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More people were killed in Louisville this year than ever before in the city's history

CNN logo CNN 9/22/2020 By Mark Morales and Elizabeth Joseph, CNN
a sign on a pole: LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 29: A window of the metro police headquarters damaged during protests is seen on May 29, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. Protests have erupted after recent police-related incidents resulting in the deaths of African-Americans Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) © Brett Carlsen/Getty Images LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 29: A window of the metro police headquarters damaged during protests is seen on May 29, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. Protests have erupted after recent police-related incidents resulting in the deaths of African-Americans Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

After four people were shot and killed over a bloody weekend in Louisville, Kentucky, the city reached a new record -- 121 murders so far this year.

The number of homicides is the most the city has ever seen, according to statistics from the Louisville Metro Police Department, and there are still three months left in the year. The violent record comes as some federal buildings have closed and police operate under a state of emergency as the city awaits an announcement in the state's investigation into the killing of Breonna Taylor.

The record-setting murders have put a strain on the homicide unit's ability to investigate each incident, LMPD Lt. Donny Burbink, leader of the homicide unit, said.

"It's basically to the point where we're not being able to provide victims' families the proper investigative services that we would like to, and it's really unfortunate," said Burbink, who later added they made arrests in 37 of those homicides.

"We're hoping that sooner or later, things start calming down so our victims' families can actually get some of the answers that they want."

But it's not just homicides -- there have been over 420 shootings so far this year, according to Burbink.

"Every 12 hours, somebody is getting shot on average, sometimes more often than that," said metro council president David James. "The level of violence going on in our city, I have never seen."

Louisville is one of several cities grappling with a recent increase in violence. In New York City, shooting incidents have nearly doubled this year compared to this same point last year, according to NYPD statistics.

The violence in Louisville started to grip the city when the pandemic hit, James said, closing schools and forcing kids into the street while others lost jobs. That grip only tightened when, according to James, not much was done to address gun violence and drug sales.

"People are trying to make money however they can, which is many times illegally selling drugs, and that adds to the problem," said James, a former undercover detective in the LMPD's narcotics unit.

'We have to look at it like a public health crisis'

Christopher 2X, a Louisville native and head of Game Changers, a non-profit organization that focuses on early education to help curb gun violence, told CNN there must be a will to treat gun violence like a public health crisis.

"We all rallied to the cause of Covid -- masks and social distancing, but what we haven't done within this city is address violence and embrace it as urgently as we need to," he said.

"I've been in this work for two decades and can tell you that unless there's an urgency to deal with violence like we have been doing with the pandemic, it's going to be difficult to tackle. We have to look at it like a public health crisis."

The record-breaking homicide count is the latest spotlight on Louisville, a city that has seen over 110 straight days of public demonstrations stemming from Breonna Taylor's death.

Taylor was fatally shot in March after police broke down the door to her apartment while executing a late-night "no-knock" warrant. None of the officers involved in her death have been arrested or charged. Two remain on the force, while a third officer was fired and is appealing to get his job back.

Fueled by uncertainty over the investigation into Taylor's death, the city has become a powder keg as tensions remain high. Concrete barriers and chain link fencing were erected in downtown Louisville while more plywood was affixed to windows at several buildings this week.

The LMPD issued a state of emergency, shifting around schedules of officers so they had more available to respond if demonstrations turn violent as the city awaits the decision of Attorney General Daniel Cameron in Taylor's shooting.

And while these measures won't slow down homicides, they provide a snapshot of a city grappling with public safety concerns and calls for social justice.

"This is a tragic milestone. We have lost far too many people to this senseless violence, and I grieve with those directly impacted -- the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters of those killed -- and those indirectly impacted -- the community as a whole, which also has suffered great loss," said Mayor Greg Fisher in a statement, who also alluded to other challenges the department was facing, like the impending decision in the Breonna Taylor case.

"True public safety requires involvement by everyone in the community -- working together on the root causes of violence, paying attention to the structural factors that create conditions for violence to thrive, like poverty and gaps in education and opportunity."

Burbink held a news conference on Monday to discuss the shootings over the weekend and echoed the mayor's sentiments, saying more need to be involved to quell the violence.

"The only thing that the police are going to do is they're going to flood hot spots. That's not really a good plan right now," Burbink said, adding that he wants his unit to meet with community and religious leaders. "We would like to try and come up with a way that we can impact violent crime in a lasting way. Not in a 'we can take it off the table for a few months and lower it.' That doesn't fix the problem. This isn't just a police problem, it's a community problem."

Christopher 2X, who arranged the first and only meeting to date between Cameron and Taylor's family, says Louisville has put some energy into curbing violence over the years "but it's not enough."

"The hope is that sometimes the pain that you witness and suffer from brings a new awakening for better cooperation and better awareness toward the urgency of the problem and also manifests new leadership that can hopefully bring about better results."

a group of people sitting at a table: Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron meets with Breonna Taylor's family in August. © Christopher 2X Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron meets with Breonna Taylor's family in August. a large brick building with green grass: The Gene Snyder US Courthouse and Customhouse is seen with boarded up windows. © CNN The Gene Snyder US Courthouse and Customhouse is seen with boarded up windows.
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