Saturday, August 20, 2022

Murder and the legacy of the police killing of George Floyd

Criminologists and other scholars continue to debate the causes of the recent surge in homicide in the United States. How much blame should be assigned to the social and economic disruption caused by the Covid pandemic? How much blame should be given to the continuing proliferation of gun ownership? Did the Black Lives Matter movement contribute to social unrest that promoted fatal violence?

Scholars similarly debated whether there was a so-called "Ferguson Effect" as homicide rates increased in many U.S. cities following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

What is beyond debate is that homicides increased dramatically in 2020. Murders surged nearly 30 percent, the largest one-year increase on record. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control show homicide increased another 6 percent in 2021.

When homicides are summarized on a weekly basis, however, a very clear pattern emerges. Although social and economic disruption caused by Covid began in early 2020, it wasn't until the week ending May 30 that weekly homicides topped 500 for the first time in many years. Although unemployment caused by Covid surged in April, there was little if any increase in murders at that time.

Homicide began the historic hike exactly in the week when George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derick Chauvin on May 25, 2020. A video of Floyd's suffocation death lasting 9 minutes and 29 seconds went viral throughout the United States and the world. His dying words "I can't breathe" sparked angry protests in hundreds of cities.

"There may have been several contributing factors to the surge in U.S. homicides, but George Floyd's murder was the very specific spark that lit the fuse to an extraordinary increase in fatal violence," concluded Murder Accountability Project Chairman Thomas Hargrove. "Law enforcement is learning from this experience. Police officers must be trained to avoid unnecessary deaths like George Floyd's, acting as guardians of society and not as anti-crime warriors."

To view the CDC data used for this study, click here.