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Last year in Columbus, 143 people lost their lives to violence, a total that surpassed by four deaths the previous homicide record set in 1991. That works out to a homicide every 2.55 days.
So far this year, 14 people have been killed in Columbus since Jan. 1. That works out to a homicide every 2.57 days.
Let’s look at the same period of time for the past few years.
By this date in 2012, eight people were killed.
In 2013, nine people were killed.
In 2014, seven people were killed.
In 2015, six people were killed.
In 2016, 14 people were killed. That pace later slowed, and we ended 2016 with 106 dead.
Last year during the same period, eight people were killed. That teaches us that we can’t read too much into these numbers. January 2017 didn’t portend the violence to come; we didn’t go off the rails until February.
January is a time for reflection, and Mayor Andrew J. Ginther tried something new this year, forgoing a single State of the City address and instead scheduling five neighborhood panel discussions.
The first of them was last week and focused on public safety and neighborhoods. The mayor said drugs and gang disputes were to blame for the spike in killings.
If that’s true and it probably is there’s little reason to think that anything has changed for the better. All of Ohio continues to struggle under the weight of the opioid crisis, and the feedback loop of retaliatory gang violence is harder to stop the faster it spins.
Columbus Deputy Police Chief Tim Becker told Dispatch Reporter Beth Burger last week that the public’s focus on homicides can give the impression that Columbus is “a more violent city than it is.” Overall violent crime actually dropped slightly last year, he said.
But homicide is the crime on which big cities are judged. When President Donald Trump posed the question, “What the hell is going on in Chicago?” late last year, he wasn’t referring to the city’s robbery or arson rate.
Becker, who since November has overseen the police’s investigative subdivision,
said detectives from the gang unit and homicide now work death scenes together, while cold case detectives are fielding the assault cases that arise on first shift.
These shifts in resources might do some good, but a city can’t expect the police to address the deeper problems that drive the killing.
As 2017 came to a close, Ginther touched on some of those societal challenges, saying the city was “beginning to implement a Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Plan” that involved not only the police but other city departments “to understand the root causes of what leads to violence.”
This is how we lose steam.
Of course the more we understand about violence, the better chance we have of reducing it. But can we stop pretending we don’t yet know the root causes? They came up, yet again, at the State of the City panel he convened last week. Poverty, drug abuse, a lack of role models and a dearth of opportunities. Admittedly, it’s a long list.
“Our kids and clients have seen more things than you can ever imagine,” said Denise Robinson, CEO of Alvis House. “They have to find someone who will love them, and it ends up being a gang.”
There is your root cause. Children who grow up being told, from nearly all quarters, that they aren’t worth a damn and never will be.
So Columbus, here’s a proposed resolution for 2018. Acknowledge that the violence that bloodies this city is not the result of some great unknowable mystery. Remind our mayor and City Council and the city’s movers and shakers that this is urgent, full time work that requires their vision and leadership.
We can set our own example by playing to our strengths, no matter how modest,
and getting our hands dirty.