Denver on track for deadliest year in a decade…
Police say too early to tell patterns; community organizers point to gang war, youth violence
A surge of shootings and stabbings in early July puts Denver on track to have its deadliest year in the past decade.
In the first eight days of the month, eight people were killed in homicides in Denver and 10 others were shot or stabbed, but survived. Forty-six people have died in homicides in the city so far this year.
“This is a fairly significant uptick in violence — both in homicides and shootings,” Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said.
Between Jan. 1 and July 8 of 2019, 30 people had been killed. In 2018, the deadliest year in the past decade for the city, the number of people killed in homicides didn’t reach 46 until the end of August.
It’s too soon to tell if the incidents over the past week are connected or if there are trends, Pazen said. The shootings and stabbings in the last week span every one of the department’s six districts, with some hotspots of concentrated violence, the chief said. Three incidents took place in the Central Business District, three in Park Hill and three in Montbello.
But community organizers and anti-gang activists said that some of the violence can be traced to a resurgence of conflict between long-established Bloods and Crips as well as a continuing trend of young people killing each other.
“You have a couple of different battles in a couple of different fronts, fought in different ways,” said Jason McBride, program assistant and education specialist at Gang Rescue and Support Project. “We’re spinning out of control right now.”
Anti-violence organizers warned in the fall and early this year that an already deadly trend of youth violence would become worse this summer, when teens were out of school. Then the pandemic made everything worse.
For months, Joel Hodge had been leading patrols of the neighborhoods in northeast Denver to help kids and to interrupt violence before it happened. When the pandemic hit, his organization, Struggle of Love Foundation, pivoted to another crushing need: hunger. Since March, the group has been giving out thousands of meals and bags of groceries to those in need.
“When people were crying out, we responded,” Hodge said.
But that meant the patrols fell by the wayside, Hodge said. The recent violence even claimed one of his young volunteers, 19-year-old Tayvion Washington. Hodge helped the teen graduate high school and continued to mentor him.
Washington was shot and killed Monday in the 2900 block of Poplar Street in North Park Hill.
“He was supposed to be at the food bank at 9 that morning,” Hodge said.
The pandemic trapped a lot of young people in their homes for a long time, during which they fought and argued over social media, McBride said. Now that restrictions have lifted, some of the pent up conflict is turning to violence.
The pandemic also means that many summer programs don’t exist, leaving young people unsupervised while their parents work multiple shifts to earn a living, McBride said.
“You can drive any day of the week, through Green Valley Ranch and Montbello and along Chambers Road and you’ll see 75, 80, 100 kids just walking because they have nothing to do,” McBride said. “There’s nowhere for them to go that’s positive.”
When McBride showed up Monday for a vigil for a young man killed in Montbello, he found himself standing near another crime scene for a shooting that happened in the same block less than 24 hours after the first homicide.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said.
Two days after that vigil, another shooting killed two more people less than a block away. The loss of life and potential is heartbreaking.
“We’re not getting to them before they end up dead,” McBride said. “We’re not meeting them at their level.”
Other large cities across the country witnessed an explosion of violence over the Fourth of July weekend and the following week. Fourteen people were killed and at least 92 others were wounded in shootings in Chicago between midday Friday and early Monday, The Chicago Tribune reported. The governor of Georgia called a state of emergency after five people were killed and 26 others were injured in shootings in Atlanta during the holiday weekend.
Crime trends in large cities across the U.S. are strikingly different than previous years, an analysis by The New York Times found. Overall crime and general violent crime is down in those cities, compared to 2019, but homicides are spiking.
Despite fears that domestic violence killings would spike during stay-at-home orders, the number of domestic violence homicides in Denver has remained level compared to last year, Pazen said. Through the end of June, the police department believes that more than half of killings here were connected to a robbery or a dispute, like over a parking space or a dog.
“We’re trying to get the message out that senseless violence is not the answer,” Pazen said.
Protests of police and in Denver and across the country haven’t affected the police department’s ability to solve crimes so far, Pazen said. The department has solved 70% of the homicides that happened in the first six months of 2020, slightly above the national average of 62% reported in 2018, the most recent year available, Pazen said.
“The only way we can resolve this as a community is by working together,” he said. “The police can’t do this by themselves.”