Bay Area Wrestles With a Rash of Freeway Shootings

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The San Francisco Bay Area has seen a sharp decline in gun homicides in the past decade, even as inequality and poverty have been on the rise, but highways are one of the few areas where gun violence is up, the Guardian reports. Between November 2015, when the California Highway Patrol began keeping track, and April 2019, 189 freeway shootings took place. The number of freeway shootings has increased on nearly every major highway in the region, law enforcement officials say, from San Jose to Silicon Valley, Oakland and San Francisco.

Bay Area law enforcement and elected officials do not have an iron-clad explanation of why freeways have become a more common venue for gun violence, but they point at a series of factors, including gang conflicts, and the displacement of longtime residents from cities like Oakland, where the average price of rent has exceeded many working-class families’ budgets. In the Bay Area, the shootings occur day and night, with some of the deadliest incidents taking place during rush hour. Most of them aren’t fatal, but between 2015 and 2019 at least 88 people have sustained serious injuries. “With the displacement and gentrification of a lot of East Bay cities, and cities like San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond, it’s creating this diaspora that’s being spread to the valleys up [Interstate] 80 and Highway 4,” said Richmond city councilmember Demnlus Johnson. “When all of those people get on the freeway to come back to Richmond they’re gonna see each other.” Law enforcement’s main response to the new threats to highway safety is the “Freeway Security Network,” which includes an array of ShotSpotter microphones and automatic license plate reader cameras. Critics worry that law enforcement’s approach to the shootings is helping to spread racially based hysteria and distracted from necessary preventive measures.

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