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Murder Milestone: Grand Rapids sets record with 35th homicide of 2020

The previous record was set in 1993 when Grand Rapids logged 34 homicides; many were related to crack cocaine trafficking and drug-related violence.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A 23-year-old man who crashed into a building after being shot in the chest Sunday evening has driven the homicide rate in Grand Rapids to a record high.

The victim, whose name was not released, is the 35th homicide victim in Grand Rapids this year. He was pulled from a car near South Division Avenue and Burton Street about 9 p.m. on Sunday. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

It is a record; the previous high of 34 was set in 1993.

“With the high amount of homicides that are occurring on our streets, so many families are devastated,’’ said Chris Cameron, executive director of Silent Observer. “It just really needs to stop.’’

Grand Rapids is by no means unique in terms of cities with an increase in murders.

The FBI’s preliminary Uniform Crime Report reveals that the number of murder and non-negligent manslaughter offenses increased nearly 15% for the first six months of 2020. The report is based on information from 12,206 law enforcement agencies that submitted data.

Other Kent County communities that have logged homicides this year include Wyoming, Walker, Grandville and Kentwood.

Back in 1993, when 34 people were killed, much of the violence was linked to narcotics. Drug dealers from Detroit, many of them teens and young adults, headed to western Michigan to sell crack cocaine, police and court officials said at the time.

Turf wars, and the associated violence that goes with it, ensued.

Of the city's 35 homicides through Dec. 6 of this year, about 60% have been solved, Grand Rapids police say.

What is driving the recent spike in violence isn’t fully known. More than three-quarters of the victims were killed with a firearm. The oldest victim was 60 – the youngest – just eight months old. He was beaten to death.

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker says he believes the pandemic certainly plays a role.

“The only thing you may be able to point to is Covid,’’ he said.  “I think in terms of the stress and everybody’s on edge. And I think that’s carried over.’’

More than half of the homicide victims were 25 years old or younger. COVID-19 restrictions, Becker said, have reduced outreach programs for young people, notably after-school programs and community involvement opportunities.

“A lot of the after-school programs that give kids and young adults something to do are gone,’’ Becker said. “We’re trying to get funding and programing that can help with that.’’

Cameron says the homicides this year have devastated families across the city. One of the 2020 murders – the Oct. 16 shooting death of 23-year-old Deon Floyd, is part of Silent Observer’s “You Know Who Killed Me’’ campaign.

A billboard asking for help solving the crime is located on Eastern Avenue SE south of Wealthy Street.

And soon, a Silent Observer billboard will go up on Leonard Street NW just west of Plainfield Avenue asking for help solving the July 19th murder of 24-year-old Jordan R. Ginns. He was found shot on Turner Avenue near Fifth Street NW.

“Silent Observer gives you the opportunity to talk safely and confidentially,’’ Cameron said. “And it’s so important for us to identify the people that are doing these crimes and get them off of our streets.’’

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