Gunfire and carnage are sweeping across America’s streets.
At least six children ages 6 to 14 died in a spate of shootings over the past five days, as the level of gun violence and murder surpassed the deadly total at the same time last year.
Chicago reported 87 shootings and 17 fatalities from Thursday evening through Sunday night. At least 13 of the shooting victims were under 14 years old.
New York suffered 44 shootings and 11 deaths from gun violence from Friday through Sunday.
Philadelphia reported 31 shootings and seven deaths from gun violence.
Atlanta reported 23 shootings and the death of an 8-year-old girl, who was killed while riding in a car with her mother when they passed an illegal roadblock by a mob of protesters.
Law enforcement professionals say the eruption of violence is a perfect storm of animosity toward the police and liberal criminal justice reform policies that have put violent offenders back on the streets and hamstrung police departments.
The police departments insist they have not ordered officers to stand down in the face of racial justice protests. But police, whether by order or for fear of prosecution for use of force, appeared to take a hands-off approach amid the growing violence.
In Baltimore, police did not intervene when a mob on Saturday toppled a prominent statue of Christopher Columbus and tossed it into the Inner Harbor.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison on Monday said officers held back because “it was tactically unsafe.”
“As the Baltimore Police Department was responding to several life and death incidents across the city, a small number of officers were assigned to assist with peaceful protests taking place in the downtown area,” he said in a statement. “As the number of protesters grew, it was tactically unsafe for those few officers to position themselves between the protesters and the Christopher Columbus Statue in an attempt to prevent vandalism and destruction.”
Dean Esserman, senior counsel for the National Police Foundation, said police are not engaging lawbreakers because of confusion about their role amid calls to overhaul policing.
“I don’t hear that police are standing down, but they are not getting orders and hesitant to act on their own, which is a natural reaction to what is going on these days,” he said.
Baltimore’s life and death incidents over the holiday weekend included at least a dozen shootings that resulted in one death.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry blames the unchecked violence on Democratic leaders who dominate nearly every large city in the U.S., which also are ground zero for the onslaught of killings.
“Not all of America is dangerous right now. If you go out and look at smaller cities where there is rule of law and holding people accountable, they are safe,” Mr. Landry, a Republican, told The Washington Times. “Big cities with large populations are dangerous right now because of systemic liberalism.”
New bail policies implemented in Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia have resulted in hundreds of individuals arrested on low-level crimes almost immediately returning to the streets. Once free, those criminals have become more brazen, experts said.
“There are some in this country who believe no one should be held behind bars absent an actual conviction because of the presumption of innocence. And that mindset is starting to permeate a lot of jurisdictions where people who have a history of being violent and dangerous are being arrested again on murder or attempted murder charges,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.
Changes to bail laws have been instituted in each of the cities that were wracked with violence over the weekend.
New York state lawmakers last year reduced the number of crimes for which offenders could be held on bail, which eliminated bail for 90% of the state’s arrests.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced last year his office will no longer seek bail for offenses that account for 61% of all cases in the city’s criminal justice system.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in 2018 signed an ordinance that eliminated bail for lower-level offenders.
Experts say enforcing low-level offenses can prevent more serious crimes, a theory known as “Broken Windows” policing. The Broken Windows policy was credited with lowering New York city’s crime rate in the late 1990s.
Critics have charged the practice has resulted in aggressive over-policing of minorities and overburdens the criminal justice system with small, quality of life crimes.
Mr. Landry, however, counters that the success of the Broken Windows theory speaks for itself.
The spike in violence doesn’t surprise law enforcement, Mr. Acevedo said, noting officers have been tracking the increase in violent crime since the bail changes were implemented. He says murders in his town are up 34% through this year.
And Houston isn’t the only city where the murder rate is rising. Philadelphia is on pace to have its highest murder rate since 2007, and New York’s 2020 murder rate through June is 25% higher than it was during the same period last year, according to statistics from both police departments.
“We’ve been sounding the alarm for probably two years now, but people don’t seem to be paying attention,” he said. “The country has been focused on the coronavirus pandemic and no one was paying attention and, in the meantime, we are losing Americans to gun violence and violent crime.”
The issue is greater than the new bail policies, however. Officials say calls to the defund the police have left officers across the country tepid on confronting lawbreakers for fear of excessive force accusations.
Many of the Democrat-led cities are pushing on plans to slash funding for police departments amid ongoing protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in the custody of four White police officers in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
“I think police are demoralized,” said Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. “Protesters are throwing rocks and stones at them, politicians are undercutting their ability to do their jobs.”
Mr. Acevedo said complaints about community violence from the same politicians decrying the police with broad accusations of brutality creates a double-edged sword for officers.
“You can’t complain about police brutality on one hand and on the other hand complain about more people being shot in a neighborhood in one weekend than all the use of excessive force complaints combined,” Mr. Acevedo said. “They had something like 80 shootings in Chicago this weekend. I don’t think they’ve had 60 officer-involved shootings in Chicago this year.”
Last year, 76 people were fatally shot by the Chicago Police Department, according to the most recent statistics from Mapping Police Violence, a group that tracks police shootings across the country.
Officials say it is not clear when the violence will abate.
“If people are unwilling to throw their mayors out of office and get rid of city councilmen who want to defund the police, there is absolutely nothing you can do,” Mr. Landry said. “There is no magic bullet. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you just have to enforce the law.”
Ultimately, he said, the violence will end when those communities get fed up.
“There is going to be a tipping point,” Mr. Landry said. “Violent crime doesn’t affect one victim, it affects multiple victims. If your brother gets shot and killed, your parents become the victim. You become the victim. Violent crime has the potential to create exponential victims every time it rises.”
Mr. Carr was more optimistic.
“I am hopeful the temperature can be turned down,” he said. “We have to uphold the law. If people know laws are being enforced and those engaged in lawlessness are held accountable, they will feel comfortable.”