The US murder rate increases by 30 percent, the biggest jump in 60 years.

police tape
Photograph: Jay Paul/Reuters

Thanks to the Guardian for this piece. I have reproduced it in full without any editorial, except to ask, once you have read this, how do you think the US can become a safer and more peaceful country? JT

The US has experienced its largest-ever recorded annual increase in murders, according to new statistics from the FBI, with the national murder rate rising nearly 30% in 2020 – the biggest jump in six decades.

Nearly 5,000 more Americans were murdered across the country last year than the year before, even as rape, robbery, and other property crimes fell, according to FBI figures.

Murder increased in every geographic region, and in small towns and suburban areas as well as large cities. At least 77% of the murders were committed with firearms, according to the new government estimates.

The sharp one-year increase, to a total of at least 21,570 murders, does not erase the nation’s safety gains since the early 1990s. The US murder rate had dropped more than 50% since 1991. Even after last year’s increase, it is still 34% lower.

But the single-year jump in murders, the largest since current record keeping began in 1960, has fueled debate about the broader social effects of the coronavirus pandemic. National statistics show that no other crime category surged to the same extent that murder did: the nation’s overall violent crime rate increased just 5%, according to the data.

While homicides have continued to rise in big cities through the first half of 2021, the rate of increase has slowed, according to the criminologist Richard Rosenfeld, who has been tracking changes in crime throughout the pandemic. A study looking at a subset of 29 US cities through the end of June showed homicide up 16% this year, he said.

Experts who study violence point to multiple factors that might have played a role in the murder increase, from the emotional trauma and economic instability of the pandemic, which fell hardest on communities that were already struggling, to an increase in gun-carrying in public.

Conversations about American crime and violence often focus on victims of color in big cities, but “the FBI data is showing an increase everywhere”, said Shani Buggs, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, who studies community violence prevention.

“It’s urban. It’s rural. It’s Democratic. It’s Republican.”

Law enforcement agencies have reported increases in illegal firearm possession, and there have been anecdotal reports from cities across the country of more guns on the streets, Buggs said.

“What I’m hearing on the ground, from folks in New York, Chicago, Oakland, Louisville, St Louis, is that you have mundane issues that are turning lethal because there is so much anger, and rage, and guns available,” she said.

While handguns remained the most common murder weapon in the US, much about the surge in gun violence in 2020 remains unclear. The circumstances for most of the nation’s more than 21,000 murders are not recorded in the national data released on Monday. More than 4,000 were attributed to arguments, at least 900 to gang killings, and more than 1,900 were committed in the context of other crimes, including robberies and drug crimes. But the largest category is simply “unknown”.

Republicans have responded to the increase in gun violence by leaning into “soft on crime” rhetoric and pushing for more punitive responses, while Joe Biden and other Democrats have focused on Americans’ widespread and easy access to guns. Biden has also proposed a $5bn investment over eight years in scaling up community gun violence prevention strategies, including funding outreach workers and other programs that focus on the small number of people most likely to shoot or be shot, strategies that have shown a strong track record of reducing killings.

The murder increase has also become a key data point in debates over the role of police departments in preventing community violence, particularly after last year’s protests against police killings of Black Americans.

Some advocates said it was important to focus on the fact that 2020’s murder spike was building on a level of violence across the country that was already far from normal.

“It took one pandemic to unveil another pandemic, a more silent pandemic,” said Malik Russell, the director of communications for the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention. “It’s important that the nation as a whole doesn’t miss the forest for the trees, the fact that every year, thousands and thousands of people, disproportionately Black and brown, are being killed on the streets.”

Stark racial disparities in who is most at risk of being murdered continued into 2020: Black Americans, who make up about 14% of the population, represented more than half of the 2020 victims whose race was known. But the number of murders also increased sharply across racial groups. Compared with 2019, the number of white males murdered rose 27%, while the number of Black males murdered rose 31%, according to data on the victims whose race was recorded.

Of the nearly 5,000 additional murder victims in 2020, at least 1,200 were white, while at least 2,400 were Black.

Rosenfeld, the criminologist, said that while murder was the most serious crime, it was also the rarest, which made the continuing decline in US property crimes last year an “important story” that should not be overlooked.

The number of people victimized by property crimes had been on a downward trend for at least two decades, and the pandemic had not changed that, he said, even as homicides spiked.

“We want to address the increase in homicide with remedies that are specific to homicide,” Rosenfeld said. “These broad-based remedies, like ratcheting up years in prison for the commission of a felony – we not only don’t need them, they may do more harm than good.”

In conversations with people working on the front lines of the murder crisis across the country, Buggs said, she consistently heard “people talking about how much trauma exists in the community, and the need for healing and peacemaking”.

“As a country, as a society, we don’t have a great answer to that, but we need to be trying, and innovating, and we need to be taking it seriously,” she said.

Dear George….Dear George Floyd

Dear George, since you died earlier this year under the knee of a police officer in the US, much has happened that would not have happened had you not died in that tragic way. I am sad you died, and cried when I watched your niece, Brook Williams, talking about how big a loss your death was to her at the memorial service held for you. I still cry today when I watch her speak her passionate words of grief about you.

I can tell you, George, that you did not die in vain. The world is changing because of your death, and because of the massive outcry over the injustice of your death. I myself am part of a leadership group planning to introduce a new kind of service in the community of Lompoc in California that I live close to. The service is called CAHOOTS, which stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets. It started in Eugene, Oregon, in 1989, and means that when people call 911 for a mental health service, such as someone feeling suicidal, or for a welfare check because they haven’t seen a neighbor for many days, or because someone is homeless and in need of help, a special CAHOOTS van responds to the call. On that van are a nurse or medical technician, and a crisis counselor. They are not armed, but they have an enormous range of skills to respond to mental health and social crises the police are not best able to deal with. The police department in Eugene are glad to have CAHOOTS as partners, so when calls come into 911, the police only respond to crimes in progress, or where force might be needed. They don’t respond to the many calls that come in that require a social work or medical response, such as a homeless person with a non emergency medical problem.

A CAHOOTS van with its two staff, operating in Eugene, Oregon.

George, I can hear the words, No Justice No Peace, echoing around the world as protesters demand justice for people of color and for the most vulnerable in our communities. I want you to know, George, that we are on the move, That old styles of policing, old styles of treating people so badly, to the point of killing them in cold blood – that those old styles are being replaced. It is not a case of de-funding the police. We need the police. But we need them to protect the public. And we need them only to do the things they are good at. They have been asked to do too much. We are re-imagining the role of the police, and putting in place first-responders who work to resolve crises in communities where empathy, and medical support are what is needed, not a show of force.

It will take a bit of time to introduce the CAHOOTS style of service in communities. In our case, we have started fundraising. It costs close to $120,000 to buy the equipment, including the van, to start the program. Then it costs close to $1.5 million to operate the program each year. That is for a 24/7 van staffed by a paid medical technician and a crisis counselor, along with support staff and a coordinator. In time, we expect the city to fund the service, but initially we anticipate it will take grants and donations to get it going. We are planning on setting up a GoFundMe page for this……stay tuned. In the meantime you can donate through our Peachenge portal

George, thinking of you.

JT

The green shoots of peace emerging from the tragic death of George Floyd, while the world is in flux due to the pandemic

The Black Lives Matter movement, and the response to it, have begun to shift certain cultures in the world toward more social justice, although, sadly, the brutality directed at peaceful protestors has shown quite the opposite of upholding civil rights.

Positive peace can only exist where social justice applies equally to all racial, ethnic and cultural groups; indeed, to all individuals in a society.

Many of the social and cultural underpinnings of the pre-Covid19 world have been ripped up by the “lockdowns”, “social distancing”, and restrictions that have been put in place by governments to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The effect of this is that there exists at this point a new kind of cultural, and political plasticity, where things that were thought of as solid and sacred before Covid19, are now no longer solid and sacred.

The death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer, occurring as the world struggles to deal with the Pandemic, has been the catalyst for significant decisions and actions that seem to be moving at least the U.S. in the direction of greater social justice.

It is tragic that it took his dying to prompt cultures, especially in the West, to look at how they have continued for generations to sanctify those historical individuals involved in promoting slavery, and have continued to support institutions, such as the police, where racism has found fertile ground to thrive. 

That statues of slave traders, and slave holders have come down, since the death of George Floyd, and that the flag of the Confederacy has been banned by NASCAR, and eliminated from Mississippi’s state flag, are partly due to the movement George Floyd’s death gave rise to.  But it is also due to the new fluidity of culture, and the throwing out, or suspension, of the old rules, that has arisen in the middle of the pandemic.  The recent decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the rights of the DACA recipients or Dreamers is a welcome breath of fresh air in a world that had been becoming hyper-nationalistic.

Peace often does not come from an absence of violence.  On a grand scale, the massive death and destruction of World War II, gave rise to a new kind of peace, built ironically on the existence of mutually assured annihilation between East and West.

There have been countless deaths like the “I cannot breathe” killing of George Floyd.  But perhaps this catalyst, this tragic death, might usher in a new epoch of greater social justice in certain parts of the world.  I hasten to add that in some countries, like Brazil, Russia and China, there is a conspicuous lack of social justice, and in the U.S. there remain massive institutional and political barriers to civil rights applying equally to all citizens.

The top-to-bottom reform of police departments, and of racist sentencing practices would help usher us into this new epoch, as well as establishing ways, through education especially, for poverty to cease to be handed down through the generations like a yoke of oppression.   The city of Camden in New Jersey did totally reform its police department, letting go all the police officers in 2013 who presided over a sky-high murder rate, and a new police department, controlled by the County, came into being.   It was not an immediate fix, and teething problems had to be corrected.  But it is a great example of how police reform can be made to work to make a community safer and more peaceful.  Here is an article that describes the process:

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/06/12/camden-policing-reforms-313750

Perhaps what we are seeing in the US, and in some other countries, are the green shoots of a more peaceful and equitable world – green shoots we need to nurture to become the oaks and sequoias of the future.

JT

Discovery of a ring of large shafts close to Stonehenge

StonehengeArchaeologists believe the find marks “a new chapter” in Stonehenge’s story

A ring of large shafts discovered near Stonehenge form the largest prehistoric monument ever discovered in Britain, archaeologists believe.

Tests carried out on the pits suggest they were excavated by Neolithic people more than 4,500 years ago.

Experts believe the 20 or more shafts may have served as a boundary to a sacred area connected to the henge.

“The size of the shafts and circuit is without precedent in the UK,” said Prof Vince Gaffney, a lead researcher.

The 1.2 mile-wide (2km) circle of large shafts measuring more than 10m (30ft) in diameter and 5m (15ft) in depth are significantly larger than any comparable prehistoric monument in Britain.

A team of academics from the universities of St Andrews, Birmingham, Warwick, Bradford, Glasgow and the University of Wales worked on the project.

The pits surround the ancient settlement of Durrington Walls, two miles (3km) from Stonehenge, and were discovered using remote sensing technology and sampling.

Aerial shot showing location of discoveriesYellow dots mark the location of the finds, with Durrington Walls marked as the large brown circle and Stonehenge, as the small yellow circle, top left

Prof Gaffney, of the University of Bradford, said the discovery demonstrated “the capacity and desire of Neolithic communities to record their cosmological belief systems in ways, and at a scale, that we had never previously anticipated”.

“The area around Stonehenge is among the most studied archaeological landscapes on earth,” he added.

“It is remarkable that the application of new technology can still lead to the discovery of such a massive prehistoric structure.

“When these pits were first noted, it was thought they might be natural features. Only through geophysical surveys, could we join the dots and see there was a pattern on a massive scale.”

Prof Gaffney said a “proper excavation” was required to determine the exact nature of the pits but that the team believed they acted as a boundary, perhaps marking out Durrington Walls as a special place, or emphasising the difference between the Durrington and Stonehenge areas.

Image showing location of shafts near StonehengeThe shafts surround the known location of Durrington Walls

He said it was difficult to speculate how long they would have taken to create, but using manual stone tools, there would have been “considerable organisation of labor to produce pits on this scale”.

“The pits are massive by any estimate. As far as we can tell they are nearly vertical sided; that is we can’t see any narrowing that might imply some sort of shaft. Some of the silts suggest relatively slow filling of the pits. In other words they were cut and left open,” added Prof Gaffney.

Dr Richard Bates, from St Andrews’ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said it had given an insight to “an even more complex society than we could ever imagine”.

His colleague Tim Kinnaird said sediments from the shafts had allowed archaeologists to “write detailed narratives of the Stonehenge landscape for the last 4,000 years”.

Posted by JT

(Photos and text from the BBC website)

Core from one of the Sarsen stones at Stonehenge returned after 60 years!

Stonehenge in 1958Stone samples were removed during archaeological work in 1958

The BBC reports that a missing piece of Stonehenge has been returned to the site 60 years after it was taken.

A metre-long core from inside the prehistoric stone was removed during archaeological excavations in 1958.

No-one knew where it was until Robert Phillips, 89, who was involved in those works, decided to return part of it.

English Heritage, which looks after Stonehenge, hopes the sample might now help establish where the stones originally came from.

In 1958 archaeologists raised an entire fallen trilithon – a set of three large stones consisting of two that would have stood upright, with the third placed horizontally across the top.

During the works, cracks were found in one of the vertical stones and in order to reinforce it, cores were drilled through the stone and metal rods inserted.

The repairs were masked by small plugs cut from sarsen fragments found during excavations.

Stonehenge in 1958
Stone sample from StonehengeArchaeologists hope to analyse the composition of the core to pinpoint where the ancient Sarsen stones might have come from

For 60 years Mr Phillips, an Englishman who now lives in retirement in Florida, kept his piece of Stonehenge – first in a plastic tube at his office in Basingstoke and later on the wall at home in the US.

In the 1950s he had been employed by a diamond-cutting firm brought in to help reinforce the giant stones.

Robert PhillipsRobert Phillips now lives in Aventura, to the north of Miami, Florida

The company, Van Moppes, bored three holes into one stone before stabilising metal rods were inserted.

During the process workers extracted three 1m-long (3ft) cores of stone and Mr Phillips took one of them.

But on the eve of his 90th birthday, he decided to return it.

Lewis (l) and Robin Phillips (r), sons of Robert PhillipsMr Phillips’s sons Lewis and Robin travelled to Stonehenge to hand the sample over

Archaeologists hope to analyse the chemical composition of the core to try to pinpoint where the ancient Sarsen stones might have come from.

Although the sample was handed back last May, English Heritage said it had not announced the find until now as it had to first understand its significance.

Historic England said the stone sample looks “incongruously pristine” alongside the “weathered” stones currently standing at the monument.

The smaller bluestones at Stonehenge were brought to the site from the Preseli Hills is south west Wales but the source of the larger Sarsen stones is unknown.

The discovery of part of the missing core now means a team will be able to analyse it in order to “pinpoint their source”.

Researchers have already used a spectrometer to look at the chemical composition of the stone.

The whereabouts of the other two Stonehenge cores remains a mystery and English Heritage is appealing for anyone with any information to contact them.

Heather Sebire from English Heritage said “the last thing we expected was to get a call from someone in America saying they had part of Stonehenge”.

“Studying the Stonehenge core’s DNA could help tell us more about where those enormous Sarsen stones originated,” she added.

Prof David Nash from Brighton University, which is leading the study into the stone core, said it was possible the Sarsen stones came from multiple locations.

“Conventional wisdom suggests they they all came from the relatively nearby Marlborough Downs,” he said.

“But initial results from our analysis suggest that in fact the Sarsens may come from more than one location.”

JT

The origins of the builders of Stonehenge

The ancestors of the people who built Stonehenge travelled west across the Mediterranean before reaching Britain, a study has shown.  Researchers compared DNA extracted from Neolithic human remains found across Britain with that of people alive at the same time in Europe.  The Neolithic inhabitants were descended from populations originating in Anatolia (modern Turkey) that moved to Iberia before heading north.

They reached Britain in about 4,000BC.  Details have been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The migration to Britain was just one part of a general, massive expansion of people out of Anatolia in 6,000BC that introduced farming to Europe.  Before that, Europe was populated by small, travelling groups which hunted animals and gathered wild plants and shellfish.

One group of early farmers followed the river Danube up into Central Europe, but another group travelled west across the Mediterranean.  DNA reveals that Neolithic Britons were largely descended from groups who took the Mediterranean route, either hugging the coast or hopping from island-to-island on boats. Some British groups had a minor amount of ancestry from groups that followed the Danube route.

Whitehawk Woman
A facial reconstruction of Whitehawk Woman, a 5,600-year-old Neolithic woman from Sussex. The reconstruction is on show at the Royal Pavilion & Museum in Brighton

When the researchers analysed the DNA of early British farmers, they found they most closely resembled Neolithic people from Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal). These Iberian farmers were descended from people who had journeyed across the Mediterranean.

From Iberia, or somewhere close, the Mediterranean farmers travelled north through France. They might have entered Britain from the west, through Wales or south-west England. Indeed, radiocarbon dates suggest that Neolithic people arrived marginally earlier in the west, but this remains a topic for future work.  In addition to farming, the Neolithic migrants to Britain appear to have introduced the tradition of building monuments using large stones known as megaliths. Stonehenge in Wiltshire was part of this tradition.      

JT

New site rendering of Peacehenge

We are grateful to a number of supporters for contributing to a fund for an artist, Nathan Snyder, to do a new site rendering of Peacehenge. Thanks, Nate for your work! Here it is! It’s a step along the way to a final design.   JTPeacehenge-NS-Feb-2019-v6

Moving toward peace and away from peace

A peace deal between the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) and 14 rebel groups has been struck after talks in Sudan, officials say.  The deal was announced by the UN mission in CAR, known as Minusca, and the African Union (AU), which both sponsored the talks in Khartoum.  “This is a great day for Central African Republic and all its people,” said AU commissioner Smail Chergui.  The government said the peace deal would be signed in Bangui soon.   Details of the agreement have not been released and analysts caution that previous peace deals have all collapsed.  I have to say having a name like Smail Chergui has to make people sit up and listen!

On the other hand, the US and Russia say they are getting rid of a nuclear arms treaty signed in 1987 banning intermediate range missiles.  So, unless this is reversed in the next six months, we will be in a new chapter of the new cold war.  That does not take us in the direction of peace.   It also comes as the US has begun building its first long-range nuclear weapons since 1991, a move that other nations are citing to justify their own nuclear modernization efforts.

So, one piece of good news, and one piece of bad news.  Are you ready for the new cold war?   Are you ready to duck and cover?

JT