MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Gun homicides increased 35% across the country during the pandemic to the highest level in 25 years, according to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Firearm murders increased most among youth and young adults -- 40% for those 10 to 24, the CDC data shows.
The increases were also highest for people of color. Rates of gun homicide involving Black males aged 10 to 24 years -- which were already 21-times as high as white males of the same age -- increased further still in 2020.
In 2020, Memphis broke its homicide record with 332 deaths. Then in 2021, the city broke that record with 346 homicides.
The CDC study suggests that the rise in violence could be attributed to the social and economic pressures stemming from the pandemic that reinforced “longstanding” inequities between communities.
“There’s a direct correlation between poverty and violence,” said Rev. Earle J. Fisher, Ph.D.
Fisher, the Senior Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church, basically summed up the results of the recent CDC report.
“But what we have heard as the primary solution coming out of government is more police officers,” he said.
The pastor said he doesn’t think that’s the solution, and the CDC report did not suggest that.
But the fact is -- in Memphis for the last two years -- we’ve broken the homicide record.
The report takes an even wider look at the U.S. It shows during the pandemic, the firearm homicide rate in the United States reached its highest level since 1994 -- a 25-year high in 2020. The report finds those rates grew nearly 35 percent between 2019 and 2020.
The CDC found these weapons were involved in 79 percent of all homicides and more than half of all suicides in 2020.
The report also found that while the increase in firearm suicides was less than firearm homicides, the sheer number of suicides involving guns continued to outpace homicides. The report found that there were 24,245 suicides involving firearms in the U.S. in 2020, compared to 19,350 firearm homicides.
Rates for firearm homicides increased for both men and women.
The largest increases in firearm homicide rates were among Black males ages 10–24 and 25–44.
“I think it’s something about over 50% of all violent crimes committed by less than 1% of the population,” said Fisher.
But he said the approach that’s being used to fix the problem doesn’t reflect that.
“The conversation that we have about solutions is let’s do this blanket approach, which is ultimately mass incarceration. Let’s be tough on crime. Let’s lock people up. Let’s not deal with the structural and systemic inequities as if the majority of our community is engaged in that type of behavior,” said Fisher. “It’s not true. The vast majority of citizens in Memphis, especially the Black ones, do exactly what they’re supposed to do every day. The vast majority of parents do exactly what they’re supposed to do with their children every day.”
FOX13 asked Rev. Fisher how you get into the mind of young men who think gun violence is the answer.
“The way you change that is by changing the things on the assembly line. The way you change that is by changing the materials that are being used. But right now, the thing that’s on the assembly line is fast cars, cars and a lack of opportunity,” Fisher said.
The pastor said that despite popular opinion, a small part of the Memphis population committed the vast majority of crimes.
“If you start talking about, you know, possibility, we also have to talk about not just patterns, but pathways. We have to create more pathways for these individuals, these young people, to accomplish what they aspire to,” he said.
Fisher said he believes the work that will lead to a solution has already begun. He said faith leaders are stepping up.
He said he feels politicians and lawmakers need to be held more accountable for defining and executing plans to rid crime that fall more in line with the systemic issues we face.
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