Violence interrupters increase the peace for all of us

(RNS) — June is gun violence awareness month, a time to honor communities affected by gun violence and to raise awareness to help prevent and, ultimately, end this devastating plague on our country. We are all affected by gun violence, whether we experience shootings in our own communities or not. 

Hearing gunshots is not uncommon in my neighborhood, and I was once held up at gunpoint on a sunny Sunday afternoon just blocks from my house. Each year, my kids, along with most students around the country, go through active shooter drills at their school. This begins in kindergarten.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently declared gun violence a public health crisis. That is a historic declaration, insofar as gun violence is widely prevalent in our communities and culture. According to the American Public Health Association, “Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the United States. Guns kill more than 38,000 and cause nearly 85,000 injuries each year.” We are awash in weapons. The Small Arms Survey documents more than 120 guns per 100 people in the United States. Yes, conflict is a normal part of life. But in a country where guns outnumber people, altercations can and do become deadly.

The impacts of gun violence also do not affect all Americans equally. According to a 2022 study by Johns Hopkins, “A Black person is 12 times more likely to be a victim of gun homicide than is a white person.” Poor Black and Brown communities are hit hardest. Disagreements disproportionately turn violent in communities plagued with lack of investments and employment. If our standard policing approach could stop gun violence, it would have done so already.

Fortunately, there are people across the country working to address — and prevent — gun violence. And they are succeeding. As a new report, Rooted in Restorative Justice, Violence Interrupters Increase the Peace, violence-interruption programs are helping break cycles of gun violence, while providing avenues for restorative justice and community-building. These programs, in some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods, need more attention and more support.  

Every day across the country, violence interrupters are engaged in their neighborhoods in a good-faith effort to defuse violence before it begins. These volunteers put their lives on the line — almost exclusively unarmed — to help reduce violence and build safer communities.

"Non-Violence" (The Knotted Gun) statue by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. (Photo by Maria Lysenko/Unsplash/Creative Commons)

“Non-Violence” (The Knotted Gun) statue by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. (Photo by Maria Lysenko/Unsplash/Creative Commons)

As a Quaker organization, we seek community where every person’s potential may be fulfilled. We believe the best and most durable solutions to gun violence emerge when we address its root causes, including racial inequities and historical disinvestment, and partner with local experts to disrupt and resolve conflict. This is what violence-interruption programs do, and it is working.

Violence-interrupter programs are community-based. They use peace-building approaches that rely on people who come from where they serve and who understand the challenges unique to their community. Violence interrupters are credible messengers, many having been involved with the criminal justice system. They understand gang dynamics and the people in their neighborhoods. Through their relationships and experience, they can help de-escalate situations that may turn violent. This approach was first seen in Chicago in the 1990s as a public health response to the ever-increasing gun violence there. They identify those most likely to commit violence, intercede, mentor, teach nonviolence and shift group norms that sustain or perpetuate conflict.

Violence interrupters successfully reduce violent crimes that perpetuate more violence, thus creating a new normal. In 2021, violence interrupters in Baltimore’s Cherry Hill neighborhood facilitated 365 days without a single shooting. Research in New York City, in conjunction with law enforcement, found that over three years, areas with gun violence-interrupter programs saw an 18% decrease in the homicide rate. A Johns Hopkins evaluation of a Baltimore program demonstrates that given the high cost of gun violence, $7.20 to $19.20 in economic benefits are returned for every $1 invested in prevention.

Like many community-based efforts, it can be challenging to track their effectiveness due to crime rates that encompass entire cities and states. Violence interrupters often only work in specific neighborhoods. Unlike reactive policing, they work through proactive violence interruption and prevention approaches. These programs are effective, but they are not well recognized, and federal funding to support them is under threat.

Congress and the states debate ad nauseam how to address gun violence. Violence interrupter programs, which receive funding from state, local and private sources, are a prime example of how community violence intervention initiatives are working. They engage people where they are through proven approaches that can build long-term resilience to violent conflict.

Right now, decisions are being made in Washington as to whether or not to continue their funding. The good news is that these programs have enjoyed bipartisan support in the recent past. However, they currently face a difficult climate in the House where a vocal minority insists on sharp cuts. Only time, and our persistent advocacy, will tell.

As we end another gun violence awareness month, let’s take the next steps to end gun violence. Rather than cutting funding, Congress should invest more in community violence intervention programs. The alternative is aggressively increasing the police presence. This approach has repeatedly failed, often with fatal consequences. We need to invest in community-based violence-intervention models that work, and we need to do so on a scale that matches the problem we face.

Bridget Moix. (Photo courtesy FCNL)

Bridget Moix. (Photo courtesy FCNL)

Our communities, our families and our children deserve it.

(Bridget Moix is general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and its associated Quaker hospitality center, Friends Place on Capitol Hill. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Source link

Related Articles

Do you run a company that want to build a new website and are looking for a web agency in Sweden that can do the job? At Partna you can get connected to experienced web agencies that are interested in helping you with your website development. Partna is an online service where you simply post your web development needs in order to get business offers from skilled web agencies in Sweden. Instead of reaching out to hundreds of agencies by yourself, let up to 5 web agencies come to you via Partna.
Back to top button