With the unprecedented mental health and financial burdens of 2020, it's not surprising that crime is climbing in New York City.
Criminal justice reform advocates told Insider that shutdowns have left people living in poverty financially struggling and without access to mental health resources.
When people can't get the treatment they need, they might self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, which can contribute to crime, one expert said.
Poverty and untreated mental health issues are both inextricably linked to crime.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that in 2020, an unprecedented year for both of those struggles, that crime is up in New York City, criminal justice reform advocates say.
As of Sunday, New York City has seen the number of shooting victims double from the same time period in 2020, according to NYPD statistics. The number of murders has also increased by more than 30%.
Crime analyst Christopher Herrmann told Insider Tuesday that the city is in "uncharted waters" in terms of the level of crime it's experiencing. While there are often "spikes," or short periods of especially high crime, this year, the wave has lasted months and is unprecedented, he said.
Criminal justice reform advocates say we shouldn't be surprised.
"A lot of the time, in areas with high crime, there is a lack of resources already, and lack of jobs or employment, and mental health issues," said Gamal Willis, manager of Court Advocacy for Avenues for Justice in New York. "Compound that with the pandemic, where people can't access mental healthcare ... What has happened is our young people can not get those resources, so they're self-medicating, whether that be with alcohol, whether that be with drugs. And so this enhances some of what you're seeing as far as crime."
Avenues for Justice, an organization in New York City that diverts juveniles from the criminal justice system by providing alternatives and education, has continued to operate throughout the pandemic by going virtual.
"We modified ourselves. We're online to reach out to young people to keep them home through the pandemic, of course," Executive Director Angel Rodriguez told Insider. "We've also been raising money to help people with food, or for rent, or bills."
While the organization has seen success in its ability to stay connected to young people, Willis said that this year has created extreme barriers for people in need of mental health treatment.
Some agencies that provide these services have closed their doors due to the pandemic. Independent therapists are booked out far into the future, Willis said.
"It's a big problem with the young people, and today it's also impacting their parents," Rodriguez said, of mental health struggles. "Anybody who has any type of health issue, this has really expanded that. They're not getting medication because they don't have insurance and can't afford it."
Herrmann, a former Crime Analyst Supervisor with the New York City Police Department who is now a professor at John Jay College, told Insider that the majority of gun crimes are generated from a small number of poverty-stricken neighborhoods in New York City. Most of the people involved are young males, he said.
Willis believes that these neighborhoods — many of which are underfunded because of systemic racism — need to see more resources, especially now.
Unemployed and nowhere to go, young people are at risk
In September 2019, the unemployment rate in New York City was 3.7%. Last month, it was at 14.1%, according to data from the New York State Department of Labor.
"Employment is another area that obviously is impacted by Covid," Rodriguez said. "Young people are at risk. There's nothing to do, Nowhere to go."
Rodriguez said that he doesn't believe that young people "are out destroying the city," but wanted to note that this demographic suffers when resources are limited.
"I think all these factors together, when you combine it with a pandemic, you're going to see numbers go up," Willis said.
To help people, he said, cities need to be creative in their approach to mental health care and recognize that access is still an issue for many. Willis would like to see the city make technology available so people can receive treatment in a virtual setting.
"The city makes sure that some people are able to get tablets and the like to assist in education, why not to address mental health?" Willis added.
Read the original article on Insider