22 July 2022
In 2021, shooting incidents in the northwestern American city of Seattle, Washington, reached their highest level for the five-year period starting in 2017.
Dominique Davis was inside a Seattle-area religious center one day in March 2021 when a man with a handgun started firing. It was during a meeting of Community Passageways, a group he started that works to stop gun violence.
The gunman shot 19-year-old Omari Wallace several times before fleeing. Wallace was attending a program meant to turn young people away from violence and keep them out of prison. Wallace died from his wounds.
Two more Seattle shootings followed that week.
Davis heard that there were two rival groups whose fights had recently gotten worse. A leader of one of the groups said the only way the violence would stop would be if the groups had more distance between each other.
So Davis got 16 young men from the two groups to leave the city. He paid them to stay away for 30 days and to work with therapists and counselors. Davis said that since returning to Seattle, all but three of the young men have faced no criminal charges.
The unusual plan is an example of how community groups are looking for new ways to stop the increase in shootings over the past two years.
It is called community violence intervention. The approach sends people with personal influence within a community to help those most likely to be involved in gun violence. Community violence intervention is not new, but interest in it is growing.
The U.S. Congress recently passed a law aimed at reducing gun violence. It contains measures meant to keep guns away from dangerous people. Through the law, Congress will provide $250 million for community violence prevention. The administration of President Joe Biden has also told city and state governments to use federal pandemic aid money for violence intervention.
Paying money to local organizations is different from usual methods for dealing with violence — by using police.
Alia Harvey Quinn is the director of FORCE Detroit. She compares violence intervention to "how we prevent drunk driving with our friends: just intervening and snatching the keys aggressively and using our relationships to do so."
In June at the same church in south Seattle where a shooting took place, Davis invited members of local groups that try to ease conflicts to the front of the room. The leaders were mostly Black. They said their work is part of a long struggle for safety and justice and against racism.
They talked about their methods with members of similar groups from Newark, New Jersey, and Baltimore, Maryland. The meeting was part of an 18-month program supported by the Biden administration. It was paid for by 12 organizations that give to people in need called charities. The Community Violence Intervention Collaborative began in June 2021. Its goal was to train and expand local organizations in 16 cities.
So far, few large cities or states have answered the Biden administration's call to spend money on these programs. But cities have until 2024 to use funding from the $1.9 trillion aid law passed in 2021 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the economic damage the disease caused.
People working in Seattle's gun violence intervention groups feel a growing urgency about their work.
Marty Jackson is the director of the Seattle-area group, the SE Network.
"We totally know the rest of the city needs this kind of attention," Jackson said. "We need resources to replicate what we know for sure is working in these concentrated places."
Jeffrey A. Butts is a researcher at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. He said there is not enough research about the effectiveness of such intervention efforts.
"They say, ‘We started doing program X here two years ago and our shootings have gone down by 30 percent,'" Butts said. "But that's not evidence that the program resulted in that change."
But the Biden administration says it hopes its new program can create more money for such efforts.
"By bringing philanthropy, the federal government and (community intervention) leaders together...it puts our country on a path to redefining public safety in this country and reducing gun violence," said Julie Rodriguez, a Biden administration adviser.
I'm Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
rival — n. a person or thing that tries to defeat or be more successful than another
therapist — n. a person trained in methods of treating illnesses especially without the use of drugs or surgery
drunk — adj. having had too much alcohol and unable to carry out normal actions
snatch — v. to quickly take away
replicate — v. to repeat or copy
concentrated –adj. dense, not spread out over an area
philanthropy —n. the activity of giving money and time for good causes