National Gun Violence Experts Map Path Toward Ending Scourge and Building Public Health Ecosystem in Communities

National Experts on Community Violence Intervention Programs Discuss Cutting Edge Solutions to Gun Violence (L-R) Greg Jackson, Emefa Agawu, Aqeela Sherrills, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Fatimah Loren Dreier, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott.  PHOTO CREDIT: The HAVI

by Malik Russell

February 7, 2022— The day after President Joe Biden met with New York City Mayor Eric Adams to unveil a new plan to reduce gun violence, Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott participated in a panel discussion with national experts on gun and community violence that highlighted solutions that address violence as a public health issue.

Given the significant spikes in violence in cities across the U.S., panelists urged city leadership to deploy evidenced-based community violence intervention strategies that complement law enforcement rather than languish in a polarized approach to public safety.   

“Yes, every day there’s going to be a role for our police officers. One of the things I think about is how do we bring those people in who need to be held accountable—not throwing people away forever. But when you are talking about serving warrants, people who need to be pulled off the streets because they have shot somebody—that’s the role for our law enforcement officers.

But what we cannot continue to do is to make them [police] responsible for everything,” Mayor Scott said during a powerful discussion at the National Press Club, hosted today by the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention (HAVI), a public health organization helping to build and support hospital-based violence intervention programs throughout the country.   

The discussion was moderated by Washington Post editor Emefa Agawu, who produced the Post’s Reimagine Safety series, and included opening remarks from Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.  

“I think we really have an opportunity to demonstrate the power of this [community violence] ecosystem, and when law enforcement experiences the partnership that is available in this coordinated way, they want it,” said HAVI Executive Director Fatimah Loren Dreier. “When I talk to our peace workers, our violence intervention specialists {…] asking what do you think about law enforcement and they say, ‘we’ve been in the streets, we’ve had altercations with law enforcement and understand there are a lot of problems to be resolved.’ But not a single violence intervention specialist says that they want to completely get rid of the police, [instead] they say ‘we have to figure it out.’ I think that is a courageous position to have to imagine a way forward where we actually work together. It is much easier to be divided and we all lose when we’re divided,” added Dreier.   

Greg Jackson, Executive Director of Community Justice Action Fund, an organization that advocates for a comprehensive policy agenda that addresses gun violence as a public health issue, highlighted that addressing the problem of gun violence upstream helps cities achieve Mayor Scott’s vision.   

“We see that law enforcement has a role to play, but this is a public health crisis first and foremost,” said Jackson. “And if we’re not taking a public health approach, then we are missing what’s happening to our community right now. And while law enforcement plays a great role on the reactive side, all of that proactive work [by violence intervention programs and community agencies] needs to happen if we truly want to end gun violence once and for all. We truly believe that if we attack this public health crisis the way it’s playing out in our communities, we can see a world where law enforcement is not accountable to solve this problem alone.”  

The panel discussion was held at the start of Black History Month to shine a light on the crisis of gun violence in communities of color and explore the scaling up of cutting-edge holistic solutions that have been shown to be capable of transforming hard-hit communities around the nation.   

Since the start of the pandemic, gun violence has spiked in cities across the United States, where in 2020, gun homicides increased by 30 percent nationwide compared to 2019. Communities of color, and especially Black Americans, bear a disproportionate share of this violence — in 2020, Black males aged 15 to 34 accounted for 42 percent of gun homicide victims, despite making up just two percent of the population.  

While the recent spikes in violence have brought renewed attention to the urgent crisis of gun violence in this country, this epidemic has devastated communities of color for decades. Between 2000 and 2018, 162,000 Black Americans — including 139,000 Black men — died violent deaths; among those, 85 percent were killed by gun violence. Much of this violence stems from systemic racism that has led to pervasive inequalities such as poverty, barriers to health care, and insufficient educational and economic opportunities.  

“George Floyd was an induction point in this country, it signaled to us that no longer should we see law enforcement as this single kind of ubiquitous point of contact for safety in our respective communities,” said Aqeela Sherills, the Executive Director of the Community Based Public Safety Collective (CBPSC) and Advisor to the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative (CVIC) led by Hyphen Partnerships. “Reimagining safety is not just about more procedural training and de-escalation strategies for cops, it’s also about investing in comprehensive community-based public safety and community-led solutions,”   

The White House CVIC initiative, which includes expert technical assistance from the HAVI, Cities United, CBPSC, and the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, supports a cohort of 16 jurisdictions from across the country—including Baltimore, Newark, Memphis, NYC and Los Angeles—to leverage millions of dollars in public funding to scale and strengthen their CVI infrastructure.    

All the advocaes reinforced the game-changing work of the Biden-Harris administration and its decision to embrace the “public health” framing of gun violence and steer billions of dollars of funding to support community violence intervention, including a potential $5 billion that is included in the Build Back Better Act, which continues to face stiff opposition in the Senate.  

Despite the current opposition, the Biden Administration has held fast on its campaign commitments to support community violence intervention. 

“Last April, President Biden laid out his comprehensive strategy to combat gun violence and invest in both community policing and community-based violence intervention strategies that have a proven track record of not just reducing violence but also crime in our neighborhoods. As K Bain told President Biden yesterday in Queens, NY, this work is about transforming the individual and community from a place of just trying to survive, to a place where people can begin to create their future and build a path to success,” said Chavez Rodriguez in her opening remarks to the panel. 

“For these reasons, the Biden-Harris Administration, thanks to the support of the people on this panel and hundreds of leaders doing this work on the frontlines in their community, have begun to provide unprecedented federal funding to support and build the capacity of local community-violence intervention efforts, like the ones you’ll hear about today from Mayor Scott in Baltimore and the work our panelists are leading across this country,” added Chavez Rodriguez. 

The highly educational and engaging discussion was taped and will be available online later this month. For updates and more information visit The HAVI @ Havi.org and follow us on Twitter @TheHavi  

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