Did you think the Coronavirus would stop gun violence in the black community? If your answer was “no,” you’d be right.
At a time when the FBI background checks for firearms surged to record highs in Florida, the black community in Jacksonville has taken the concept of social distancing to a new extreme. In the 50 percent white/30 percent black city, the black community has long been the primary source of fatal/nonfatal shootings. But with the onset of the Coronavirus and mandatory social distancing/staying-in-place, the acceleration of gun violence in the black community is dramatic. So while white people in Jacksonville legally purchase firearms and socially distance to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, blacks have no problem trying to rectify inequities by engaging in record gun violence during a global pandemic. [Despite coronavirus, homicides don’t stop as Jacksonville faces a deadly start, Jacksonville.com, April 3, 2020]:
Jacksonville homicides in March were the highest ever for any March going back 15 years.
Last month, even as Mayor Lenny Curry urged residents to stay home and keep their communities safe, the city suffered from more than just a rising coronavirus outbreak.
In March, the city had more homicides — 17 — than in any other March going back at least 15 years, a Times-Union analysis found.
One quarter of the way through 2020, Jacksonville’s persistent homicide rate doesn’t look ready to shrink.
The only year with more homicides in the first quarter was last year, which ended up being the deadliest year in decades.
The city had 43 homicides in the first quarter last year. There were 41 homicides in the first quarter this year.
One particular concern: the pace of homicides is usually slower in the first quarter of the year, but this isn’t always true. Only in 2006 and 2019 were the number of homicides per month from January to March higher than the rest of the year’s average.
It’s even worse for Jacksonville’s black residents, who made up 85 percent of homicide victims in the last three months. Since the Times-Union began tracking homicide statistics in 2006, there have never been more black people killed in the first quarter.
In the past six months, 72 black residents have been killed. In 15 years of tracking homicide statistics, the Times-Union has never found another six-month period that comes close.
The average six-month period saw 42 black residents killed, 30 fewer than Jacksonville saw from October through March.
“That is absolutely horrific,” said Paul Tutwiler, CEO of the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation. Tutwiler, whose organization also operates one of the city’s two Cure Violence sites, said he had been preparing for violence to spike in the summer as it usually does when school lets out. But with school out due to the coronavirus outbreak, he said his workers have been scrambling to continue meeting with people by phone.
The violence interrupters, as his workers are called, try to stop retaliation by talking to people engaged in back-and-forth violent disputes.
Half of the victims so far have been 29 or younger, and eight have been teenagers.
Mayor Curry has frequently urged the public to consider their neighbors by staying home. “It’s up to us as a community to act responsibly and to take care of each other,” he said Wednesday morning. “There’s a million people in this city. We don’t have a million police officers. And we don’t want to deploy those resources and stretch them because people simply won’t socially distance.”
Curry, who has been holding daily news conferences, was not available Thursday for a conversation about the city’s crime rate. Sheriff Mike Williams declined an interview request.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson said in a statement:
“The gun violence being perpetrated in our hardest-hit communities has been an all-too-common issue for years in this city,” she wrote. “Nevertheless, law enforcement and prosecutors continue our fight. The recent trend of violence is particularly troubling given the current challenges we face as a city, state, and nation. We are incensed that our already compromised first responders, law enforcement, and emergency medical providers have to triage the COVID-19 pandemic while responding to crime scenes involving unnecessary violence.”
There were also two fatal police shootings in the first quarter and three in the last quarter, which means police shot and killed five men in the last six months.
ames Lynch, a criminology professor at the University of Maryland and former director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, said that while social distancing measures might reduce in-the-moment violence, it likely wouldn’t prevent the types of targeted retaliation that police and prosecutors have said plague the city.
“The opportunity to commit crimes is restricted by the fact people aren’t moving, but if you’re out to get somebody particular, that’s not going to stop you,” Lynch said.
Just as violence interrupters were doing before the social-distancing measures stopped in-person meetings, Tutwiler said his workers are still trying to stop retaliation before it starts.
He’s trying to persuade the people they work with, he said, that they can take their “frustrations of being cooped up” and do something positive. He said the workers at Bridges to the Cure, the Cure Violence site, are reaching out on social media.
“We had a list of individuals we were already working with that are known gun-toters and we’re reaching out to them and talking to them,” he said. “We had a great plan that had to be suddenly adjusted, not abandoned, but adjusted for the new realities. We were so excited about our progress, and we’ve been celebrating the length of time between homicides as a community.
Not even a global pandemic and a stay-at-home order by the governor of Florida can stop black people from shooting each other in Jacksonville. And to think, the city just gave a $750,000 grant to an organization called “Cure Violence” in the summer of 2019 to try and convince blacks to stop shooting each other.
How can we blame this on the NRA, the 2nd Amendment and white gun owners again?