The pain of those who lose someone to community violence — shootings in underserved communities in cities that rarely make the national news, even when they fit the technical definition of a mass shooting — is just as raw and aching, yet with it comes an added layer of hurt: the fear that no one cares. The fear that because the victims are often Black and Brown — they will be written off as just another statistic, their lives considered less worthy of headlines and national outcry.
Before I was shot in 2011, my understanding of gun violence was far narrower than it is today. Since founding Giffords — a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives from gun violence — in 2013, I’ve learned so much about how communities of color are disproportionately impacted by gun violence.
I’ve learned about the epidemic of everyday gun violence that takes so many more lives than mass shootings, while commanding far less attention and concern. I’ve learned that while Black men and boys ages 15 to 34 account for 2% of the US population, they were victims of 37% of gun homicides in 2019, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I’ve learned that for every single gun homicide, there are approximately four nonfatal shootings that change lives forever, according to a Duke University data analysis.
My friend Pam Bosley, a fearless activist whose son was shot and killed in 2006 while helping his friends bring drums inside a church in Chicago, wrote eloquently of the heartbreak and outrage that led her to found her organization, Purpose over Pain, that supports parents whose children’s lives were taken by violence. “I want other people to know that no one is exempt from gun violence,” Pam wrote. “It can happen to anyone at any time. No place is truly safe. Even if you do all the right things — if your son does all the right things — it still might not be enough.”
I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many passionate survivors and activists like Pam through my work at Giffords. One experience that especially stands out to me is speaking at the Chicago Peace March, an annual march against violence organized by the St. Sabina Catholic Church, in the summer of 2018. It was a hot night — like many hot summer nights that typically lead to spikes in gun violence — and the energy was electric. Two of the speakers led a “Chicago strong” chant. More than anything, I felt the power of community: the power to make change and to develop solutions together.
That’s why community violence prevention and intervention, which President Joe Biden has proposed to fund through a historic $5 billion investment, is so effective. These solutions — which include investing in job training for formerly incarcerated individuals and offering counseling and other services to individuals who have suffered nonfatal shootings — are driven by the communities themselves and play a critical role in making our streets and neighborhoods safer. Importantly, these efforts are unique and distinct from those of law enforcement. They work in different ways, because just as there are many different types of gun violence, many different solutions are required to solve this problem.
There are not just feel-good solutions. Even though violence intervention programs have long been under-funded, study after study has yielded promising results and evidence of impact.
In Chicago, recent research from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago shows that participants in the Creating Real Economic Destiny (CRED) program — which uses street outreach workers to intervene with individuals at high risk of violence — are half as likely to be shot or arrested. It’s no coincidence that Massachusetts, the nation’s leading state when it comes to investing in community-based solutions to violence, also has the lowest rate of gun homicides in the country.
My organization, Giffords, advocates for increased funding for these lifesaving programs in states across the country. In 2019, I stood alongside New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal as he announced $20 million in funding for hospital-based violence intervention programs. This year, we fought for, and secured, an investment of $200 million in California’s violence intervention and prevention grant program. And now, with President Biden’s proposed investment, the federal government is on the verge of getting involved in a truly meaningful and substantial way.
As violence has spiked across the country over the past year and a half, it’s more important than ever that we listen to and invest in the communities that are most impacted — not write them off.
Community-based solutions aren’t a replacement for policing, but they are an incredibly important complement to the work of law enforcement. As Berkeley public health professor Jason Corburn has wrote of Advance Peace, a violence intervention model being implemented in cities around the country, “This program plays a role that police can’t, and never will. They have credible messengers that are able to disrupt the gun violence, and change the community dynamic by building trust. And that’s the beginning of redeveloping neighborhoods in a healthy way.”
Let’s prioritize the health and safety of our communities by giving everyone — no matter their zip code or the color of their skin — the peace and freedom from gun violence they deserve.