New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blamed the closure of courts, where trials and indictments have been on hold because of the virus, though virtual arraignments are ongoing.
Top New York Police Department (NYPD) officials had a long list of concerns: They blamed certain criminal justice and police reforms, like the forthcoming ban on chokeholds. (The Camden County Police Department has had a ban on chokeholds without seeing a rise in murders.) The department remains upset about a 2019 state bail reform law, even though the state Legislature earlier this year scaled back the reform in response to concerns from law enforcement.
NYPD officials also blamed the coronavirus-motivated release of hundreds of inmates from prisons like Rikers Island. Meanwhile the NYPD has been solving shootings at a lower rate than normal, meaning perpetrators can continue the cycle of violence.
People at a local level had simpler explanations.
“When it gets warm, people start killing each other, sadly,” said Francis, the Chicago pastor. “People have got beefs, and now people are out, so it’s, ‘Oh I can get them now.’”
Francis, of course, has many explanations for violence beyond the summer heat, like poverty and long-term racism affecting city policies. Among the young people he serves he sees post-traumatic stress disorder from surviving previous shootings. He added that among young people who make it to 21, their goal often is to get out of the Englewood neighborhood.
He said the violence is not all about environmental factors—“there’s personal responsibility”—but added that most of these young people they serve at Englewood Family Outreach have “10 bad options and one good one.” One teenager who came to faith and whom he is mentoring has a mother and father in gangs. Another has a dad who has been pushing him to join a gang. A 17-year-old he is discipling has never been to a wedding.
“What a different life,” Francis said. “‘Oh, you’ve never been to a wedding? Oh, your cousin died in your arms when you were 9? Oh, your schools are terrible?’ There’s a lot more going on than, ‘You’re stupid and killing yourselves.’ What, are we Darwinists? Come on, man.”
After the June rioting and looting in Chicago, Francis said community members had complained to the mayor about not enough police protecting businesses in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Without the police presence, Hispanic gangs had begun patrolling Hispanic businesses, which led to shootings. That’s what I saw when I was reporting in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody: Violence increased as police pulled back and the community began taking their protection into their own hands.
Francis is part of a church that is largely white and Chinese, and he said he sometimes hears white people using the black-on-black violence in places like Englewood as a talking point.
“Usually I see, ‘Why doesn’t Black Lives Matter care about what’s going on in Chicago?’” he said. “Maybe you have a point, maybe you don’t, but the way it’s coming off, I don’t feel the care and lament.” He says he understands when the world dismisses problems in poor neighborhoods as “their problem,” but not when Christians do it: “There are Christians involved in these neighborhoods; there are churches involved in these neighborhoods.”
What should a Christian’s response be when violence rises like this? He suggested giving to local ministries working in the areas affected by violence: “Grief and lament—that should be one of the first things, sadness. … Then the church should look for ways to address it.”