As COVID-19 ravages US, shootings, killings are also up

FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2020 file photo, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks during a news conference in Washington. Homicides in Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and other cities have topped 2019 numbers as violence surged while much of the U.S. struggled during the coronavirus pandemic."We're all sick of the heinous crimes in our city," said Bowser.(Shawn Thew/Pool via AP,  File)
FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2020 file photo, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks during a news conference in Washington. Homicides in Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and other cities have topped 2019 numbers as violence surged while much of the U.S. struggled during the coronavirus pandemic."We're all sick of the heinous crimes in our city," said Bowser.(Shawn Thew/Pool via AP, File)

DETROIT – When Andre Avery drives his commercial truck through Detroit, he keeps his pistol close.

Avery, 57, grew up in the Motor City and is aware that homicides and shootings are surging, even though before the pandemic they were dropping in Detroit and elsewhere. His gun is legal, and he carries it with him for protection.

“I remain extremely alert,” said Avery, who now lives in nearby Belleville. “I’m not in crowds. If something looks a little suspicious, I’m out of there.”

In Detroit, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and even smaller Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Milwaukee, 2020 has been deadly not only because of the pandemic, but because gun violence is spiking.

Authorities and some experts say there is no one clear-cut reason for the spike. They instead point to social and economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 virus, public sentiment toward police following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody and a historic shortage of jobs and resources in poorer communities as contributing factors. It's happening in cities large and small, Democrat and Republican-led.

Two years ago, Detroit had 261 homicides — the fewest in decades. That year there were about 750 nonfatal shootings in the city of more than 672,000.

But with only a few days left in 2020, homicides already have topped 300, while non-fatal shootings are up more than 50% at more than 1,124 through the middle of December.

“I think the pandemic — COVID — has had a significant emotional impact on people across the country,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said. “Individuals are not processing how they manage disputes. Whether domestics, arguments, disputes over drugs, there’s this quickness to use an illegally carried firearm.”