Close your eyes and you could be back in the crime-plagued New York of the late 1980s. Last week’s mayoral debate was dominated by how candidates would tackle the city’s rising crime rates. Murders in New York rose last year by 43 per cent — and are on track to be higher this year than last. The situation is even uglier in Chicago, which is close to its 1974 peak when almost 1,000 people were murdered. Ditto across urban America. There is even speculation about a repeat of the suburban exodus of the late 1960s and 1970s. It would be unfair to blame Joe Biden for any of this. Yet as president — and leader of the party that controls most big US cities — he will pay a price if it goes on. The question is what he and local leaders can do about it. The answer, unfortunately, is more complex than simply defeating the pandemic. Most of the nation’s rising homicide rates precede last year’s lockdowns, even though coronavirus added fuel to the fire. For the first time since 1995, more than 20,000 Americans were murdered last year. Overall, US murders were up by a quarter from the levels of 2019.

It would be easier to isolate causes if the problem were confined to a handful of places. But last year’s increase runs the gamut from mostly white smaller cities to large multi-ethnic ones. It is hard to find a wider cross-section of urban America than Philadelphia (40 per cent), Houston (42 per cent), Denver (51 per cent) and Washington DC (19 per cent). Yet they point the same way. Most also had significant homicide increases in 2019. This year is already worse than last. Community leaders across America are bracing for a long hot summer. Democrats are bound to take most of the heat, but the blame should be shared. The Republicans’ refusal to consider even the semblance of gun control remains serenely unshaken by mass shootings, which have soared this year.