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Climate change concern: Will longer heat waves lead to bigger crime waves?

Since last Friday evening, New York City has had 26 shootings, six of them fatal.  All of them took place in hot, humid conditions related to last weekend’s heat wave. What correlation, if any, the violence has to the extreme weather is not clear.  What is clear, however, is that measures have to be taken to reduce violence as the weather warms.

The statistics are sobering, but seeing photos of a smiling, happy, content Tayloni “Tutu” Mazyck, 11, who was shot in the neck Friday evening and sustained debilitating spinal damage, is a reminder that the statistics on gun violence are about real people.

“She has pain in her arms,” said Priscilla Mazyck, Tutu’s mother, at a weekend news conference near their home in Bedford, Stuyvesant, Brooklyn,.  “She can’t feel her legs.”  The Mazyck Family said that doctors told them that the fifth grader will probably never walk again.

She was a completely innocent person who just so happened to be in the path of a bullet shot by Kane Cooper, 17, according to the police officers who arrested Cooper.  Mazyck’s case is just one of more than two dozen in the last few days.

From Friday night to Sunday night, twelve people were shot in Brooklyn, including Tutu Mazyck.  Eight more were shot in the Bronx, four in Queens, and one in Manhattan.  Also, on Monday afternoon, a man was shot on a Bronx street.  He’s expected to survive, but the same can’t be said for six other victims of the 26 total shootings — those six died, and while Tutu is the most tragic injury, she’s one of many.

All of the shootings happened when the heat and humidity peaked.  However, what effect the heat and humidity had on crime is not certain at all, according to a number of criminologists.

“What weather does is it brings people outside,” said Joe Ryan, PhD, chair of the criminal justice department at Pace University.  “And [it brings] the interaction of people.”

Ryan said, in a PIX11 interview, that just because more people are outside interacting in the heat doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the cause of the rise in violent crime.

“There’s nothing you can put your hand on to say it’s weather,” said Ryan.  “Look at Los Angeles.  It’s a warmer place, but it tends to see rises in crime in January and February,” its coldest months, Professor Ryan told PIX11 News.  By contrast, he said, “You look at the Equator, in hotter countries, there’s no spike in crime. It’s always the interaction of people. “

“Whatever this interaction over this past weekend was,” said Ryan, “I think we have to wait for the NYPD to finish their investigations into each one of these shootings.”

Ryan agrees with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who on Monday said at a news conference that while the spree of deadly violence is awful, it’s still an improvement over the past.  ““Including this weekend,” Mayor Bloomberg said, “last week we had the fewest number of shootings in any week in almost a decade.”

It is nonetheless worth pointing out that a variety of climatologists, including a recently released Columbia University Earth Institute study, conclude that if global warming continues unabated, summers will become even longer.  That means that there will be more interactions among people outdoors.

To keep attitudes cooler as temperatures get higher, the recommendation was remarkably similar between the PhD criminologist and an angry, concerned neighbor at the scene of the city’s latest shooting, on Lorillard Place in the Bronx.

She did not give her name, but told PIX11 News, “Do you really care?  If you do, you’d give [young people] a place to play, a place to feel comfortable.”

Dr. Ryan, department chair at Pace University, agreed, “Whatever it is,” he said, it was important for communities to provide outlets to give young people alternatives to violence.  “Sprinklers, swimming pools, basketball, anything to keep the youth occupied.”

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