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As shootings surge across US, police see COVID's crippling of justice system enabling crime

Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New York saw shootings jump over the holiday.

For the last six weekends, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown has awakened to word of another eruption of shootings in his city.

On Monday, Brown stood at another news conference and admitted he was "biting my tongue," trying desperately to maintain his emotions as he spoke of 7-year-old Natalia Wallace, one of two children fatally shot on the Fourth of July, a week after 20-month-old Sincere Gaston and 10-year-old Lena Nunez were shot to death in the city.

"I am representative of 13,000 cops, so if I lose my emotional bearing they all take their cues from me," Brown said. "So it's important that I maintain as much as I can my emotions. But 20-month-olds, and 7-year-olds, 13-year-olds being shot with impunity... there's no regard for innocence in the crowds as these criminals shoot to kill."

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, cities across the country have seen a dramatic increase in shootings, and police in large cities like Chicago and New York said they are bracing for one of the most violent summers in decades.

"We cannot allow this to be normalized in this city, we cannot get used to hearing about children being gunned down in Chicago every weekend," Brown said.

Between 6 p.m. Thursday and midnight Sunday, 87 people were shot in Chicago, 17 fatally, police said. Natalia Wallace and 14-year-old Vernado Jones Jr. where among the latest casualties.

In New York City, 64 people were shot over the Fourth of July weekend, police said. Ten people were killed by gun violence, making a total of 14 shot dead in the first six days of the month, according to the New York Police Department (NYPD).

The grim tally came after 270 people were shot in New York City in June, 39 fatally -- numbers the city hasn't seen since 1996 when nearly 3,000 people were shot, almost 1,000 fatally. Officials said that all of the homicides involved minority victims and 88% of the slayings occurred on the streets.

In Philadelphia, at least 25 people were shot over the Independence Day weekend, five fatally, police said.

At least 23 people were shot in Atlanta over the weekend, including 8-year-old Secoriea Turner who was among five killed. The shootings came as protesters descended on the Georgia Department of Public Safety headquarters, hurled rocks at the windows, spray-painted graffiti on the walls and ignited a small blaze with fireworks, causing two state employees to be treated for smoke inhalation.

The weekend of violence was so bad in Atlanta that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency on Monday and activated 1,000 National Guard troops to help restore order in the city.

In Washington, D.C., 11-year-old Davon McNeal was killed on the Fourth of July when he was hit by a stray bullet that entered his home after teens got into a gunfight outside his apartment, police said. And in San Francisco, 6-year-old Jace Young was fatally struck by a stray bullet while on a sidewalk with friends watching fireworks, police said.

On Monday, Brown said that while his officers made 98 gun arrests and seized 173 firearms between Thursday and Sunday, his police force keeps struggling to curb the escalating rate of shootings.

"There are no words, no words to describe this pain, not anymore. That's also why none of us are giving up. In every police district, every corner of this city, this is on all of us," Brown said.

Brown said he thinks he knows why shootings are surging in Chicago, explaining that violent criminals are not being held in jails and prisons long enough and that many released in an effort to blunt the spread of COVID-19 are not being monitored as closely as they should be.

"We must keep violent offenders in jail longer. We should revamp the electronic monitoring program. It's clearly not working," Brown said.

Police officials in New York City echoed Brown's suspicions and presented statistics on Monday that they say proves the uptick in violence is linked to reducing the inmate population at Rikers Island jail by about half amidst the pandemic.

"We recommended 96% of that population not to be released. It was ignored and now we have more victims and we see the lawlessness on the streets," said Chief Michael Lipetri, head of the NYPD's Crime Control Strategies and co-chair of the department's CompStat crime trends tracking system.

He said that of the roughly 2,500 inmates released from Rikers due to COVID-19 concerns since mid-March, 275 have been rearrested, some multiple times. He added two of those individuals committed murders after their release and nine others committed violent acts across the city.

NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan alleged that the wave of violence is also linked to the passage in January of state bail reform law intended to make bail, which has long favored the rich who can afford it, more equitable. The law requires judges to release defendants on their own recognizance while awaiting trial on misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, and limits prosecutors asking for bail or pretrial detention in certain felony cases, including nearly all violent crimes.

Monahan said that since courts have been closed due to the pandemic, many people indicted by grand juries on gun charges have been released on their own recognizance.

"Hundreds of more criminals who have been arrested for possession of a gun have yet to be indicted by a grand jury because the courts are not in session. They, too, are not behind bars," Monahan said.

He added that an "explosion" of gun violence occurred after the May 25 police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited protests and violence across the country.

"If these tremendous challenges were not enough, New York City had days and days of anti-police marches that honestly crushed the morale of our cops," Monahan said. "And it created a large sense of animosity towards the police, and I'm not speaking about the peaceful protests that took place."

He said that on May 29, the NYPD was dealing with only a small uptick in shootings over 2019, when there were 319 murders and 923 victims in 777 shooting incidents.

"The explosions started after the murder of George Floyd, after the protests here in the city, after the animosity towards the police within this city, after a feeling of emboldenment by the criminals on the streets that the cops can't do anything anymore, that no one likes the police, that they can get away with things and that it's safe to carry a gun on the street," Monahan said.

Lipetri added that gangs have also upped their criminal activity. He said that 28% of the murders in June were gang-motivated, compared to only 3% during the same month last year.

He said that out of the city's 77 police precinct areas, most of the shootings in June and, so far in July, have occurred in 10 precincts in the boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn and the northern part of Manhattan.

"Those communities are being overrun by gang members who have no regard for their own lives and absolutely zero regards for the community," Lipetri said.

Monahan said the problems are not irreparable but will require the community to work with the NYPD to combat crime, adding that under the current climate, that may be a tall order.

"The animosity toward police out there is tremendous," Monahan said. "Just about everyone we deal with is looking to fight a police officer when we go to make an arrest."

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