Alongside COVID, Another Public Health Crisis Is Raging: Gun Violence
This story has been updated.
While the city of Louisville grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and a local uprising over police violence and systemic racism, another public health crisis is raging: gun violence is on the rise. On Tuesday, Louisville had its 100th homicide of 2020. According to the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) the grim milestone marks an increase in gun violence this year.
"Numerous inquiries have been made as to why we have seen such a sharp spike in violent crime," Lt. Donnie Burbrink said, who leads LMPD's Homicide Division. "While I wish I were able to give definitive answers, the simple explanation is we truly don't know."
The last two months have been the deadliest, according to anti-violence activist Christopher 2X, who runs the nonprofit Gamechangers. In July alone, there were 23 homicides in Louisville. And just 17 days into August, there had already been 19 more.
"That is a record in and of itself," 2X said. "We've never seen that kind of volume of shootings."
In addition to the 100 homicides, the city has had 360 non-fatal shootings -- more than double compared to the same time last year.
And there's another disturbing trend, according to 2X and Burbrink: shooters and victims are trending younger, with many under the age of 25.
'She Was Just That Perfect Angel'
Among the youngest of 2020's homicide victims was Trinity Randolph, a three-year-old girl who was shot and killed on Friday, along with her father Brandon Waddles, 21.
Trinity's family says she was a loving daughter to her mother, the apple of her aunties' eyes, and doting big sister to a new baby brother.
"She was so happy," Trinity's aunt Tenisha Porter told reporters during a press conference Sunday. "She thanked her mother for having her brother. She was just overjoyed to become a big sister."
Trinity was a "technology genius" who at just three years old created TikTok and YouTube videos, Porter said. She loved to dress up, especially as a princess or superhero. Family said Trinity was playing in her playhouse before she was gunned down on Friday.
"Trinity meant everything to me," Porter said. She described the child as a source of joy and healing for a family already struggling with pain and loss. Trinity's uncle, Cortez King Randolph, was murdered in 2013.
"I know a lot of people say that angels are in the sky, and they watch over us, but sometimes we have them right here, right here next to us every day -- physically. And she was just that. She was just that perfect angel," she said.
On Thursday, LMPD arrested a suspect in Trinity and her father's deaths suspect has been arrested in the killing of three-year-old Trinity Randolph and her father. Police say officers arrested 28-year-old Evan Ross Wednesday evening, and charged him with facilitation of murder. Police say Ross was listed as the owner of the vehicle caught on surveillance video at the scene of the double homicide. They say Ross later admitted to his involvement in the shooting after being interviewed by LMPD detectives.
Burbrink said of the 100 homicides this year, police have closed 31 cases. Of the 360 non-fatal shootings, they've closed 40.
Hip hop artist and producer Master P announced he will pay for Trinity's family's funeral costs. The family is accepting donations at a GoFundMe page to help support Trinity's mother Tynekia Randolph.
'Hurt People Hurt People'
Police said they don't know exactly why they've seen such a sudden surge in violence, but they think the coronavirus pandemic and protests may be factors.
2X, who has been doing anti-violence work in Louisville for nearly two decades, said he believes there are many causes: the "saturation" of both legal and illegal guns, poverty, trauma among youth, untreated mental health issues and a "shooting mindset" that 2X said can grow out of living surrounded by violence.
"An old saying in the neighborhood is that 'hurt people hurt people,'" 2X said.
2X said he believes social media and bullying are playing a role as well. He said much of the violence has been related to personal beefs, many of which start or escalate on social media.
As to why violence is spiking now, 2X noted that youth violence often increases when students are out of school. With schools closed due to the pandemic, young people have more idle time to dwell on personal disputes. They're also easier targets outside the walls of a school building, he said.
In a briefing Tuesday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer pointed to the Pivot to Peace program as one way the city has tried to respond to gun violence. The program brings in people to intervene when shooting or stabbing victims come into the hospital, to try to counsel them out of seeking revenge, offer them resources and break the cycle of violence.
"We've long called the homicides and violence a public health crisis," Fischer said.
But 2X said it's not possible to intervene in every dispute. Instead he described the need for broader, deeper shifts -- more mental health resources, and more awareness in neighborhoods and schools about the benefits of mental health care.
"It's about how we can touch kids to allow them not to start cultivating to the shooting mindset," he said.
2X said the city needs to focus on gun violence as a public health issue with the same level of attention officials are giving the coronavirus and systemic racism. He hopes the death of Trinity Randolph is a wake-up call for the city.