SACRAMENTO — Homicides in California jumped 31% last year, making it the deadliest year since 2007, and Black people accounted for nearly one-third of all victims as the most populous state struggled with the coronavirus pandemic and concerns over racial injustice, according to reports released Thursday.
The 2,202 homicides last year were 523 more than in 2019, while the rate increased by a similar margin — from 4.2 to 5.5 homicides per 100,000 people.
That’s the most slayings since 2,258 people were killed in 2007, and the rate is the highest since 2008. Black people make up 6.5% of California’s population but accounted for 31% of all victims last year. Hispanic people accounted for 45%, while 16% were white.
Last year saw such a stark increase in homicides in part because the number and rate of homicides the year before were so low.
California’s 2019 homicide rate was the lowest since 1966, and violent and property crime rates in 2019 generally were among the lowest since the 1960s, four experts from the University of California, Berkeley’s California Policy Lab said in a related review focusing on cities with more than 100,000 people.
California cities generally did better than those in other states that saw bigger per capita increases in homicides and aggravated assaults, experts said.
Yet last year, California had nearly 300 more homicides than the next most deadly year in the last decade — 2016, which had 1,930 slayings, according to annual reports from the state attorney general’s office.
Attorney General Rob Bonta said it’s unclear why homicides jumped, but he drew a connection to a 65.5% increase in sales of handguns and 45.9% increase in long-gun sales last year. The 686,435 handguns sold was a record, while the 480,401 rifles and shotguns was second only to 2016.
Nearly three-quarters of 2020 homicides involved a firearm, up from 69% a year earlier, while domestic violence-related calls for assistance involving a firearm rose 42%.
“We can safely say that the pandemic had a monumental impact on daily life,” Bonta said while promoting more use of gun violence restraining orders to take firearms from those who may use guns to harm themselves or others.