The year 2021 was the deadliest year on record for many large U.S. Cities. Not so for Charlotte, where the homicide count fell 18% from the year before.
According to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department database, 96 people in the county were killed illegally last year. (That total does not include the number of people whose deaths were determined to be non-criminal, as in cases of those killed in self-defense.)
Despite Charlotte’s lower number, local officials are hardly celebrating. The easy availability of guns, especially in the hands of teens, has made violent crime a pivotal issue for schools, the police and ordinary residents.
Here are four charts that break down last year’s homicide numbers by age, race, weapon and sex:
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CMPD data show that 12 people under age 18 were killed in Charlotte-Mecklenburg last year, most at the hands of other young people. (Sixteen people under age 18 were killed in 2020.)
In September, 3-year-old Asiah Figueroa died in his bed after a group of people opened fire on a house where he was sleeping. His 4-year-old sister was wounded in the drive-by, which was captured on a neighbor’s security camera.
Lisa Crawford, executive director of Mothers of Murdered Offspring, said a lack of parental guidance and easy access to guns is driving youth violence. She also blames a culture that glorifies violence in video games, music and social media.
“I think our kids have become numb to it and feel it’s the way to solve all conflicts,” she said.
As of Dec. 6, at least 18 guns had been confiscated in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools this academic year, leading Superintendent Earnest Winston to announce that the district would implement new security measures, including mandating clear backpacks for all high school students.
In an interview with QCity Metro in November, Winston said the gun problems plaguing CMS were simply a reflection of the greater society.
“We all own this,” he said. “It’s not on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools alone..”
Violent crime has long plagued America’s poor, Black communities — so much so that public officials in some cities are now calling gun violence a public health crisis, as did Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.
In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, County Commissioner Vilma Leake delivered an impassioned appeal last September, declaring that “violence is rampant in our community.”
“We have got to do something better than what we are doing to grab these young people…to give them the value of wanting to live and survive,” she said toward the end of a commissioners’ meeting.
The roots of violence are gnarly, deeply entwined in systemic poverty, poor education and an overall lack of social and economic mobility in many Black communities.
Crawford, of Mothers of Murdered Offspring, said those problems were only made worse by the isolation and stress brought on by the pandemic.
“When a person has no hope, anything is on the table to happen,” she said.
Guns are everywhere in America.
In 2018, the Washington Post, citing a Global Small Arms Survey, reported more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States, “or enough for every man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over.”
That number has only grown since then, especially during the pandemic when gun sales spiked.
Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte, said more people bought guns at the start of the pandemic because they feared a rise in crime.
Some of those guns were later stolen and/or sold illegally, he said.
“There are so many millions and millions of firearms in the United States,” Hyatt said, “and it’s so difficult to track them when there’s that many out there.”
As more guns hit the streets in the hands of criminals, law enforcement is pushing back. CMPD last year joined with the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office to create a federally funded Crime Gun Intelligence Center.
Officials from the two agencies said the center will help the authorities better investigate and prosecute gun-related crimes.
At least 31 police departments across the country have launched similar initiatives, funded by the federal Justice Department.
Michael Turner, who chairs the Criminal Justice Department at UNC Charlotte, said he isn’t surprised that males are the leading victims in homicides.
Data has always shown that men are typically more violent than women, he said.
“There’s an intra-gender relationship. If you look at the data, I think we offend people who look like us,” Turner said.