Gun violence causes community groups to take bolder action

By THALIA BEATY, Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — Dominique Davis was inside a Seattle-area church one day in March 2021 when a man with a handgun opened fire at a Community Passageways meeting , a group he founded that works to combat gun violence.

The shooter shot Omari Wallace, 19, several times before fleeing. Wallace, who attended an orientation session for a program aimed at keeping young people away from violence and preventing them from going to prison, died of his injuries.

Two more shootings in Seattle followed this week. “It was back to back,” Davis recalled.

In 2021, Seattle recorded more shootings resulting in injuries and deaths than in the previous five years. Davis heard that a leader of one of the two rival groups whose clashes had escalated said the only way to stop the bloodshed would be if the groups could put some distance from each other. others.

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So he seized the opportunity. Davis arranged for 16 young men from both groups to leave town – one in Phoenix, the other in Los Angeles – and paid them to stay away for 30 days and work with therapists and doctors. mentors. Davis said that since returning to Seattle, all but three of the young men, several of whom had previously been involved in gun violence, have not faced any charges.

The unusual plan is an example of how community groups across the country that have long sought to prevent violence are adopting new ways to stem the spike in shootings over the past two years as well as the spike in drug purchases. fire arms. Known as community violence intervention, the approach deploys people with personal connections – and credibility – to those most likely to be involved in gun violence. Although the approach is not new, interest in it is growing.

The Biden administration has made intervening against community violence a key priority. He designated $5 billion in support over eight years, though that funding is blocked in Congress, along with the rest of the administration’s Build Back Better legislation.

And under the just-passed bipartisan Gun Violence Act, which aims to keep guns away from dangerous people after the Uvalde killings boosted reform momentum, Congress has provided $250 million. for community violence prevention. The administration also told municipalities and states they could spend federal stimulus money, allocated last year, on the violence response.

The support for these local organizations marks a break with a long-standing reliance on the police to combat gun violence. Alia Harvey Quinn, executive director of FORCE Detroit, one such group, compares the approach to “how we prevent drunk driving with our friends: just step in and grab the keys to aggressively and to use our relationships to do so”.

At the same South Seattle church in June, Davis invited members of local groups who try to defuse conflict to the hall. The leaders — mostly people of color, mostly black people — said their work was part of a long fight for safety and justice and against systemic racism.

Beneath the words “Love,” “Joy,” and “Peace” on the wall, Davis counted the years in prison they had served. Some shared journeys of redemption, how they finally achieved freedom and are now dedicated to healing their communities.

They shared strategies with representatives of similar groups in Newark and Baltimore, part of an 18-month initiative sponsored by the Biden administration and funded by a dozen philanthropic foundations. The Community Violence Intervention Collaborative was launched in June 2021 to train and grow grassroots organizations in 16 cities.

The training is funded by $7.4 million from philanthropic organizations, including the Ford Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Hyphen, a non-profit organization specializing in public-philanthropic partnerships, manages the initiative. Its founder, Archana Sahgal, called the effort a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

“You are in a position to boost a social movement that is reinventing public safety in this country,” Sahgal said.

So far, few major cities or states have responded to Biden’s call to invest in these programs. But municipalities have until 2024 to allocate their funding from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was enacted in 2021 to deal with the pandemic and the economic damage it has caused.

Researchers Amanda Kass from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Philip Rocco from Marquette University analyzed how the money was spent between March and November 2021. They found that $79 million was allocated by nine States and 79 localities for violence response.

That’s far less than the $5 billion Biden had hoped to spend on the work, though budgets passed by those same entities propose spending $470 million on the projects over time.

Many leaders and participants in the Seattle Gun Violence Response Network have survived gunfire or have loved ones who have been injured or killed by firearms. They feel a growing urgency about their work. Some liken their struggle for funding — from the city and King County or for small grants from intermediary organizations — to “The Hunger Games.”

“We’re saying, give us the $30 million,” Davis said. “We know who does the work.”

Another Seattle-area organization, the SE Network, is holding community rallies on Friday nights — in the parking lot of a grocery store where a fatal shooting happened in 2020 — to try to prevent further violence. The group’s executive director, Marty Jackson, said they use data on where shootings have taken place to determine where to deploy their teams.

“We know full well that the rest of the city needs that kind of attention,” Jackson said. “We need resources to replicate what we know for sure works in these concentrated locations.”

Each year, she asks for renewed funding for her work, which includes sending trained workers to spend time in schools.

“You have to create performance metrics for your work,” Jackson said, “and then market it yourself. It’s hard work.”

Jeffrey A. Butts, director of research at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and one of the authors of a recent review of community intervention programs, cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the effectiveness of such intervention.

“They say, ‘We started doing the X program here two years ago and our shoots are down 30 percent.’ is not proof that the program caused this change.”

Some evidence supports such an intervention, but Butts noted that many projects called community violence intervention actually target young children or housing or economic programs. Without rigorous evaluation, he said, it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of community violence intervention or to determine which strategies work best.

Tim Daly, director of the gun violence program at the Joyce Foundation, said government investment was essential.

“We need public funds to be able to expand these strategies to the extent necessary,” Daly said.

Until then, organizations that intervene in armed violence are competing for a limited number of grants. Several groups that have undergone training sponsored by the White House and philanthropies have said they could use their funding multiple times.

Detroit’s Alia Harvey Quinn said her group could easily spend $15 million a year to provide a broad ecosystem of services, including therapy and entrepreneurship training. This would add to street outreach at the heart of community response – engaging with people who may be involved in shootings. His group’s annual budget is only $1.2 million.

A recently passed Michigan state budget included $500,000 for Harvey Quinn’s group and $3 million for a group in Flint, as well as $11 million in competitive grants that could go to community outreach. Detroit has allocated $12 million of its pandemic relief funding to programs that have yet to be spent.

In last year’s budget, Seattle awarded $1.5 million to the violence response collective that includes Community Passageways and the SE Network. But the city has exhausted its pandemic relief funding. King County said it has allocated about $1 million of pandemic relief funds to the community violence response.

The Biden administration says it hopes its new program can generate additional funding.

“By bringing together philanthropy, the federal government and (community response) leaders in this unique partnership, it sets our country on the path to redefining public safety in this country and reducing violence. army,” said Julie Rodriguez, a senior adviser to Biden.

The Associated Press’s coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits is supported by the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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