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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Tallahassee needs to invest $1 million in proven national gun violence initiatives | Opinion – Tallahassee Democrat

From where we stand as a coalition of community folks united by justice and faith, it’s clear: Tallahassee needs the City Commission to dedicate $1 million to a proven, national evidence-based program to reduce gun violence in our town. This will steeply decrease the ramp-up time for a local solution tailored to our needs.
Over the past year, lay leaders and clergy from the Capital Area Justice Ministry held house meetings, where we listened to community members’ experiences with injustice. Out of the 61 house meetings attended by 350 of your neighbors, many talked about gun violence in our Tallahassee communities. Stories of being woken up repeatedly in the middle of the night by gunshots; ducking at the sound of bullets firing and helicopters overhead; and the immeasurable grief of losing family members by gunshot.
The City Commission’s proposal to dedicate $1 million annually over the next five years for “gun violence reduction programs” is the solution Tallahassee needs, if spent correctly.
At the Capital Area Justice Ministry’s Nehemiah Action on April 5th, with nearly 600 people in attendance and another 100 watching virtually, each of the commissioners committed to champion that this investment be used for “evidence-based programs to prevent and interrupt gun violence.” We applaud their public commitment. Our ask was based on extensive research into cities and programs that have successfully reduced gun violence over time.
We learned that 75% of shootings happen within high-risk groups of young men. And that what curbs their violence is structured, community-involved intervention with these young men to address their trauma and confront street issues.
There are national programs, such as Group Violence Intervention (GVI) and Cure Violence, with a proven track record of assisting communities like ours that are riddled with gun violence in setting up this kind of structured, well-funded programming that reduces the scourge permanently and over time.
The city of St. Louis and others have reduced gun violence with such programs by over 50% over several years—with consistent funding and programming.
Louisa Aviles, former director of GVI, advised us that what works is a community approach that says to high risk gun violence initiators and victims, “We haven’t kept you safe but we will do better, and from now on we will do anything to keep you alive—from safe housing to jobs to food on the table—we will do anything to keep you alive.”
Mayor John Dailey has applauded the great work done by Deputy City Manager Cynthia Barber in 2016 to attempt to bring in Cure Violence, an established national, evidence-based program.
At that time, the cost of the program was $450,000 for one site, and Barber’s research found that our city would need programming for two sites. It has been six years since Barber recommended Cure Violence, and like all things, prices have only gone up.
The City Commission recently committed $140,000 to Sheriff Walt McNeil’s Council on the Status of Men and Boys (CSMB), which is a good start. The charter includes many of the key aspects of effective evidence-based gun violence prevention and interruption program.
But this will not be enough.
No organization should not have to ‘reinvent the wheel.’ We should bring in a national organization to ensure the local programs are the best, most effective they can be. What worked elsewhere can be a model—if not a template—for what will work here.
We need our City Commission to dedicate the $1 million to a proven, national evidence-based program and put Tallahassee on the path to becoming the safe, family friendly city we deserve to be.
The Rev. AJ Mealor of Fellowship Presbyterian Church is co-chair of the Capital Area Justice Ministry’s Gun Violence Committee.
Elder Connell Leonard of Elizabeth Popular Springs Primitive Baptist is co-chair of the Capital Area Justice Ministry’s Gun Violence Committee.
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