“We’re asking the federal government to keep ensuring, number one, that law enforcement cannot jump to the front of the line,” Pastor Michael McBride
Congress Approved Millions for Gun Violence Prevention. Will It Reach Grassroots Groups?
The Trace – Chip Brownlee
April 18, 2022
An injection of at least $300 million for community groups is part of the Biden administration’s larger strategy for reducing gun violence. But for smaller groups, actually getting that funding can be a challenge.
When a 22-year-old woman died from a gunshot wound in February, community organizations and faith leaders in Broward County, Florida, responded quickly. The coalition took to the streets in the days following her killing, hoping to prevent further violence. They offered access to mental health support and counseling. And in the weeks after, Faith in Florida, an organization that works to prevent gun violence, organized financial support for the victim’s family.
Pastor Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida, would like to do more. But the organization and other community groups it works with lack the funding.
In May 2021, the Biden administration said states and cities could use American Rescue Plan funds for community violence intervention efforts.
“It was just a back and forth,” Thomas said. “It was heartache after heartache.”
While advocates have lauded the ARP for making this funding — potentially the largest sum ever devoted to the cause — available for CVI programs, it wasn’t specifically designated for that purpose.
“The funding that was received is not coming down to grassroots organizations,” Thomas said of her experience in Florida. “And other organizations we work with collectively have even smaller chances of getting funding.”
Lawmakers and the Biden administration are hoping to break down the roadblocks Faith in Florida and other community groups have encountered with an unprecedented injection of targeted funding.
“Community-based public safety has been around for 30 years,” said Aqeela Sherrills, an adviser to the collaborative and executive director of the Community Based Public Safety Collective, a national CVI advocacy and training organization. “But they’re just now putting real dollars and investment into it.”
Yet federal grants like those funded under the Safer Communities Act present their own challenges for the types of organizations they’re supposed to support. Advocates say community-based groups often lack the technical expertise, cash flow, and personnel to be eligible for federal grants and navigate the process if they do qualify.
Faith in Florida, Thomas noted, is larger and better-resourced than many of the community groups it partners with, but the paperwork and compliance requirements have still prevented it from applying for federal grants, she said.
“I also would have to increase my capacity internally to keep up,” she said.
“To see, for the first time, a bipartisan decision to fund community violence intervention — responses to gun violence that do not put at the center law enforcement or punitive responses — is something we all celebrate,” said McBride, who is the executive director of Live Free, which organizes communities affected by gun violence. “But there still are needed structural shifts in how federal dollars will be made available to groups on the ground.”
“In an ideal world, we would want everything to go directly to communities, but the reality is that certain cities don’t have the community infrastructure built out yet to take on this level of grants,” Greg Jackson, executive director of the Community Justice Action Fund said.
“We’re asking the federal government to keep ensuring, number one, that law enforcement cannot jump to the front of the line,” McBride said.
“We do know that in certain cities, violence intervention programs are directly connected to law enforcement,” Jackson said. “While that may not be preferable, we also know that’s the reality.”
“It’s unprecedented, but it’s nowhere near the need,” Jackson said. “It’s still a small investment into the larger resource needs that we know our communities have.”
“Our vision is that community-based public safety will become a complimentary strategy to policing in this country, shifting the narrative around public safety forever,” Sherrills said. “We put entirely too much pressure on our cops to have to be everything in communities. It’s just impossible. It’s critical that we invest now.”
“It’s still very new, and we’re still talking about it,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to rally together on how to approach it.”