Murder Rate Rose by 37% in U.S. Cities In 2020

Crime scene of a recent Fairfax County murder. Credit ABC News.

by Hans Bader

Murders have skyrocketed this year, as local governments have become softer on crime. In the 57 major cities for which data is available, the murder rate is up an average of 36.7%. Murder went up in 51 cities, and down in only six cities. Murder is up 74.1% in Seattle, 72.3% in Minneapolis, 55.5% in Chicago, 54.1% in Boston, 39.2% in New York, 34.5% in St. Louis, and 30.4% in Los Angeles.

This huge rise in murder occurred as progressive prosecutors became softer on crime, parole became available to more murderers, and the death penalty stopped being used in most states.

In the last few years, voters in many areas have elected left-wing prosecutors who refuse to “prosecute entire categories of crimes” and thus “enable crime to explode under their watch,” notes the Heritage Foundation. For example, in 2019, Steve Descano was elected as Commonwealth’s Attorney in Virginia’s Fairfax County. He defeated the incumbent, a moderate Democrat, in a close Democratic primary election by massively outspending him. His campaign was funded mostly by a PAC bankrolled by left-wing billionare George Soros, which gave Descano over $600,000.

As the Heritage Foundation notes, “Descano promised not to seek the death penalty in any case, even though Virginia law authorizes” it for certain aggravated murders. “He refused to seek the death penalty” in even the most outrageous cases, such as the gruesome murder and rape committed against Genevieve Orange. Killer Mark Lawlor entered Orange’s apartment, “struck her 47 times with either a claw hammer or a frying pan, fractured her skull multiple times, and raped her as she lay dying on the floor of her apartment, where she choked on her own blood.” Descano “crowed” about his decision not to seek the death penalty in the Lawlor case, boasting about the nobility of his decision.

Descano’s office refuses to prosecute most crimes he deems minor, such as simple assault, shoplifting of less than $1,000, and participation in riots, leaving some criminals free to prey on their fellow citizens and escalate their crimes over time.

Descano is, sadly, not an isolated case. Reports from the Heritage Foundation show that left-wing prosecutors in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Boston are every bit as bad. Several other left-wing prosecutors took office in Virginia in the same 2019 election that brought Descano to power. The left-wing “Justice and Public Safety” PAC spent over $2 million to elect three of them. As the Washington Post reported, that PAC was “funded by George Soros.”

In Los Angeles, prosecutor George Gascon refuses to seek life without parole in even the worst murder cases involving torture or serial killers. He says that he won’t enforce sentencing enhancements mandated by state law for such cases, because that would be “racist.”

Gascon’s office is now opposing life without parole even in cases of unusually cruel murders such as one where “two men” were “burned to death in a deliberately-set fire at a recording studio,” and for a killer who repeatedly murdered police officers.

Left-wing prosecutors’ refusal to seek either life without parole or the death penalty will cause the murder rate to increase. Studies show that longer prison sentences deter crimes from being committed, saving innocent lives. For example, the California murder rate fell due to the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which Gascon refuses to enforce. That ballot initiative increased penalties for repeat offenders who commit willful homicide and other major crimes. The violent crimes covered by Proposition 8 fell significantly after it became law, especially compared to crimes not covered by Prop. 8.

The death penalty may save lives by deterring murders. Several studies concluded that the death penalty saves lives by deterring killings. As the Associated Press noted in 2007, “Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five and 14).”

But the death penalty is almost extinct in 2020. The number of executions is at its lowest level in 37 years, and many states have abolished the death penalty, such as New Hampshire last year. Only five states carried out any executions last year, and death sentences were handed down in only seven states. Last year, California’s governor imposed a moratorium on the death penalty.

Thousands of murders are committed annually, but less than one percent of all premeditated murders lead to a death sentence, and many inmates given death sentences are never executed. So murderers now know they almost certainly won’t be executed, no matter how many murders they commit. That may be fueling America’s rising murder rate.

Prison sentences for murder are effectively shrinking, as more murderers have become eligible for parole due to recent changes in state laws, and rulings by progressive judges. For example, in California, adults who committed murder before age 25 became eligible for youth offender parole hearings as a result of legislation enacted in 2017. This year, Washington, DC’s city government passed legislation that would allow previously-convicted murderers to seek release after 15 years, if they committed their crime before age 25.

In Virginia, people who committed murder at age 16 or 17 are now eligible for parole after a mere 20 years, no matter how many murders they committed, under a law passed in February 2020. Two years ago, Washington State’s supreme court declared it unconstitutional to give 16 or 17 year old murderers life sentences without the possibility of parole, regardless of how many people they kill. In a 5-to-4 vote, it ruled in favor of a man who had murdered his parents and then drowned his brother in a bathtub.

By releasing violent criminals earlier, these expansions of parole will result in more killings of innocent people. Murder rates peak in the late teens and early 20s. About four in ten killers commit their crime before age 25. At least ten percent of all murders have historically been committed by juveniles, and once released, juvenile murderers often commit more violent crimes, including more murders.

Hans Bader is an attorney living in Northern Virginia.

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18 responses to “Murder Rate Rose by 37% in U.S. Cities In 2020

  1. I expect that Hans is right to say that there is a connection between soft-on-crime prosecutors and the crime rate, but I don’t think it’s as direct as portrayed here. The surge in murders was greatest in cities roiled by intense reactions to the George Floyd killing where local politicians and media were sympathetic to protesters, refused to stand up to rioters, and/or police morale plummeted. Soft-on-crime prosecutors may have played a role, but they were secondary players. The anti-police rhetoric was much more of a factor in the surge in violence than the fact that a few criminals were let out of prison.

    Second, an increase in murders may or may not be accompanied by an increase in violent crime generally, which may or may not be accompanied an increase in lesser crimes.

    But the reasons Hans cites may play out over the longer term. Left-wing prosecutors have rejected the “broken windows” theory of crime fighting that led to New York City’s turn-around in the 1990s. Refusal to prosecute lesser crimes over time feeds a growing sense of disorder and lawlessness and belief by criminals that they can act with impunity, which then leads to an increase in violent crimes, and eventually to an increase in murders — that’s the theory, anyway.

    Bacon’s Rebellion will be checking the data when the next Virginia State Police crime report comes out. We’ll make a point of comparing trends in Fairfax and Arlington counties, with their super-progressive C.A.s, with the experience of the state as a whole.

    • “Refusal to prosecute lesser crimes over time feeds a growing sense of disorder and lawlessness and belief by criminals that they can act with impunity, which then leads to an increase in violent crimes, and eventually to an increase in murders — that’s the theory, anyway.”

      “That theory” is the bedrock of Western Civilization.

      “That theory” has been working since the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament (think Moses).

      And, for another example, amid the moral collapse and civic cesspool of late 6th century BC Athens, Solon (630–560 BC) reestablished and elaborated old laws and moral strictures that rebuilt civic order and responsibility within Athens that ultimately powered that city state to the pinnacle of the civilized world, until Athens around 450 BC, yet again began its civic and moral collapse into disorder and chaos. This culminated in Sparta’s defeat of Athens in 404 BC and the forced suicide of Socrates in 399 BC. Soon all of Greece was under the Macedonian boot of the tyrant Philip and his son Alexander, never to rise again into freedom til modern times.

      Plato, reflecting on the chaotic civil history of Athens, its people and neighbors, the spectacular rises and chronic falls into collapse after collapse, made civic order and morality the centerpiece of his dialogues on the Republic (c. 375 BC), arguing for the critical need for good character within its citizens and stable order within a just city state.

      Plato’s work, reflecting Socrates thought, along with Aristotle’s later elaborations in his Politics and Ethics started around 357 BC., became the most influential treatment of civic theory, ethics order in human history, second only to the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, in Western Civilization. This is the foundation of Western Canon, along with Homer, forming the foundation of Western civilization. It is this canon and all that followed in it wake, that today’s elite American universities are working so hard to undermine and demean, cancel and outlaw, and burn or otherwise relegate to the dustbin of human history.

  2. Baconator with extra cheese

    Repeat after me:
    “The greatest threat to Americans are white supremacists…”
    I agree white supremacists are scum and should be rooted out and convicted of any and all crimes.
    But white supremacists have nothing to do with the act of the vast majority of murders in RVA, Baltimore, Chicago, St Louis, Memphis, Charlotte, Birmingham, Detroit, and unfortunately plenty of others.
    You can argue about the cause of poverty in these cities and you would have a point. But the finger on the trigger in the majority of homicides crippling the inner cities does not belong to a white supremacist.

  3. Hot Air is Baders authorotative reference?


  4. The murder rate is rising a lot, but by less in America as a whole than in its cities. The national increase in the murder rate was 21%.

    Law professor Eugene Volokh says that murder rose 21% in America as a whole, which is less than the 37% rise in its major cities described above:

    So rural and suburban areas experienced smaller increases in the murder rate than the cities did.

    Hot Air seems to be linking to a criminal justice researchers’ spreadsheet based on data submitted by the 57 cities.

  5. Every one of the cities mentioned in the first paragraph of this story is under the total control of one particular political party. Most of them have been under the control of this particular political party for many decades.

    Every one of those cities (with the exception of St. Louis) either has in place, or is located within a state which has in place, very strict and restrictive laws regarding the purchase and possession of firearms and other weapons of self-defense. Several of the states in which these cities are located just enacted new, more restrictive gun laws in the last year or so.

    None of this makes any sense. After all, everybody knows that the political party in question excels at keeping people safe and happy so they don’t feel the need to commit crimes; and it’s a logical fact that stricter guns laws result in less crime…

    \s (just in case)

    • Only stricter gun laws for the peasants, they still roll deep with bodyguards carrying Class III firearms.

      I don’t know if it’s a particular party or just subgroups that have found control in that party. I don’t like the whole party paradigm as both have losers, nuts and good people.

      We also can’t forget that we most of the time the current firearms laws on the books aren’t even enforced, so obviously the solution is more laws.

      • Since gun control and removing firearms from the masses is so important to much of our betters, shouldn’t the hiring of an armed body guard by any private citizen for his/her personal protection or accepting such protection arranged or paid for by a third party be a felony? How about a 10-year mandatory sentence? Hell, this is even an act of “wokeness,” sticking up for those without power or money.

        Riddle me this. Why is the imposition of taxes or fees on gun ownership acceptable when the imposition of a tax or fee on an abortion would be immediately slapped down? Even more bizarre is the fact that the right to bear arms is directly set forth in the Constitution while the latter comes from penumbras and emanations.

        • I’d say mandatory minimum of 10 years for using a firearm in the commission of a crime. I think the federal is 15 but it never get followed by the States.

          It’s acceptable because the citizens gave away the right to object in 1934, 1975 and again in 1986.

          I don’t disagree, the reason Roe is continuously litigated is because it only relies on stare decisis rather than a law. Until legislation is passed that path will continue (at least in my opinion), there is also the fact that people won’t to slip the bonds of Roe. They feel they are too constrictive (which in reality they are too lose given our modern medical advancements).

          From my own political beliefs, you’re free to have any abortion as long as you pay for it yourself under the auspicious of Roe . The moral implications of that act are between you and whatever deity you call God.

          I will gladly bear arms to protect someone’s right to abort their baby with in reason.

  6. Baconator with extra cheese

    The other very sad piece of this puzzle is most muders occur within racial groups and usually the victim and the perpetrator are people in the same community. Thus relaxed sentencing and no bond means the menaces to society will come home to inflcit more damage to their inner city communities at greater frequencies.
    But we do have free elections and the public is speaking out and apparently want these “progressive” reforms.
    So I am fine with it. I don’t associate with such people who participate in high risk activities in high risk areas. But I will end up moving to a more rural and more conservative area in the near future.

  7. What happened in Minneapolis, where gross negligence on the part of the woke mayor and Oakton HS grad Jacob Frey resulted in the homicide of Mr. Floyd and the even more woke city council pushed to “defund” the police?

    Or if you prefer

    One of the most telling comments comes from an immigrant.

    “Since the unjustified and unfortunate death of George Floyd, the city council has engaged in rhetoric that has emboldened criminals, the proof of which is in the unprecedented spike in crime,” said George Saad of southwest Minneapolis, describing himself as an immigrant and a “child of war” who came to the city because of its rich diversity. But now, Saad said, he feels terrorized in his own community, afraid to walk down the street.

    “You guys have had years to address any culture problems within the Minneapolis Police Department,” he said. “You have failed to do so. Instead, you embark on a campaign against your own police department, fighting and demonizing an entire internal city organization instead of making it better.”

    How can that be? Mpls has not had a GOP mayor since the early 1960s and a member of the city council since the late 1990s. It just cannot be bad government by Democrats for Democrats!

  8. Just more victims of Trump’s pandemic… alas…

  9. What is even more remarkable, beyond the fact that these complainers are licensed to teach our children, is the fact that their claims are false, built on lies, illusions and discredited and debunked theories.

    For example:

    “We are frequently told by commentators and theorists on the progressive and liberal Left that we live in a systemically racist and patriarchal society. The belief that Western societies privilege white men and oppress people of color, women, and LGBT citizens is especially popular within academic institutions, legacy media, the entertainment industry, and even sports. However, newly released statistics from the US Department of Labor for the third quarter of 2020 undermine this narrative. Asian women have now surpassed white men in weekly earnings. That trend has been consistent throughout this past year—an unprecedented outcome. Full-time working Asian women earned $1,224 in median weekly earnings in the third quarter of this year compared to $1,122 earned by their white male counterparts. Furthermore, the income gap between both black and Latino men and Asian women is wider than it has ever been. The income gap between white and black women, meanwhile, is much narrower than the gap between their male counterparts.

    These outcomes cannot exist in a society suffused with misogyny and racism. As confounding to conventional progressive wisdom as these new figures appear to be, copious research finds that ethnic minorities and women frequently eclipse their white and male counterparts, even when these identities intersect. Several ethnic minority groups consistently out-perform whites in a variety of categories—higher test scores, lower incarceration rates, and longer life expectancies. According to the latest data from the US Census Bureau, over the 12 months covered by the survey, the median household incomes of Syrian Americans ($74,047), Korean Americans ($76,674), Indonesian Americans ($93,501), Taiwanese Americans ($102,405), and Filipino Americans ($100,273) are all significantly higher than that of whites ($69,823). The report also finds substantial economic gains among minority groups. Valerie Wilson at the Economic Policy Institute reports that from 2018 to 2019, Asian and black households had the highest rate of median income growth (10.6 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively) of all main racial groups (although she cautions that overall disparities remain “largely unchanged”). On a longitudinal scale, Hispanics, not whites, had the highest income growth in 2019 relative to the start of the Great Recession in 2007 (although many of these gains have been reversed by the pandemic) …”

    For much more see:

    This article shows in detail how the facts on ground, in the real world, are precisely the opposite from the claims of these teachers. In fact, it is white middle and lower classes that are falling behind in today’s America, not the so called people of color.

  10. From the article cited by Bader which is the basis of the headline:

    “What no one knows at this point is why this is happening. Various experts disagree about that. The pandemic and the downturn probably play a role but the death of George Floyd was the moment when there was the largest spike of violence nationwide:

    To be sure, overall crime has dropped dramatically in the U.S. since the late 1990s. But the 2020 homicide rate “now exceeds the rates of the late ’80s and ’90s, before the big drop,” says Richard Rosenfeld, lead author of “Pandemic, Social Unrest and Crime in US Cities,” a new report. “This round of crime increase is unprecedented.”…

    The biggest spike in gun violence, notes Mr. Rosenfeld, came in the weeks of social unrest in late spring and summer after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis….

    “When society’s norms and values are in flux or have disappeared or disintegrated, people don’t know how to behave,” says Ms. Davies, a sociologist who studies the dynamics of violent crime. “It’s a kind of normlessness that gives way to ‘Nothing matters.’ [The murder increase] is similar to spikes in suicide when we’ve had economic depressions. But nothing like this has ever happened.”

    So it’s probably a mix of things. The death of George Floyd provided a spark of anger which led to a lot of protests, many of which turned violent. And if that had happened in a normal year, maybe things would have settled down quickly. Instead, it happened in the midst of pre-existing chaos caused by the pandemic and the lockdowns.

    The big question now is whether or not this is a blip or the new normal. If we have a successful vaccine rollout by April-May of 2021 and things gradually begin to return to normal for the rest of the year, will the murder rate also recede to 2019 levels or is the new spate of violence going to be with us for a while?”

    • During all the unrest in the cities , some will call it rioting and worse, I never heard much about murders occurring during them. A few, yes, a couple of sensational ones but on par not many.

      So where did these increased murders happen if not really during the protests?

  11. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Will we see murder rates return to late 1980s early 1990s level?

  12. Hans, what has happened to the murder rate in Fairfax County since 2019?

    The best I can find, via Google, is that there were 13 in 2019 and 15 in 2020.

    Would you attribute that uptick to Mr. Descano’s election?

  13. I would also note that the article from The Daily Signal, written by a Heritage Foundation staffer, fails to note that Mark Lawlor, the gruesome killer cited in the third paragraph, was sentenced to life without parole. Mr. Descano “crowed” (staffer’s words) by saying that it “is a notable outcome because it exemplifies that our criminal justice system can seek justice, find resolution, and keep our community safe while adhering to our community’s values.”

    Voters in Fairfax County elected him, cognizant of his opposition to the death penalty. I would say that he is, thus, adhering to this expression of his “community’s values.” No law obligates prosecutors in any jurisdiction in Virginia (or anywhere else) to seek the death penalty in any case.

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