Jackson, Mississippi, has experienced its deadliest year on record in 2021, as rising gun violence has driven its homicide rate to become one of the worst in the nation, data shows.
Jackson, a Democratic city in a heavily Republican state, has already seen 150 homicides as of Dec. 21, shattering its previous record of 130 set last year, CNN reported.
“We see lifelong friends kill each other, we’ve seen a son kill his mother and sister, have seen crimes that are based on social determinants and an inability of people to be engaged in institutions in which they thrive,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told the outlet.
The bloodshed has driven the state capital’s homicide rate to 97.6 murders per 100,000 residents, 15 times higher than the US rate of 6.5 — with most stemming from gunfire, the outlet reported.
Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, pointed out that Jackson is “exceeding” levels seen in St. Louis, which was last year’s deadliest large city in the country, cataloging 87 homicides per 100,000 residents.
“When you get up to 80 per 100,000 in a city with more than 100,000 people, you’re dealing with a vanishingly small number of places with homicide rates that high,” Rosenfeld told the outlet.
Before the pandemic, the crisis-plagued capital’s worst year for homicides was 1995, when it recorded 92 at a time when homicides peaked in the country, CNN reported.
The latest rise in killings comes as the police force has dwindled from a peak of more than 520 officers to about 290 . Though it is budgeted for 350, it has struggled to retain officers and attract new ones as the city faces a dire economic downturn and people are packing up and leaving in droves, CNN reported.
Jackson’s population plummeted to 160,000 in 2020, down from almost 200,000 in 1990, the outlet said. Now, more than a quarter of its population lives below the poverty line.
“Every block is going to be organized by somebody, right? It’s either going to be organized by a positive force or negative force,” Lumumba said.
Local leaders have also blamed the strain that the pandemic has put on local infrastructure, as well as the stress caused by lockdowns, as among the reasons for the rise in killings.
They say that lack of social services, jobs and resources have pushed teens to turn to violent crime.
“(There’s) no economic growth, nowhere to work. Nowhere. A young person can only work at a fast-food restaurant,” Timothy Finch, a violence interrupter in the city, told CNN. “If I can’t work, what am I going to do? I sit at home all day. Idle time makes an idle mind.”
Finch described living in the city as “almost like being in prison.”
“Only difference is that instead of being in my zone or in my cell all day, the whole city is the cell … Just like a big jailhouse, nobody’s doing nothing,” he said.