A record number of homicides recorded in 2021 in the United States

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, several American cities, large metropolises as well as medium-sized cities, recorded a record number of homicides in 2021, in particular due to the proliferation of firearms.

With at least 535 homicides per 1.5 million inhabitants, Philadelphia broke a disastrous 1990 record. The “city of brotherly love” overtook New York and Los Angeles, the two largest cities in the United States. United. “Our city has a high rate of poverty, food insecurity, housing problems, psychological problems and an underfunded education system,” says Dorothy Johnson-Speight, director of Mothers in Charge.

“The basics of murder”

After the death of her son, killed at the age of 24 for a simple parking space, in 2003 she created this association which fights against violence in this city in the northeast of the country, cradle of American democracy. The group, which notably organizes anger management sessions and supports the families of homicide victims, had to limit its activities for several months because of the Covid-19. “It raised the feeling of anger. When you have nowhere to go to manage it, when you don’t have the support, it can get worse, ”says Dorothy Johnson-Speight.

The American capital Washington (at least 211 homicides), Albuquerque (100), Portland (at least 70), Richmond (80): “this country has gone mad”, says David Thomas, professor of criminology at Florida Gulf Coast University . “People are angry with everything, and with this frustration, all stress management mechanisms fail,” adds this former African-American policeman. Young people, particularly from minorities, “confuse each other, it escalates on Facebook, and it ends in gunfire,” he explains.

Dorothy Johnson-Speight also denounces the influence of drill music – a hip-hop trend with dark, raw, violent lyrics and warlike imagery – from Chicago. Young people identify with rappers who “talk about those they are going to kill, show the different weapons available on the market, that’s the basics of murder,” she said.

“Everyone has a gun”

But for Jeff Asher, former member of the CIA and analyst in criminal statistics, as for other specialists, the main cause of this wave of homicides is “the historic increase in arms sales” since the pandemic. Nearly 23 million guns, a record, were sold in 2020, according to the specialist firm Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting which forecasts a figure of 20 million for this year. “Everyone has a gun, it’s become the first line of defense, or attack, for a lot of people who say ‘I have to have a gun because everyone has them’,” says Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest who has campaigned against violence in Chicago for more than 30 years.

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The metropolis of the north of the country, plagued by violence and corruption, exceeded 800 homicides in 2021, a record since 1994. Most murders are settling of scores and the victims are overwhelmingly African-American, sometimes children victims of stray bullets. Father Pfleger denounces “the authorities’ lack of involvement, listening and strategy to fight violence”, as well as the poor record of the police with less than 50% of investigations resolved in 2020. “Solve crimes is part of the problem, there’s no real threat if you don’t get caught, ”he says.


For Jeff Asher, it is also “a distrust of the police and the judicial system which leads people to take justice into their own hands”, exacerbated since the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in May 2020 Some in the American left want reforms by cutting funds from the police (“Defund the police”) to transfer part of its budget to social programs.

Michael Pfleger is campaigning for the deployment of teams to prevent violence in the streets, provide psychological support to the population and help with vocational training. “You can’t tell someone to drop their gun and give them nothing in return so that they can live,” said the priest.

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