By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

The District of Columbia has joined Baltimore and 12 other cities across the U.S. in a groundbreaking White House initiative to demonstrate the need for community-based violence intervention strategies to break the cycle of violent crime that has spiked during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“People care about safety, they care about fair policing and justice and they want the police and the community to work together,” Bowser said from the White House in a meeting with President Joe Biden shortly after she met with the White House staff to discuss the escalating violent crime that has rocked the District since the summer of 2021.  

The District ended 2021 with 226 homicides, an increase of 14% from 2020, according to data from the Metropolitan Police Department. The District also reported 1675 cases of assault with a deadly weapon, representing an increase of three percent from the previous year.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott joined three community violence prevention experts to speak to the public and the press this week about the White House Community Violence Initiative and the need for community violence interrupters to work in communities to prevent violence.

“When I talk about my violence interrupters, I call them crime stoppers, because that’s what they are,” Scott said. “Most of the time, law enforcement wouldn’t be able to interrupt the potentially violent conflicts that my Safe Streets workers can intervene in,” Scott said of Baltimore’s team of violence interrupters.

The 14 jurisdictions that are members of Biden’s White House Community Violence Initiative (CVI) are convening monthly and will continue to meet throughout this year to learn from each other and tap the assistance of community-based technical assistance organizations that will support them in balancing the work of law enforcement with community based strategies to get ahead of the anticipated rise in violent crime that historically rises in warmer weather.

Greg Jackson of the Community Justice Action Fund, DC. (Photo by Deborah Bailey)

Executive Director of the Community Justice Action Fund Greg Jackson is a D.C. resident and a victim of gun violence. Jackson added that law enforcement has a vital role to play in working tandem community-based programs.  But added that law enforcement must begin to refocus on violent crime as a public health crisis.

“If we’re not taking a public health approach, we’re missing what’s happening in our communities right now. We need to take a ‘whole-of-government approach to ending violence,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s involvement in violence community intervention work began with his own story of the experience of being shot and brought to the hospital in April 2013.

“I saw how Black men all over the country were being treated. I was shot as an innocent bystander in D.C. I saw first-hand how big this issue is and how black men all over this country were being treated,” Jackson said.

“When I arrived at the hospital I wasn’t met by doctors or nurses, I was met by investigators who interrogated me as I was fighting for my life,” Jackson said.

“My surgeon said I only had 26 minutes to live due to the blood loss, and I lost precious moments by being criminalized as opposed to being seen as a victim,” Jackson added.

Jackson’s Community Justice Action Fund ensures victims of gun violence are part of the community-based solutions to end violence. He wants to see law become more collaborative with the community to seek solutions to gun violence in communities long before acts of violence occur.

According to the Gifford’s Law Center, CVI strategies have been shown to reduce violence by as much as 60 percent. CVI programs leverage trusted messengers working directly with individuals most likely to commit gun violence, intervene in conflicts and connect people to social, health and economic services to reduce the likelihood of violence as an answer to conflict.

“They can have that conversation that many of us outside the community just can’t have, not just in Baltimore, but around the country”, Scott said. Violence interrupters have been working in Baltimore since 2007.  

Cities and jurisdictions involved in the White House Community Violence Initiative are Atlanta, Ga., Austin, Texas., Baltimore, Md., Baton Rouge, La.., Detroit, Mich., King County, Wa.., Memphis, Tenn.., Minneapolis & St. Paul, Minn., Newark, N.J., Philadelphia, Pa.., Rapid City, S.D., St. Louis, Mo. and Washington D.C.

Each of these jurisdictions are committed to investing a portion of their American Rescue Plan funding and/or other local public funds to increase investment in their CVI infrastructure, and respond to the potential rise in violence this summer. Julie C. Rodriguez, Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs serves as convener of the Initiative.

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