Shootings Are Spiking? Let’s Blame COVID!

U.S. Senator Mark Warner. Photo credit: WTVR

by James A. Bacon

It came as a big surprise to U.S. Senator Mark Warner to hear about the spike in violence occurring in the City of Richmond. The Senator, who last lived in the city when he was governor in 2006, met with what WTVR-TV describes as a gathering of government and community leaders.

During the meeting, VCU Medical trauma surgeon Michael Aboutanos said that VCU is experiencing a 121% increase in gunshot-wound victims from across the metro Richmond area. “This is a serious issue,” he said, “One we cannot ignore.”

“I didn’t think I realized the numbers were that astronomical,” Warner said.

The murder rate, which passed the 60 mark this month, has not yet reached levels seen during the crack-cocaine epidemic, when murders in the 1980s routinely exceeded 100, giving Richmond one of the highest homicide rates (as a percentage of population) in the United States. But it is more than double that of the low-water mark of 31 homicides achieved in the post-crack year of 2008.

The fact that the increase in murders remains relatively subdued compared to the number of shootings is more a credit to Dr. Aboutanos, his MCV colleagues, and Richmond emergency service crews, however, than to the region’s elected officials who remain clueless about the origins of the violence. More people are getting shot, but more are surviving thanks to lessons learned from battlefield medicine during the war in Iraq.

This time around, elected officials can’t blame the crack epidemic for the violence. Warner has a hunch that a different epidemic — COVID-19 — is in part to blame. Said he:

The interesting thing during COVID we’ve seen is the gun violence levels go up, but many other levels of crime have gone down. The frustration of people not being able to get back into the community, the frustration with schools being shut down. But 120 percent increase, month over month over last year? If that doesn’t scream epidemic, I don’t know what does.

That’s one theory, and I wouldn’t discount it entirely. However, before taking it seriously, I would like to know by what psychological mechanism “frustration” with schools being shut down or “frustration” with the inability to “get back into the community” is conjectured to induce people to shoot one another. The spate in shootings does not seem to be tied to, say, domestic violence, as one might expect from people getting cabin fever from being cooped up together. To the contrary, a remarkable number of killings take the form of indiscriminate drive-by shootings… which take place outdoors.

There’s another set of possible explanations that have nothing to do with COVID-19. According to 2020 Virginia State Police crime data, the increase in shootings and murders last year occurred overwhelmingly in Black communities, and anecdotal evidence suggests that that the continued rise this year is occurring predominantly in Black communities as well. If “frustration” arising from COVID-19 were the operative factor, one would expect surges in shootings and homicides in White, Hispanic and Asian communities as well. But that’s just not happening.

What else has occurred in the past couple of years that might account for the surge in violence? I’m wracking my brain… it’ll come to be in a moment. Oh, yes, there was a wave of demonstrations in reaction to the George Floyd killing, along with a rise in anti-police sentiment, calls to defund the police, a rollback of traditional judicial and law-enforcement practices, release of criminals on early parole, and, perhaps most importantly, a spread of the conviction in Black communities that law enforcement is racist and illegitimate.

I’m just spitballing here, but maybe the sea change in rhetoric and attitudes toward law enforcement in Black communities and among White members of the clerisy and the political class might have something to do with the wave of violence.

At the meeting Warner attended, according to Channel 6 News, community leaders shared their solutions to the region’s gun violence “and made their pitch for federal funds.”

“All of us are coming together to look at this issue, but there needs to be some comprehensive funding to support all components — primarily gun violence,” said Torey Edmonds with the VCU Department of Family Medicine and Population Health.

Uh, oh. Never stand between do-gooders and federal dollars. You might get trampled in the stampede.

You can be certain that if the Biden administration is handing out federal dollars to address the surge in crime, grants will be awarded to proposals whose underlying assumptions are consistent with those of the grant givers — in other words, consistent with the prevailing assumption that the “root cause” of violence is tied to “systemic” or “structural” racism, not to dynamics internal to inner-city communities. Grant proposals will be fashioned accordingly.

Likewise, you can be certain that the programs will hire educationally credentialed college graduates who have been steeped in the ideology of “social justice.”

Insofar as their “solutions” are founded on flawed premises, we can predict with a high degree of confidence that they will be ineffectual in achieving their stated aim. But they will succeed swimmingly in another way — creating  interest groups with an ideological and material interest in maintaining the fiction that the shootings are all about COVID, or guns, or racism, and nothing at all to do with social-justice rhetoric.