By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media
Los Angeles recorded over 300 homicides in 2020, a statistical high mark it had not reached in 11 years.
Now, a little over a year later, the body count from that sharp homicide increase continues to stack up — not only in California’s largest city but also in other major cities across the state. As authorities begin to investigate the uptick in crime-related deaths, one thing is clear: a majority of those homicides have occurred in urban areas of the state where large numbers of African Americans live.
Within the 15-day period before 2021 began, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) reported 19 murders. During the first few days of the new year, that number doubled. By the seventh day, 45 people had been shot and killed, the LAPD reports.
After crunching the 2020 data, the LAPD reported a 38 % uptick in homicides. Among them, there were more than 350 shooting victims, indicating an increase in the use of firearms.
“This is just over twice the rate of the same period last year,” LAPD chief Michel Moore said during a January press briefing.
As of Jan. 29, Sacramento reported that six people had been shot and killed during five different incidents. Before that, during the last six months of 2020, there was a slew of killings involving young people in the state capital, ending a 24-month stretch since 2018 when not one youth was murdered.
Last year, Sacramento saw 43 homicides, up from 34 in 2019, and the most since 2015, according to the Sacramento Police Department (SPD). Eight of those homicides were gang-related, and four of them involved juvenile victims. One victim was a nine-year-old girl who was shot and killed by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting. There were 192 firearm-related assaults in 2020, a nearly 30% increase over the previous year.
SPD police officers made over 50 arrests and seized over 60 illegally possessed firearms in the month of January alone. In 2019, officers seized a total of 974 illegal firearms. In 2020, this number increased to 1,235.
“The year 2020 was a challenging year for our community (and) our department,” said SPD public information representative Karl Chan.
“The last year saw a strain on the police’s resources like never before,” Chan continued. “Officers were often pulled from policing our communities to stop major demonstrations around our (State) Capitol.”
Oakland is also off to a violent start this year. The Oakland Police Department (OPD) reports that January was the deadliest month in almost 20 years. A total of 15 murders were recorded during the first month of 2021. Only one homicide was committed in January of 2020.
Overall, Oakland had 64 murders in January alone, a 129% increase. The city’s mayor Libby Schaaf said Oakland is at a point where “emotions are high.” The violence is “caused by overall stress,” she believes.
Schaaf also blames the spike in homicides on an influx of weapons.
“We are seeing more and more powerful guns on our streets than we have ever seen before,” Schaaf said.
In San Diego County, 52 murders were registered in the first six months of 2020 with sharp increases in March and April, according to the San Diego Association of Governments. San Diego County experienced 38 homicides during the same six-month period in 2019. Homicide detectives said 41 % of those killings were connected to arguments, 22% to robberies and 3% to gang violence. Another 34 % were attributed to other factors.
In Chula Vista, a city10 miles south of San Diego, there were 10 homicides in 2020. That number represents more than a 300 % increase over the city’s average of three homicides a year.
San Francisco has neither experienced an uptick nor a decrease in homicides in 2021. The three murders committed in the city so far this year happened in January — the exact number that occurred in January of 2020, according to the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD). The first of the San Francisco homicides in 2020 was a Black woman, Emma Hunt, a 32-year-old a mother of two.
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely one culprit helping to trigger the increase in homicides in the state over the last 24 months. Stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout and the national racial reckoning centered around protests that erupted after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are considered factors as well, crime experts say.
“This year, we’re really seeing something really unprecedented,” said Jeff Asher, a co-founder of AH Datalytics, a national data analysis firm, during a television interview with NBC 7 in San Diego.
Asher, who studies national crime numbers every year, stated that 57 police departments across the country saw homicides climb 36.7% last year over 2019 figures.
“This really is a national trend,” Asher said.”
With the largest population in the country, California recorded the largest number of homicides in 2019: 1,690 for the year, according to Statista.com, a national market research and consumer data company.
In 2019, of the California homicides where the victim’s race or ethnicity was identified, 44.2 % of victims were Hispanic, 28.6 %were Black, 19.8 % were white, and 7.4% were from other race or ethnic groups, according to the California Attorney General’s 2019 annual report.
Additionally, firearms continue to be the most “common weapon” used in homicides, the report found.
On Feb. 19, the SPD’s SWAT team and Sacramento District Attorney’s Office Investigators announced the arrest of two individuals charged with two counts of possession of assault weapons with extended magazines and handguns.
“By taking these guns off the streets, our officers have made our city safer for the community and our officers,” said Daniel Hahn, California Capital city’s first African American police chief. “These investigations are important, as they not only address violence occurring in our community, but also can lead to other serious crimes.”