TIME – EDDIE BOCANEGRA, ERICA FORD AND MIKE MCBRIDE
More than 141 people were shot in our hometowns of Oakland, Chicago, and New York City over the July 4th weekend. The shooting victims included a 6-year old girl and her mother in the West Pullman neighborhood of Chicago, a 16-year old boy shot in the head from nearby celebratory gunfire in Oakland, and a 38-year old man checking his car for a flat tire in Queens, New York.
This staggering weekend of violence isn’t an outlier; based on an already difficult year and the violence trends we’ve seen, this could be one of the deadliest summers on record for gun violence. These tragedies and the certainty of more to come prompted Governor Cuomo of New York to declare a state of emergency around gun violence on July 6. It’s no exaggeration to say our country is in crisis. But to meet this moment, America can’t simply police our way out of the bloodshed, as the current national conversation on violence seems to suggest. Instead, we should learn from past failures and—as President Biden said in his recent speech on gun violence earlier—invest in what works: community violence intervention (CVI) programs that actually address the cycle of intergenerational poverty, violence, and trauma that drives gun violence.
The pandemic has exacerbated this vicious cycle. With economic instability on the rise, mental health and substance use struggles skyrocketing, and Americans increasingly disengaged from school and work, homicide rates in our biggest cities increased by 30%.
As gun violence has surged, so too has commentary about whether public safety concerns should compel us to return to a “tough on crime” approach. State legislators across the country are calling for harsher prison sentences, including for those protesting police brutality. The leading candidate for mayor of New York, Eric Adams, called the city’s much-maligned former stop-and-frisk policy a “great tool.” The most effective way to do that is by funding CVI programs that reduce violence and the harms of the criminal justice system at the same time.
Here’s how CVI programs work: We know that people living in communities with high levels of violence experience significant levels of trauma.
The three of us know the impact CVI programs can have because we see it every day. READI Chicago and Oakland Ceasefire identify men who are most likely to die from gun violence and connect them to a network of resources, including trauma-informed counseling, support services, and job training.
For decades, America has attempted to address gun violence by directing resources at, rather than to, communities most impacted by this crisis. We have an opportunity to change that and to actually reduce gun violence for the long-term. But to do it, we need to break the wheel.