DC Murder Rate Reaches 17-Year-High: 200 Homicides

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A vigil in Washington D.C., photo by Casey Premoshis via Flickr.

Washington D.C. has reached a grim milestone of 200 homicides this year, marking the first time that the “symbolic threshold of deadly violence” has been crossed in the nation’s capital since 2003,  according to The Washington Post.

This news comes as the spike in violent crime, which surged 30 percent in 2020, has begun to level off. In 2020, there were 7.8 homicides per 100,000 people, an increase from six  homicides per 100,000 people in 2019, according to FBI crime statistics.

Most other categories of crime have continued to decline nationwide, underlining the warnings of some of the nation’s top criminologists to avoid “alarmism.”  

 But killings in the district have risen each year since 2017, when 116 deaths were recorded. Last year, the city counted 198 killings. Shootings, which spiked 48 percent last year, are down slightly in 2021. Crime involving juveniles is also up, police say, with 24 people age 17 and younger charged with murder in the past 22 months.

D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III called reaching 200 homicides “very troubling,” noting “lives that matter in our city were unnecessarily taken away too soon,” as quoted by The Washington Post.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a message to residents last week, “Your safety is my number one priority,” as quoted by a local NBC Affiliate. 

“We are throwing every resource at the rise in violent crime in DC, and we will keep pushing on all fronts until we see positive results,” Bowser concluded.

‘No Simple Explanation’ for Deadly Violence

Over many weeks, District Leaders have publicly shared that there’s “no simple explanation for the increase in deadly violence” but others have cited the proliferation of illegal firearms, and the presence of guns in minor disputes that turn deadly. 

To that end, the local NBC Affiliate reports that the number of people shot in the District has been declining year over year — but Contee has said that the increased firepower from long guns and trigger switches have made the existing guns more deadly. 

With some of the toughest gun laws, D.C. police have taken out more than 1,900 guns off the street just this year alone.

Others discussing the origins of the rise in violence continue to share how the pandemic has disrupted the justice system by emptying jails and rupturing public safety.

Following the news of the grim milestone, the D.C. police union attributed the crime spike to “changes in policing born out of the 2020 summer of social unrest, sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. 

Many of the protests last year resulted in smaller police departments and lower budgets, along with new rules that activists say are designed to curb police abuse of power — but critics say these changes have impeded crime fighting. 

To that end, others chalk up the violence to human behavior.

In a recent interview, The Washington Post quotes the police chief, saying some people simply “don’t have empathy for another human being.” He cited several killings over seemingly trivial matters, including one of a woman gunned down in front of her family during an argument with a neighbor.

“What’s the issue?” Contee said. “What is it over at the end of the day? Where is our sense of humanity?”

Contee has pushed for more accountability in the criminal justice system in dealing with people his officers arrest, especially those charged in gun crimes.

See Also: Rising Gun Violence Threatens U.S. Democracy, Warns Researcher

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