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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

After a year in which murders spiked in the U.S., homicides are already trending up in many cities, presaging what is likely to be a violent summer.

Why it matters: The rise in homicides is a public health crisis that has multiple interlocking causes, which makes solving it that much more difficult. We're still a long way from the murderous days of the 1990s, but rising gun violence is destroying lives and complicating efforts to help cities recover from COVID-19.

Driving the news: From Washington to Louisville, Kentucky, New York to Oakland, California, and Kansas City to Atlanta, murder rates are trending up in U.S. cities large and small.

  • A sample of 37 cities with data available for the first three months of 2021 collected by the crime analyst Jeff Asher indicates murders are up 18% over the same period in 2020.
  • The continued increase comes after a year in which major U.S. cities experienced a 33% rise in homicides, and 63 of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw an increase in at least one category of violent crime, according to a report from the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Between the lines: While it may be tempting to dismiss 2020 and the early indicators in 2021 as aberrations caused by the pandemic, murder rates were already ticking upward in the years before the pandemic.

The intrigue: Criminologists still haven't settled on a single explanation for why violent crime dropped drastically from the 1990s, and they're even less certain why it's risen so dramatically over the past 16 months.

Yes, but: Even if 2021 eclipses last year's murder numbers, America will remain a far safer country than it was during the most violent years of the 1990s.

What's next: A violent summer on America's streets appears likely, given that homicide already appears to be trending above last year's spike.

  • Homicide rates historically spike during the summer months, when the hotter weather puts more people on the streets, and while vaccination coverage is increasing, the pandemic and all its knock-on effects won't be finished by then.
  • "Summer 2021 is going to be abnormally violent," John Roman, a senior fellow at the economics, justice and society group at NORC at the University of Chicago, wrote this year. "It is the new normal."

The bottom line: The historic decline in murder over the past few decades was accompanied by mass incarcerations and increasingly brutal policing, leading to what the criminologist Patrick Sharkey termed "the uneasy peace."

  • As America reckons a new murder wave with policing in the post-George Floyd killing era, it needs to find a way to a lasting peace that features both safety and justice.

Go deeper

Latinos twice as likely as white people to die from gunfire

Expand chart
Data: Violence Policy Center; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Nearly 3,000 Latinos each year have died from gunfire in the United States over the last two decades, making them twice as likely to be shot to death than white non-Hispanics, according to a study from the Violence Policy Center.

By the numbers: Almost 70,000 Latinos were killed with firearms between 1999 and 2019, 66% of them in homicides, according to the center’s data analysis.

Updated Jul 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Atlanta-area spa shooter sentenced to life without parole

The Gold Spa, one day after a gunman shot and killed eight people at three separate Atlanta spa locations. Photo: VIRGINIE KIPPELEN/AFP via Getty Images

Robert Aaron Long, 22, of Georgia, was sentenced Tuesday to life without parole after pleading guilty to murder and other charges related to a series of deadly spa shootings in Atlanta, AP reports.

The big picture: Cherokee County Superior Court Chief Judge Ellen McElyea accepted the plea deal, and Long was given four life sentences after a prosecutor said investigators found no evidence of racial bias.

Advocates say Biden has let Haitian migrants down

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Christian Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Continued turmoil in Haiti is causing a growing number of Haitians to try to make it to American shores — and some advocates say the Biden administration isn't supporting this community in its time of crisis.

The big picture: Haitian-American activists in South Florida told Axios Today they feel like President Biden has gone back on campaign promises he made to the community to stand up for them.