MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – The Fourth of July holiday weekend was another bloody one for the city, with one dead and six other recovering from gunshot wounds as the second half of 2021 began like the first half ended.

Mobile and its police jurisdiction posted 26 intentional homicides through the end of June – up from 18 during the same period last year.

If homicides during the second half equal the first half, Mobile will have the highest number in the last 10 years, eclipsing the 50 the occurred in 2017. Law enforcement officials are at a loss to explain the surge. But Mobile Interim Police Chief Roy Hodge notes it is not just a local trend.

“Shootings nationwide are on an uptick, you know, as homicides,” he said. “It’s very disturbing, obviously. … It’s very difficult for us to intervene and prevent these.”

It’s not just the numbers. The city has seen some especially horrific crime. In February, grandparents Tony and Leila Lewis died amid a hail of gunfire and an explosion at their home in Happy Hill. That same month, 5-year-old Demarcus Austin Jr. suffered a critical gunshot wound as he was sitting in a car on Farnell Drive.

Mobile County Chief Assistant District Attorney Keith Blackwood said all crime, not just homicides, is up across the board.

“This year is particularly bad,” he said. “I think that young people possessing stolen guns, illegal guns, I think that has a lot to do with it. You know, we really have a focus on getting stolen guns recovered and off the streets.”

Area residents have felt the increase. And they have a variety of theories as to what’s to blame.

“I think the police can do more. … I feel like a lot of resources are spent on dumb stuff, you know?” said Tyler Thomas.

To Sharon Stanley, it’s all about crime prevention.

“I feel like got to get a hold of it, you know?” she said. “And as bad as it is, we need to – I think these young people in Mobile just don’t have enough to do. So they pick and choose the wrong things to do.”

Homicide trends are notoriously difficult to analyze or predict because of the nature of that crime. There are relatively few, compared to other crimes, so small changes can produce big percentage changes. And the factors that influence those trends are varied and often not obvious.

After hitting the 50-mark in 2017, for instance, homicides in Mobile inexplicably plummeted to 28 in 2018 – only to increase east of the next two years.

Hodge said he believes the COVID-19 pandemic has played a role.

“We kind of expected to see … this last year,” he said, pointing out that so many people spent a great deal of time in close quarters with others.

Those are circumstances, Hodge said, in which tempers often boil over.

“But I think it’s actually just the opposite,” he said. “I mean, people are out moving around now, and there’s more opportunity, you know, for conflict and for things to happen.”

Another pandemic-related factor is a yearlong slowdown in criminal prosecutions. For much of the year following the first cases in Alabama, the courts either were closed entirely or not holding jury trials.

Blackwood said the District Attorney’s Office is playing catch-up.

“Were trying to prosecute that as they come in,” he said. “We have a tremendous backlog, because of the pandemic.”

All content © 2021, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved.


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