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What’s behind a recent surge in U.S. gun violence — and how to stop it

This summer is shaping up to be a bloody one in many cities and neighborhoods. What’s behind the recent surge in gun violence? Amna Nawaz talks to Pastor Mike McBride of the Live Free Campaign, a faith-based movement committed to reducing gun violence and ending mass incarceration of people of color, and Thomas Abt of the Council on Criminal Justice and an author of the nationwide homicide study.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In addition to all the upheavals caused by the pandemic, social unrest, and heightened political turbulence, Amna Nawaz reports, this summer is also shaping up to be a bloody one in our cities' streets and neighborhoods.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    From New York to California, Atlanta to Chicago, a July 4 weekend interrupted by gun violence, leaving dozens, including children, dead.

  • Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms:

    Enough is enough.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In Atlanta, 31 people shot and five killed, including 8-year-old Secoriea Turner.

  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms:

  • Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms:

    We are shooting each other up on our streets in this city, and you shot and killed a baby. And it wasn't one shooter. There were at least two shooters. An 8-year-old baby.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Georgia Governor Brian Kemp moved in the National Guard in response.

    Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., 11-year-old Davon McNeal was killed at a cookout aimed at preventing violence.

  • D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser:

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser:

    This should not have happened, and it cannot keep happening. We can't losing our children to senseless gun violence.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, in Chicago, 87 people shot over the weekend and 17 killed, among them, 7-year-old Natalia Wallace, struck by a stray bullet while playing outside.

  • Fred Waller:

    There were kids riding by on bicycles, as we said, enjoying the Fourth of July, as they should have been, and now this child is gone.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As some cities see a spike in gun violence this summer, the reasons why are now the subject of debate.

    In New York City, where 64 people were shot over the weekend, and June homicides hit their highest since 1996, Mayor Bill de Blasio blamed the pandemic.

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio:

    It is directly related to all the dislocation that's happened over these last four months with the coronavirus.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Others point to a strained police force as a factor, after demonstrations against police brutality, and recent reforms banning some use of force.

  • New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea:

  • Commissioner Dermot Shea:

    We need three things. I'm going to keep repeating it for people. We need support, we need laws that help the police, instead of handcuff them, and then we need resources.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Even President Trump, in his July 3 Mount Rushmore speech, linked the rise in protests to the rise in violence.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Violent crime, however, has not risen uniformly across the country or among cities, and many types of crime are down.

    We take a closer look now at this recent surge in gun violence with Pastor Michael McBride, director for the Live Free Campaign. That's a faith-based movement committed to reducing gun violence and to ending mass incarceration of people of color. And with Thomas Abt. He's senior fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice and a co-author of the nationwide homicide study by Arnold Ventures, a philanthropy focused on criminal justice.

    Welcome to you both, and thank you both for being here.

    Thomas Abt, let's start with you, because these headlines get a lot of attention, especially when you're talking about the number of children that have been killed. But when you look at the data, is it different from years past?

    Help us with some context around what we have been seeing so far this year.

  • Thomas Abt:


    The study my colleague Richard Rosenfeld and I performed looked at the impact of homicide over the first five months of this year, compared to the three-year average in previous years.

    And what we saw was, while there was a significant decline in homicides in April and in May as a result of the social distancing measures put in place due to the pandemic, unfortunately, the first three months of the year were quite violent.

    And, in fact, at the end of that five-month period, we were up in terms of homicides compared to that three-year average 6 percent. And, unfortunately, we don't have the data yet, but it look like June was even worse.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Pastor McBride, let's put some context on from your end.

    Now, what were you seeing earlier in the year on the ground in the communities you have been working in for years to address gun violence? And how does the pandemic affect what you were seeing?

  • Pastor Michael McBride:

    Well, I think it's very important for us to continue to remind ourselves that gun violence in urban communities across the country is largely focused with a small number of individuals who are driving disproportionate amounts of violence.

    And even during the pandemic, many of our outreach workers were deemed necessary, essential workers to help address the conflicts that continue to persist.

    And so, as we talk about gun violence, and with the right kind of resources and targeted interventions, even during a pandemic, we know those who are driving violence, who are caught in the cycle of violence, and we have the solutions to ensure that that violence does not spiral out of control.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Thomas Abt, as people are trying to understand what was driving that earlier surge that you mentioned, some are pointing to this idea that the demonstrations against police brutality, calling for an end to systemic racism, that they have somehow fueled the violence in these cities.

    Is there any truth to that? Does the data back that up?

  • Thomas Abt:

    Well, at the outset, I couldn't agree with Pastor McBride more. There are evidence-informed, community-informed approaches to addressing urban violence. And we need to step up our support for those approaches.

    But turning to your question, I think that's an unfair critique. And, in fact, I think that the protests are a natural reaction to a highly publicized and terrible, tragic incident of excessive deadly force, on top of years of a persistent, ongoing problem that communities of color have been trying to call attention to literally for decades.

    I think that the — it's not the protests that are the problem. It is the underlying police violence. And I think we have to acknowledge that there is actually a connection between police violence and community violence.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Pastor McBride, when you look at that connection, that has fueled what we know has long been a cycle of mistrust between police departments and black and brown communities in America.

    In this moment, when there's even more attention, calls for broader reform, are you worried that mistrust is even deeper, and then that that will actually fuel more violence in some communities?

  • Pastor Michael McBride:

    No, I believe that we should pivot this conversation very forcefully to go beyond the conversation of mistrust, and really have a conversation about values.

    Who do we value? How do we ensure that our budgets demonstrate the value that we have? And how then do we leverage our tax base, our tax dollars to invest in those kinds of populations who we value?

    The bigger issue around defunding the police and these other magnificent ideas that are being debated, it is a question of investment. It is a question of, can we indeed believe that black and brown communities that are fully invested in, so there is food programs, there are housing programs, there are job programs, there are healing programs, vs. us putting 30, 40, 50 percent of our budgets into police departments?

    It is a question about, how do we invest in people and public safety that keeps people at the center?

    And so I just want us to continue to push our imagination beyond policing as it relates to a public safety conversation. We can reduce gun violence in many communities, because we have done it before. But we should scale those strategies up and use this moment as a way to unleash tax dollars to get that job done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Pastor McBride, let me ask you, then.

    As Thomas Abt was talking about some of the higher numbers he was seeing earlier in 2020, what do you want to say to people about what they should understand about why that was happening, and now what should be done to address it?

  • Pastor Michael McBride:

    We know that much of the violence that is driven by the small number of individuals in our community, they have intersecting social issues and realities that are crimes of poverty.

    They are, at their very base, exposing the kind of vulnerability of black, brown and poor communities across this country. The proliferation of guns, of course, makes this kind of violence more lethal. But it is, at the end of the day, about, how do we ensure that we are investing in the root causes of poverty that drive crime?

    And so our vision should be not to criminalize, but to literally invest. And because the early pandemic has exposed the lack of social stability of black and brown communities, we should use this as another case study of saying, what if we invested in health care, in public health approaches that are mental health, that are violence interrupters, that are strategies that actually put at the center our most hurting and harmed communities?

    That is a strategy every community, I believe, in this country impacted would embrace, if we really scaled it up. That's how we should be looking at the rise and, prayerfully, as we do it, the drop in gun-related shootings and homicides,

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thomas Abt, in less than a minute left, I have to ask you.

    Based on what you have seen so far, based on where we are right now, what do you see in the weeks and the months ahead?

  • Thomas Abt:

    Well, I'm worried that we're in for a difficult summer and rest of the year, unless we take dramatic action, as Pastor McBride said, not to scale down police solutions — police are part of the solution — but to scale up community-based solutions.

    These very small number of people at the highest risk for gun violence, either as perpetrators or as victims, need something to say yes to, as well as something to say no to. There have to be carrots and there have to be sticks.

    And unless we take dramatic action right now, I worry that we're in for a difficult year.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Thomas Abt, senior fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice, and Pastor Mike McBride of the Live Free Campaign.

    Thank you to you both.

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