniquitous system. The competition encouraged by capitalists and their government fractures community spirit, and the winner of economic competition imposes suffering on the losers. Because they do not have what they need, the indignity, frustration, resentment and anxiety impel the losers to become violent. Capitalism means violence ‐ the pollution of environmental violence, the militarism of political violence, the maintained unemployment of structural violence. Capitalism must be eliminated

Since critical problems due to social and economic inequality are global, an organization representing all the people on Earth is required to address them. The collective ownership of natural resources and industry, and public control of production, distribution and services must be seen, not as a system which is isolated, but as a form which can be effective only as one of the the connected parts of the global System of Social Justice.

Capitalism must go, taking with it excessive automation, inequality and violence. (“Capitalism and violence”, Medicine, Conflict and Survival, Volume 13, 1997, Issue 1)

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