W

ith just a few days left in 2020, St. Louis City is on track to eclipse its all-time homicide record of 267 set back in 1993.

Homicides spiked in St. Louis in the late spring and through the summer, resulting in one of the most violent years in the history of one of the nation’s most violent cities, the Associated Press noted.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police reported 194 homicides last year. As of Tuesday morning, police are reporting 261 homicide cases.

Because of the city’s population decline, its homicide rate is believed to now exceed 85 per 100,000 people. It was 69 per 100,000 in 1993 when the city’s population was nearly 30 percent larger than it is now, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Homicides are up in most major cities across the country. Chicago has recorded around 750 homicides in 2020, according to police. That’s about 300 more than in 2019. The Windy City also is on track to break its homicide record.

The pace of killing in St. Louis seems far outside the norm but maybe that’s because the bloodshed is occurring so close to home. The reality is gun violence is also spiking in Detroit, Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia and in many smaller, midsized cities like Grand Rapids, Mich.

This year, 51 cities of various sizes across the U.S. saw an average 35 percent jump in murder from 2019 to 2020 — a “historically awful” development, according to New Orleans-based crime analyst Jeff Asher, who compiled the data.

The explosion of shootings and murders in the U.S. defies easy explanation but criminologists and others say the trend partially stems from the COVID-19 pandemic and the social and economic upheaval it continues to inflict.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot explained it this way: “ ... everything that we depend upon to really build safe and healthy communities has been dramatically impacted by COVID-19.” 

Kim Davies, a sociologist who studies the dynamics of violent crime, said the increased use of drugs and alcohol during the pandemic may also be contributing to more violent crime.

“When society’s norms and values are in flux or have disappeared or disintegrated, people don’t know how to behave,” Davies said. “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.”

Those who want to read partisanship into the homicide trend will be disappointed. Like the pandemic, murder doesn’t discriminate by political affiliation. Cities with Democratic mayors are seeing the same increases in lethal violence as cities with Republican mayors, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Experts say it’s hard to pinpoint with any certainty why murders skyrocketed in St. Louis and across the country in 2020. Overall crime has dropped dramatically since the late 1990s. Unaddressed and deeply rooted socioeconomic factors — poverty, unemployment and the proliferation of guns — surely play a role.

But the same experts know that the wave of violent crime and homicides in 2020 is unprecedented. It has been a year like no other.

And most agree getting control of the pandemic looms large on the list of proposed solutions.