A pandemic and statewide quarantine order have not slowed a separate epidemic: gun violence. State Police say shootings are up across New Jersey. Trenton has had its 20th murder of 2020, and 19 of them have been from gun violence.
“There’s a heightened anxiety. You’ve almost become accustomed to hearing gunplay on a daily basis, so you’re continually nervous so something as simple as walking to the local bodega becomes a problem,” said Darren “Freedom” Green.
Green, a community activist in Trenton for years, admits that gun violence during the summer months is nothing new, but in his opinion, the increase in shooting deaths has a lot to do with community policing.
“Righteous people who do not want crime and death in their community, they move to the place of connecting with police to report those crimes so they can become a safe space for themselves, their family members and the community members who live with them. One of the problems we have is we don’t communicate like we should and the only time we really have police in our community is when a crisis occurs or an incident occurs. But people aren’t randomly killed,” he said.
The deadly trend is also emerging in Paterson; the city has had 11 shootings in July alone. And the recent violence in these two cities is part of a larger trend in the state.
More fatal shootings
According to the State Police, there was a 19% spike in the number of murder victims by shootings compared to the same time last year. In 2019, 84 people were fatally shot, compared to 100 people this year.
“We had 39 victims of shootings in this one past week alone, with 13 of those succumbing to those injuries and passing away. We’re certainly concerned about it … because we’re seeing way too many shootings, and the likelihood of it continuing through the warm summer months gives us tremendous amount of concern,” said State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan.
Christopher Herrman, assistant professor of law and police science at John Jay College, said that while many shelter in place, that gives perpetrators a way to commit crimes with fewer witnesses.
“The public doesn’t have a lot of trust and there is quite a bit of animosity towards the police right now. It makes the police department’s job more difficult, but it also tends to have a negative impact on investigations, specifically regarding shootings and homicides,” he said. “The pandemic is not going to stop the problem; if anything the pandemic might increase or influence some of the issues surrounding the shooting and homicides.”
Herrman said unemployment can impact crime.
“Unemployment tends to also impact things like mental health, like excessive drinking and drug use, and all of these things play a significant role in violent crime,” he said.