Viewpoint: We can’t police our way out of youth gun violence
By Hanifa Shabazz
As youth gun violence continues to plague the Black community, it is clear to many of us that the status quo state government and city police responses simply are not working.
Tragically, most of the victims and perpetrators are young African-American males from communities in which there have been and remain the need for more investments.
Nearly a decade ago, just before Wilmington had been called “Murder Town, USA” by Newsweek, in response to my request as a city council member, the state asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to examine youth firearm violence in our city from a public health perspective.
That nationally lauded and groundbreaking report, released in 2016, acknowledged that the city’s gun violence was a public health epidemic and provided several recommendations to the state to combat it.
It urged the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services to form an advisory council – today known as the Wilmington Community Advisory Council, or WCAC – to create interventions to address the root causes of the violence and its traumatizing effects on our communities.
The WCAC released its recommendations late in January 2017, the worst year on record for Wilmington shootings and homicides.
The WCAC has worked with its dozens of community organization members, helping to raise more than $11 million to provide needed services to youth and their families, including trauma training partnerships, a Community Well-Being Initiative, and a COVID-19 community mobilization, as well as serving as a springboard for many of the violence prevention and intervention initiatives that are in place today.
Unfortunately, most of the government investments have focused primarily on law enforcement and judicial approaches, without commensurate investments to address the social determinants that expose too many of our young people to violence. One must wonder if there would be a more comprehensive response to the violence if it were occurring in more affluent communities.
How many times must we say, “We cannot police our way out!”
We cannot police our way out of the damaging levels of poverty among the 20,000 children and youth in Wilmington. We cannot police our way out with minimal funds for intervention programs, meaningful youth employment and training, or safe places for youth to gather, nor inequitable resources for Black student education and the seemingly revolving door of the courthouse and the prison systems.
We cannot police our way out of fundamental sociological issues by using policing “after-effect” strategies that focus on invention and redemption after the violence has been done, leaving our traumatized and battered communities to deal with the grief and the lost.
As of this writing, there have been 76 shootings in Wilmington, including 14 deaths with a 14-year-old boy, most recently.
Currently, the U.S. Congress introduced the Break the Cycle of Violence Act which includes funding to community organizations for intervention and prevention services to the youth and their families.
Understand, the youth in our city who are being approached and/or contemplating to use a gun need urgent emergency and long-term interventions. To reach them will require substantial funding of a community-driven, culturally based, and professionally researched and developed youth violence prevention action initiative. The Wilmington Community Advisory Council, in partnership with the Center for Structural Equity, Network Connect, Stop the Violence Coalition, and United Way of Delaware, have developed such an initiative.
The WCAC calls for a government partnership that includes adequate funding to implement this community-driven plan that can make a major contribution to address the myriad social and economic inequities affecting some of our Black communities and the entire city.
Hanifa Shabazz is the immediate past president of the Wilmington City Council and serves as a co-chair of the WCAC. For more information on WCAC, please visit www.wilmcommunityadvisorycouncil.org.