The Woodson Center family lost one of our own on Memorial Day. Makhi Buckly, the 19-year-old grandson of Carl Hardrick, one of our most faithful leaders in youth violence prevention, was fatally shot in Hartford, Conn. Makhi was a student athlete in his freshman year at American International College in Springfield, Mass. When Carl called to tell me the terrible news, his words broke my heart: “It’s my job to keep kids safe, but I can’t even protect my own grandson.”
Our grief is shared by hundreds of minority families that have lost children to senseless violence over the past year. In June 2020, 3-year-old Mekhi James was killed on his way home from a haircut, riding in the back seat of a car in Chicago. A week later, 10-year-old Lena Marie Nunez-Anaya was killed after a stray bullet came through the window of her Chicago apartment. In July 2020, 7-year-old Natalia Wallace was shot in the forehead as she played outside, also in Chicago. Eleven-year-old Davon McNeal was struck by a stray bullet shortly after a Fourth of July peace cookout organized by his mother in Washington. In April, 11-month-old Dior Harris was shot and killed in the back seat of a car in Syracuse, N.Y. Two other children who were riding in the same car were also wounded.
Over the past few years, the deaths of unarmed black people at police hands—including the murder of George Floyd—have rightly generated national outrage. But the number of unarmed blacks killed by police represents a fraction of those who are killed each day in our neighborhoods. Many of these victims are children. In 2020 nearly four children and teens were shot and killed each day in America on average. Yet the national press habitually ignores any victim who isn’t killed by the police, distorting our understanding of what is really going on.
The movement to “defund the police,” which rose to prominence after Floyd’s death, has actually gotten innocent black people killed. As police have pulled back, our neighborhoods have been left unprotected. Crime has skyrocketed. Major American cities saw a 33% increase in homicides last year as a pandemic swept across the country. Preliminary Federal Bureau of Investigation data show that the U.S. murder rate increased by 25% in 2020. Between Dec. 11, 2020, and March 28, 2021 (after the Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved a budget that shifted $8 million from the police department to other programs), murders in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, rose 46% compared with the same period the year before.
Homicide rates in large cities are up 24% since January. Criminologist Joseph Giacalone, an adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former sergeant with the New York Police Department, predicts they’ll increase even more this year. A recent Gallup poll found that 81% of black people say they don’t want less police presence in their communities.