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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If the FBI data released next week shows what's expected — that 2020 saw the highest single-year spike in U.S. murders in at least six decades — experts say the sudden job losses, fears and other jolts to society at the start of COVID-19 will likely have been the overwhelming drivers.

Why it matters: Many Democrats already feared that rising crime could hurt their party in the 2022 midterms.

  • Even with such a spike, the murder rate would remain far lower than it was through much of the 1980s and 1990s.
  • But a historic single-year spike in the same year that some Democrats called to redirect police funding because of the killing of George Floyd and other examples of systemic racism could be an easy, if misleading, campaign argument for Republicans to make.

Driving the news: The New York Times first reported Wednesday that the FBI's early data shows a 29% spike in murders last year. That would be the biggest single-year increase since national record-keeping began, in 1960.

What they're saying: William Wagstaff, a defense attorney in New York and New Jersey, tells Axios that the stresses of not being able to interact with other people and the social-economic conditions from shutdowns likely played in role in violent crime spikes.

  • "You have unemployment, you have COVID, you have all of these other things that have upended the way people were able to live," he said. "All could have contributed to a spike in violence."
  • A nationwide court backlog caused by the pandemic also may have contributed to rising crime, Robert Goldman, a licensed psychologist and attorney in Commack, N.Y., tells Axios. The backlog, he said, prevented some suspects from facing accountability or receiving the resources they need to fight addiction: "It could have contributed to recidivism rates."

What we're watching: Does 2021 trend better, or worse?

Expand chart
Data: FBI and the New York Times (2020 estimate); Chart: Axios Visuals

Go deeper

Council member Robert White runs for D.C. mayor

Photo: Cuneyt Dil/Axios

At-large Council member Robert White joined the D.C. mayor's race Wednesday, emphasizing the need to stem violent crime and fight poverty.

Why it matters: White's entry sets up a likely contest against Mayor Muriel Bowser to lead the nation's capital amid a spike in homicides and the pandemic's continued disruption to health and the economy.

Updated 7 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.