2020: A Crisis on the Home Front

Tessa Pardon, Staff Writer

As the citizens of Washington move through a turbulent year, it seems as though tensions continue to rise. In a year filled with constant news of the pandemic, rising death rates, punctuated with protests and a tumultuous election, there is almost too much news to sift through. However, the one constant of this last year seems to be one that is not only directly correlated to the events of the year, but also remains significantly underreported. As more people fall into poverty, medical bills skyrocket, and stimulus checks seem to perpetually circle the floor of Congress, crime has been rising in the background. 

A new study by the Council on Criminal Justice found that the homicide rate increased sharply this summer across 27 cities: According to Vox “Homicide rates between June and August of 2020 increased by 53 percent over the same period in 2019, and aggravated assaults went up by 14 percent.” This sharp rise in the rates of crime can be explained by a multitude of events, but perhaps the primary force is deteriorating mental health amid the pandemic. In a study by the World Health Organization  “the pandemic is increasing demand for mental health services. Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety. Meanwhile, COVID-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke.As people remain stuck in their homes, they become increasingly isolated from the outside world. The stress of solitude combined with the turbulent world outside the door has been proven to increase rates of mental illness, and the lack of funding and accessibility to affordable mental health care makes the cycle of mental illness near impossible to interrupt. New tax cutsNew tax cuts–enacted by Trump’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget–begin to “reduce funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Programs of Regional and National Significance by ~$600 million.”. The combined forces of increased stress and inability to access affordable care have caused further deterioration of mental health, and thus increased the regularity of aggressive outbursts. 

Another contributing factor to rising crime is the civil unrest and police brutality occuring in major cities. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom states, “I think it’s just a perfect storm of distress in America,”  And this maelstrom of unrest has undoubtedly boiled over onto city streets. In Atlanta, “There were 66 shootings, with 106 victims, during the most recent 28-day period, compared to 26 shootings and 40 victims during the same time last year, police said. One of the victims was eight-year-old Secoriea Turner, who was shot and killed on the Fourth of July. Secoriea was in a car near a flashpoint of recent protests when at least two gunmen in a crowd of armed people opened fire, police said at the time. Just this week, police announced they had charged a suspect with felony murder.”). As these tensions between civilians, police, and politicians increase, more aggression will undoubtedly maintain a hold on the American public. Whether it be small groups of anarchists wreaking havoc amongst peaceful protesters, or the police attempting to quell the unrest, there is an undeniable increase in violence in these tense settings. Senior Danielle Ellinger recounts “going to (Capitol Hill) , but staying in the car with the doors locked.” Despite the incredibly interesting nature of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, the area itself was fairly inaccessible to teens and women due to its dangerous nature. FIrst name Ngo,  a reporter that visited CHAZ, recounts, “a shooting erupted that left at least one person dead and another injured near a border checkpoint. Police were reportedly met with resistance when they tried to get to the victims, who apparently were then taken in private cars to the hospital.” Although many students expressed a desire to visit CHAZ, few could access it due to safety concerns. Junior Taylor Brown states, “Being a female anywhere automatically makes you a target. You always need to be alert of potential dangers and threatening presences.” And this constant awareness is increasingly important as the state of affairs in the U.S. dissolves. 

In this constant state of flux, women in particular must stay vigilant. As trafficking rates surge in cities such as Seattle, federal presence increases. In fact, according to The New York Post,The number of cases of child trafficking counted by the National Human Trafficking Hotline each year has more than doubled since 2012, to 2,378 — and those are just the cases that get reported. In the Seattle/King County area alone, law enforcement estimates 300-500 children are being trafficked on average.”  Especially with the emergence of sites like CHAZ, rape and assault rates have nearly doubled, according to The New York Post. Students are taking steps to protect themselves, such as Freshman Giada Olivia. She has “taken self defense classes, and I always bring my phone or watch with me to make sure people know where I am.” 

As this violence increases and mental health deteriorates, yet another issue reaches a breaking point. According to a study by Columbia University , “The pandemic crippling the American economy portends a sharp increase in poverty, to a level that could exceed that of the Great Recession.” The sharp climb of the poverty line alludes to a growing crisis, a problem even more poignant when coupled with the rising cost of healthcare amid a global pandemic. Should the American economy reach even more foreign levels, the fiscal reliability of our government will undoubtedly collapse, leaving millions of federally employed workers jobless. This coming shutdown would also further slow the progress of more stimulus checks, an issue already hotly debated and delayed by the Trump administration. Should the release of more stimulus to the economy be delayed past the Nov. 3 election, the rate of job loss will undoubtedly increase past its current rate of roughly 22 million furloughs and firings per month ( DeParle, New York Times). The continued loss of work will plunge yet more of the American public into poverty, creating long lasting detriment for years to come. 

So, the questions of the year remain: how can we prevent this violence from affecting us, but continue to actively participate in our society? How can we continue our civic duties, while maintaining our mental health, navigating a turbulent year, and speaking out against injustice? And how can we provide for ourselves amongst economic downfall? The answers may be as complicated as the issue itself. As citizens, we must protect those around us as well as ourselves, engaging in healthy and safe practices while connecting with others. We must also use this unity to speak out for our beliefs, and fight for those around us while staying safe and respectful of other opinions. We must push for a new wave of stimulus and economic assistance, as well as redistribution of funding to mental health institutions and reallocate police department funding to more effectively protect the welfare of the public. This can be done by exercising individual rights, such as voting. I implore you to use your individual voice to affect the government, and encourage others to do so as well.