From New York to Pennsylvania to Florida, from Nevada to California to Oregon, eight people were killed and dozens injured during at least 10 mass shootings last weekend alone.
“It’s heartbreaking to see that level of violence,” Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert told CNN.
Experts consider easy access to guns a root cause of the violence, and open-carry states lower the barrier for people to own and carry guns in public. But the spike in violence since summer 2020 has been general, across cities and states with lax and strict gun laws, with progressive and conservative prosecutors, as well as Republican and Democratic mayors and governors.
As these waves of gun violence flood communities with hopelessness and despair, five experts consulted by CNN see possible solutions and reasons for hope.
Cedric Huntley, the Nonviolence Institute
“I have an outreach and intervention team here and on a daily basis we talk about what’s happening out there,” he said. “We talk about ways that we can intervene but we can’t have hopelessness.”
Institute staff works with law enforcement to mediate potential gang conflicts, provide mentors for young people at risk of turning to gangs, respond immediately to the scenes of shootings and stabbings and hospital emergency rooms in an effort to prevent conflicts from escalating, and match up victims with community services.
Most workers have served time for violent crimes and have espoused conflict resolution and the nonviolent principles of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., according to Huntley. They are an essential part of the front line against the scourge of gun violence.
“They’re the best ambassadors to say, ‘Hey listen, I want to make a difference,’ ” Huntley said. “Our lead trainer was formerly incarcerated. He was 19 when he was involved in a crime and sent to prison for a murder he didn’t do. But he was involved. He was there. He was a co-conspirator. He spent 14 years in prison, got nonviolence training inside the prison walls and now is an expert in nonviolence.”
Another outreach leader is a young former gang member who served time on weapons and drug charges. He has worked at the institute since getting out of prison. One trainer is a mother who lost her daughter in a triple homicide in Providence in 2012.
“They give people a greater understanding of forgiveness, a greater understanding of love and … second chances,” Huntley said. “How important it is to give those second chances to those who who want to make a change.”
The institute has fostered relationships and trust with both law enforcement and local gangs.
“We understand that people want to go out and fight and destroy,” said Huntley. “We want to go out and advocate and build through the Kingian philosophy … which is to show love, and build relationships and reconciliation and forgiveness.”
Alex Kotlowitz, journalist and author
“In my own city, in Chicago, the number of shootings and homicides is staggering the last couple of years,” he said. “I have to say, I’m not without hope though.”
“The street violence that we see in our cities, the vast majority of it happens in deeply distressed neighborhoods,” Kotlovitz said.
“That’s no coincidence. We’ve got to recommit ourselves to finding ways to fortify and rebuild these communities — all the obvious things, which is affordable housing, accessible health care, better schools, community centers. That’s the part that drives me crazy. All the things we already know but we’re unable or unwilling to address it in a really robust manner.”
“They not only provide them jobs, which is a way of kind of, again, rebuilding community, but they’re also providing cognitive behavioral therapy for them. A lot of people in these distressed communities are incredibly angry and I understand it. They’re angry, one, at their circumstance because of race and class, but they’re also angry because they’ve lost a loved one, they’re grieving and they don’t know what to do with it all.”
Still, residents of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago and other US cities have not given up hope and thrown their hands up in the air.
“It undoubtedly shapes their lives and they do everything they can not to let it define them,” Kotlowitz said of the bloodshed.
“But the people I met, the thing I admired about them is that they were all kind of standing erect and moving on, and some of them moving on heroically, doing this extraordinary work in part because they themselves have been touched by the violence.”
Rafael Mangual, Manhattan Institute
“One of the things that just doesn’t get talked about enough is that even pre-2020 there was a huge recruitment and retention problem going on in police departments around the country, particularly in urban police departments,” he said.
“We need to figure out how to attract and retain good police officers in places with significant crime problems,” Mangual said. “I also think we need to understand that the nature of the recruitment and retention crisis has also really impacted the senior ranks in a particular way — which I think resulted in significant brain drain within police departments.”
Among responding departments, there was a 5% decrease in the hiring rate, an 18% increase in the resignation rate and a 45% increase in the retirement rate, according to the survey.
“What’s happened is that you’re seeing people who are eligible for retirement staying on the job for less amount of time beyond that point of eligibility,” Mangual said. “What that means is that those officers who are going to have many more years of experience and who are going to tend to be in different types of roles — say like investigators, detectives — they are the ones that are leaving at higher rates, which means that even if you back fill those positions, you’re back filling them with less experienced officers.”
Thomas Abt, Council on Criminal Justice
The group recommends that cities conduct robust reviews of shooting and incident reports and intelligence gathering by law enforcement to identify “hot spots” with the most violence.
“I want to see targeting. I want to see a careful assembling of information about who are the highest risk people,” Abt said. “But what I’m not comfortable with is you searching people who look a certain way or dress a certain way or happen to live in a certain neighborhood. You need to have better information.”
The single largest impediment to reducing gun violence right now is partisan politics, according to Abt.
“One of the hardest things to navigate is the extremes — which is that people are going to hate you if you work with cops, and then they’re going to hate or dismiss you if you work with communities. The answer is you have to do both.”
Daniel Webster, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions
“Their capacity is not near what you would want to really address this problem,” he said of the community-based programs. “They largely have been funded … as demonstration projects like, oh, we got some little extra cash from this grant or that grant, let’s put a program here or there and call it a day.”
And in communities where guns are so readily available, Webster said, it’s hard to fathom a response that doesn’t involve armed law enforcement.
Webster also agreed with the Council on Criminal Justice’s call for providing better training and education as well as adequate salaries and benefits to community anti-violence workers.
“We tend to talk about accountability only on the side of law enforcement,” he said. “I think the same set of professional standards should apply to the community work as well… Give them the same kind of benefits that you give law enforcement. They’re putting their lives on the line. Right now we’ve tried to do everything on the cheap. And they’re effectively miracle workers.”
“They do a very dangerous job,” Webster said of the violence interrupters. “They do it without guns or bulletproof vests… What we’re ultimately trying to do is change culture and change some of the norms. And part of the way you get there is that you give honor to peace builders, you give honor to people who are showing you don’t have to respond to every provocation with a gun.”
CNN’s Peter Nickeas, Emma Tucker, Ryan Young and Devon M. Sayers contributed to this report.
Quoted from Various Sources
Published for: Mr Blow Up