In Cleveland infant's death, a tragic glimpse of rising violent crime

A 5-month-old girl, the third child shot in Cleveland in just a month, has been identified, but authorities are still looking for an explanation for the recent spike in gun-related criminal activity.

Lisa DeJong/The Plain Dealer/AP
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams becomes emotional during a press conference at police headquarters, Friday, in Cleveland, regarding the fatal shooting of a 5-month-old girl the night before.

The death of a 5-month-old baby girl in Cleveland – the third child caught up in gun violence in the city within the last month – provides a particularly troubling illustration of the recent uptick in violent crime seen in many American cities.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams broke down in tears during a press conference on Friday, telling reporters, "this shouldn't be happening in our city."

Crime rates in many cities have climbed over the past year. Chicago saw its deadliest September since 2002, following a summer rife with gun violence during which 40 or more people were shot every weekend from late July to the end of August. On Tuesday, a young mother and grandmother were killed in a drive-by shooting in front of their home. The woman's 11-month-old boy was shot in the hip and is recovering.

Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy expressed his frustration during a press conference Tuesday.

"Here we go again, I guess is the way I'm looking at this. I'm furious that children, expectant mothers ... are becoming victims of senseless gun violence in this city." 

Authorities in Cleveland believe 5-month-old Aavielle Wakefield was hit in the chest while riding in a car. She was then rushed to a nearby children’s hospital, where she died shortly after the shooting. Only Aavielle was hit; her mother and another passenger survived.

No arrests have been made, but according to WKYC-TV, Cleveland officials are looking into whether the gunfire came from a nearby apartment building.

Aavielle’s death marks the third shooting of a child in Cleveland over the past month: two boys, ages 3 and 5, were each killed in separate incidents in September.

The deaths of children are particularly troubling in these cases, but indicative of an overall spike in violent crime. Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee all have seen an increase in homicides and gun violence in the past year.

However, while there has been a sharp uptick in gun crime, experts knowledgeable on the subject assure the public that there is no reason to worry. Crime has declined by an average of one-third since the 1990s, according to the Marshall Project, which reports on both police and the justice system.

“I think it’s unfortunate when the media talks a lot about these crime spikes ... It tends to scare the public,” Inimai Chettiar, director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, told The Christian Science Monitor. “A lot of people don’t even know there was a massive crime decline.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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