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Case Study: Community Organizations Left on Their Own for Gun Violence Solutions in Louisville

CREDIT: Photo by Andrew Welch on Unsplash

LOUISVILLE CASE STUDY

Generation Progress is launching a series of case studies to explore how young people have been involved in local efforts that have successfully moved forward the dual priorities of gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform. Young people are the generation most impacted by gun violence. According to America’s Youth Under Fire, a 2018 joint report by Generation Progress and the Center for American Progress, gunfire has surpassed car accidents as a leading killer of young people in the United States. Young people understand that if we are to end the gun violence epidemic, we must place it in context with the criminal justice system and policing.

Our staff traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to conduct interviews with several leaders who have dedicated their careers to reducing gun violence in their communities. Through these interviews, we uncovered programming, tangible reforms, and legislation, that have incorporated young people on every level of implementation. We also learned of the ways that the city and state can improve to center the voices of young people and reduce crime rates in the city. But despite the proven methods of community investment being implemented and a wholehearted embrace of youth-centered models, rates of gun violence in Louisville remain dramatically high and we set out to determine why.

INTRODUCTION

Louisville is home to a broad network of like-missioned organizations, including Peace Education, Pivot to Peace, and No More Red Dots (NMRD). These institutions collaborate to help vulnerable youth establish interpersonal skills, address gun violence as a public health issue, and interrupt retaliatory violence at crime scenes or in hospitals. These initiatives employ youth-led strategies carried out by experienced community leaders that are encouraged to engage young people and build trusting relationships with high impact communities.

One Love Louisville, a project of the Mayor’s Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods (OSHN), focuses on high impact areas to reduce violence through youth-based programming. OSHN’s initiative disrupts the school to prison pipeline by encouraging civic engagement and intercultural fellowship at an early age.

Through conversations with Peace Education Director Eileen Blanton, Pivot to Peace Project Manager Deborah Barnes-Byers, NMRD cofounder Dr. Eddie Woods, OSHN Director Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, and their youth specialist Nubia Bennett, we see excellent demonstrations of impactful, community-based methods to confront real issues impacting Louisville and across the country.

HOLISTIC APPROACH TO GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION, EDUCATION, AND TRAINING

Louisville’s holistic approach to gun violence prevention and intervention creates a structured path for impacted families and individuals to become leaders in their own communities. The city has adopted the internationally recognized Cure Violence methodology, which treats violence as a preventable public health concern. Louisville’s formula directly acknowledges the need to address the root causes behind an individual’s susceptible behavior. Poverty, dramatic incarceration rates, and education disparities, are critical components to the crime problem in this country, and in Louisville. The city has been successful in tackling these subjects along with encouraging restorative justice practices when creating the evidence-based models discussed in this case study.

CROSS-SECTOR PARTICIPATION

Nonprofits working in collaboration with city government are successfully empowering young people to lead the gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform movement.

  • Nonprofits
    • Peace Education provides young people and adults conflict resolution trainings and workshops at schools and community organizations throughout Louisville.
    • Pivot to Peace provides gunshot and stabbing survivors between the ages of 18 and 34 with programming. These programs address the grief and trauma of affected individuals and their families. Participants receive wraparound services including mental health support and training for conflict resolution.
    • No More Red Dots is a community-based program grounded in trust that works with Pivot to Peace to identify victims of violence and reduce retaliation by engaging with all people involved. In partnership with Pivot to Peace, they work to discover the root causes of violence and create pathways to peacefully address them.
  • City government
    • The Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods was established in 2013 after a 2012 triple homicide moved Mayor Greg Fischer to convene a group of interdisciplinary leaders to begin developing strategies for reducing violence in the city of Louisville. That convening resulted in the creation and implementation of an action plan aimed at identifying gaps between the needs and resources for community members from birth to adulthood. OSHN employs a holistic methodology by addressing violence as a public health issue, identifying risk factors and providing resources for violence prevention. Referrals to Peace Education, Pivot to Peace and No More Red Dots are made for individuals whose immediate needs extend beyond the office’s capacity. OSHN director, Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, explained that addressing challenges in a comprehensive and innovative way allows young people to take the lead. This approach is demonstrated by some of their current projects:
      • One Love Louisville – A youth-centered program that works to disrupt the cycle of crime in impacted communities. Programming places emphasis on education, economic growth, civic engagement, and intersectional collaboration. Program participants also engage in workshops and trainings facilitated by Peace Education. One Love also releases reports that include useful strategies for other areas facing the same hardships.
      • The Youth Implementation Team – A civic engagement program available to Louisville youth between the ages of 13 and 23 that teaches leadership and development skills through first-hand interaction with local government, business, and community and faith leaders. Participants gain valuable skill sets through internships and workshops designed to drive energy toward violence prevention.
      • THRIVE Fellowship – A privately funded civic engagement initiative offered to young men between the ages of 22 and 26 with misdemeanor convictions or previous involvements with the criminal justice system. Through this fellowship, participants follow a 32-hour schedule, Monday to Friday, where they are trained on leadership development, case management, and workforce training. The fellowship provides a stipend to cover daily living expenses including housing, food, and clothing.

Unfortunately, this work is dictated by the effects of a total lack of firearm regulations. Despite good coordination with city government offices able to aid in the aftermath of a shooting, there is virtually nothing being done by the state legislature to enact preventative measures. These community-based organizations are doing their best to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of shootings.

EXISTING IN A VACUUM

During a period between 2013 and 2014, Louisville saw a major spike in homicides that continued to trend upward in the following years. Consistent with that trend, the Major Cities Chiefs Association released a 2017 report that ranked Louisville 11 out of 61 of the deadliest cities in the United States and Canada. Reports also show that one-third of homicide victims are between the ages of 18 to 24. These staggering statistics point to a broken system that envelops young people during the most vulnerable times in their lives. The trends indicate a strong need to not only invest in intervention and prevention programs but also reinforce those efforts with effective, solutions-driven policies.

While the city’s community-based intervention model gives young people an opportunity to take real ownership of the gun violence prevention efforts in their city, high-quality programming cannot exist in a vacuum–legislative change is needed to turn the tide. In a report released by the Center For American Progress, a significant link was found between weak gun laws and high rates of gun violence. Studies have shown that states with existing gun laws, such as assault weapon bans, rank among the lowest in firearm related deaths. These findings are supported by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which gave Kentucky an “F” rating on its most recent Annual Gun Law Scorecard. According to Giffords, Kentucky is ranked as one of the weakest gun law states, coinciding with one of the highest firearm death rates.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Louisville’s approach to gun violence prevention includes collaboration between nonprofits and municipal programs that are geared towards intervening in the lives of young people most at risk. The city’s belief that gun violence prevention requires a holistic approach is a fresh take on a widespread issue in the United States. Louisville understands that criminal justice reform and restorative justice practices are also critical in interrupting the cycle of incarceration and violence that many young people are caught in. These organizations should serve as a model for cities across the United States.

While programming in Louisville is laudable, these organizations and advocates should not singlehandedly shoulder the responsibility of curbing gun violence. The data provided by Center for American Progress and Giffords Law Center suggest that Louisville, and Kentucky as a whole, would benefit greatly from common sense gun control. The state should require background checks for people looking to own a gun and require licenses for firearm owners. Laws should also work to limit the amount of firearms in the state, and help track firearms through a registration system. Preventative measures can also be taken, like require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns,and prohibiting the transfer of dangerous assault weapons.

Kentucky has many legislative options available to help stop the gun violence epidemic in the state. Legislators need to support measures that properly fund local organizations addressing gun violence and pass  laws with the potential to save lives.

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