The United States lives a record year of mass murders, according to james alan foxa Northeastern professor who maintains the largest and longest-running data source on mass murder.
The growing number of victims is due to tragedies such as the recent mass shooting of five people at a Colorado nightclub, an event that has also contributed to a rise in hate crimes nationwide, according to Carlos Cuevasco-director of Northeastern’s Violence and Justice Research Laboratory.
“I’ve been studying mass murder for more than 40 years and I’m pretty sure there’s never been a year in which we’ve had this many,” says Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern.
The escalation has been fueled by what Fox calls “an unprecedented rise” of 13 mass shootings resulting in four or more deaths since Oct. 3.
“That’s an average of two mass shootings a week,” says Fox, “compared to the usual average of two a month.”
In addition to the recent mass shootings, this month has seen two mass murders not involving a weapon, including the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students last week.
The massacre at Club Q in Colorado Springs on Saturday has been identified as a hate crime, according to court records. Anderson Aldrich, 22, is accused of killing five people and injuring 25 more at the LGBTQ nightclub before he was accosted by two people.
Hate crimes in the United States have increased for five of the past six years, according to FBI data. In 2020, the last full year for which records are available, there were 8,263 incidents.
“But that’s the tip of a very large iceberg,” says Cuevas, a Northeast professor of criminology and criminal justice.
More than 60% of reported incidents in 2020 were motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry. About 16% were based on sexual orientationwhich appears to have prompted the Colorado attack.
“That gives you an idea of the trend,” says Cuevas. “But it is largely an underreported crime.”
The Colorado attack was preceded by a 2021 incident in which the bomb squad and crisis negotiators convinced Aldrich to surrender after he allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb. But Aldrich’s weapons were not seized by authorities in an apparent violation of the state’s “red flag” law.
Fox says it’s hard to prevent mass murder.
“It’s easier said than done to take dangerous guns away from dangerous people,” says Fox, who runs the Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University Mass Murder Database. “Afterward, of course, we can all see what should have been done. But those warning signs are only crystal clear with 20-20 hindsight. It is virtually impossible with any degree of reliability to identify mass murderers in advance. There are countless angry or hateful people who seem to fit the profile, but will never turn their anguish into action.”
Much of the data supporting the effectiveness of red flag laws is based on suicide prevention, Fox adds.
“But suicide and homicide are very different,” says Fox. “Homicidal people react differently to an attempt to take their gun from them than suicidal people.”
Cuevas says the environment for hate crimes has been fueled in part by an escalation in political rhetoric in recent years.
“Unfortunately, some of that comes from the upper levels of leadership in the country,” says Cuevas. “If you look at the policies that have been directed at the LGBTQIA community, some of the things that we’ve seen directed at transgender people, educational restrictions in Florida, things like that, it sends the message that for some reason these people are not being treated. You should give them the same. rights like everyone else. And there are people who will take it and say, ‘I need to do something about it.’
“Community leaders, political leaders, must recognize that what they say has consequences,” adds Cuevas.
Cuevas has noticed that people are speaking up for affected groups that are targeted by hate crimes.
At the same time, Cuevas has noted rejection of that rhetoric on social media and other forums.
“The [hate crime] the numbers don’t make me feel optimistic because they’ve been going up for a while,” says Cuevas. “My optimism is in the fact that the people who are supporting these communities are pulling back, becoming just as vocal and hopefully getting as much attention as the people who are stigmatizing and promoting hate towards these people.
“Whether it’s the LGBTQIA/gay community, whether it’s immigrant communities, whether it’s the African American community or the American Jewish community, whoever has been on the receiving end of this lately, I think the fact that the voices and the support begins to be as many and as strong as the voices against it is what encourages me, ”says Cuevas. “Because for a long time, particularly in the recent past, hateful voices were much louder and received much more attention. And I think that’s starting to change.”