Applications for mini grants to prevent gun violence in the District are now open for D.C. residents. (Courtesy Photo)

By Sharece Crawford
Special to the AFRO

Will $59Million be enough to reduce the rampant crime and gun violence in Washington, DC? 

As of Monday June 14, mini grant applications are open for individuals and organizations to apply for up to $5,000 for D.C. residents to help the District prevent Gun Violence. 

“The application submission period will revolve from June 14 – September 30, 2021 or until funds run out,” said Director Linda K. Harlee-Harper of Building Blocks DC. “We anticipate getting funding out to community members as early as Monday, July 12, 2021.”

“Our Building Blocks Investments are about stopping gun violence before it happens. We don’t want people out on our streets involved in gun play. We want them focused on jobs, and schools and enjoying life and living long lives with their family and friends.” Said D.C.  Mayor Muriel Bowser’s during the press conference to announce her investments on Monday June 7, 2021.

Gun violence activist and founder of YAAY ME Dr. Warees Majeed pledged to continue helping start up organizations and community members to build their programs and access funding through the #NoSlideZone initiative. 

What is “No Slide Zone” you ask? “No Slide Zone is a movement to end gun violence. “Slide” is urban slang to suggest the act of inflicting damage on a rival community or person. No Slide Zone is the community’s response to ‘slide,’ explained Wajeed. 

The AFRO caught up with Gregory Neal Jackson during the No Slide Zone call to action event, who emphasized the work he and other gun violence prevention lobbyists are doing to help federal leaders support their goals. 

“We’re working with President Joe Biden to implement a commission to support all levels of government working together to end gun violence,” Jackson said.

Tia Bell from the Trigger Project joined forces with hundreds of residents throughout the District of Columbia to create a comprehensive plan to help navigate a city wide plan. 

“We’re focused on prevention. We need everyone involved to address gun violence as a public health crisis, which should be an independent committee,” Bell told the AFRO

Janne Queen had firsthand experience with the trials of gun violence.  

“Gun violence is alarming, it’s ruining my peace and the bullets violated my home,” Queen told the AFRO. “On Sunday June 13, between 11am and 12:30pm a bullet came through my 8-year-old daughter’s bedroom through my neighbors home and out of my window. It’s frustrating how no one is taking this seriously. What is it going to take? For my daughter to be dead for anyone to care? My home is compromised, my daughter is traumatized and refuses to come home and the police don’t care.”

“Gun Violence is a pandemic,” said Dr. Roger Mitchell Jr., who was the former Chief Medical Examiner for Washington, DC, New Jersey, Houston and New York. “I’ve seen gun violence in all of these communities and have consoled mothers in all of them. I think it’s one of the most important public health issues that’s facing this country.” 

In reviewing all city budgets, Mayor Bowser’s allotment is the highest across the country to combat gun violence as a public health crisis. “It’s a call to action, not just for the government but for the entire community,” Mitchell said.

“This is why we say Defund the police and invest in the community. We can’t expect for the police to focus on the issues of prevention that we’re dealing with everyday,” said Regina Pixley, who, through Regina’s Place, responds to gun violence crime scenes as a concerned citizen and former ANC Commissioner.

The question remains will $59 Million Dollars be enough to reduce the crime? 

“It’s going to take more than money for a full transformation. It’s a spiritual war that requires the transforming of hearts and minds,” gun violence advocate Jimmie Jenkins said.

Dr. Majeed emphasized getting the community ready to receive funding opportunities.

“We are focused on getting Community members prepared to secure this funding and all other funding opportunities,” Majeed said. “They’ve been doing the work and we need all hands on deck to amplify their work.”

The committees hear testimony and develop recommendations based on the arguments offered. Ultimately, after hundreds of hours of testimony, the Council hopes to deliver a budget that is balanced, fair, and has taken the recommendation of both the Executive Office of the Mayor and the residents of the District of Columbia into account.

This week’s hearings began with the Committee of the Whole (COW), which met to receive government witness testimony from the District’s student related agencies such as District of Columbia Public Schools, Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), D.C. Public Charter School Board, and others. 

The D.C. State Athletic Association (DCSAA) was due to meet, but the agency and the District at large were mourning the sudden death of DCSAA Executive Director Clark Ray just days before the hearing. Due to Ray’s passing, the DCSAA testimony will be rescheduled.

The COW operates under the procedures of a committee, but comprises all the members of the larger body organized under the leadership of the Chairperson. The Chairman was not present to begin the hearing so Council member Brooke Pinto (D- Ward 2) acted as interim Chairperson until he arrived. Government testimony is largely uneventful as they are generally arguing in support of budgetary appropriations that already exist- which was the case in this hearing.

The Committee of the Whole also convened to hear government testimony on the budgets of the Office of Zoning (OZ), Office of Planning (OP), and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).

In the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety (with comments from the committees on Health and Business and Economic Development) the Council took a first vote on a fairly controversial bill that will ban flavored tobacco sales in D.C. Several Council members voiced concerns about the impact of the ban on the flavored tobacco and hookah industry’s largely African American owner base. After much discussion from both sides of the issue, Council member At-Large Christina Henderson (I) introduced an amendment that would exempt hookah bars from the ban.

The question of racial equity came up several times and the Council was able to take into account the findings of the newly formed Council Office on Racial Equity (ORE). The racial equity impact assessment conducted by ORE concluded there are both positive and negative impacts associated with the bill. While this bill can advance racial equity by improving overall health outcomes, there is also the negative impact of enforcement in an industry where a large portion of its owners are African Americans.

The ORE specifically took into account the variant of outcomes when law enforcement interacts with African Americans, which can vary from mildly inconvenient to fatal. Council member Charles Allen (D- Ward 6) was adamant that the Metropolitan Police Department should not have enforcement authority.

“In Ocean City they explicitly give the police enforcement authority. Very intentionally we do not,” Allen said. Allen was responding to concerns raised by Council member Janeese Lewis George (D- Ward 4) who cited the now viral incident in Ocean City where a 17-year-old was tased by police enforcing a vape ban. Lewis George was among those who voted against the measure. Eventually, a vote was taken and the bill passed, as amended 9-3 with 1 vote of present.

Other portions of the hearing covered testimony from the official representatives of each agency, but there were no public witnesses and were, therefore, largely procedural requirements. Unless otherwise stated, the assumption is that an agency is performing as reported and very little is done to increase oversight or make changes to budgetary expenditures. 

To find out more about the budget hearing process, watch current or archived hearings or to sign up to provide testimony, visit www.DCCouncil.us.

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