We also know that increased police presence (particularly in poor, underprivileged communities) does not increase public safety. Over-policing, coupled with the use of military-grade weaponry and tactical SWAT-like strategies, breeds distrust and contempt between the police and the policed. This level of hostility has turned Atlanta’s streets into battlegrounds where standoffs, police shootings and avoidable deaths become the norm, and citizen onlookers are trapped in between.
There is a way forward – one that Atlanta would be well-suited to adapt, given it too is experiencing a rise in violent crime. For decades, local leaders have implemented community-led strategies such as violence intervention outreach, hospital-based intervention programs, and therapeutic programs supporting those most traumatized. When adequately supported, these strategies have produced significant reductions in gun violence in our most vulnerable communities. Not to mention, they are overwhelmingly supported by voters across the political spectrum.
Just this year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that public health strategies in Atlanta – rather than greater policing – have been effective in preventing gun violence. And in June, local leaders with the Fund Peace campaign convened to call on state and local officials to allocate American Rescue Plan funds toward these proven methods of gun violence prevention.
Community violence, especially gun violence, is interpersonal in nature. All of the information needed to end the cycle of violence can often be found in the pillars of the community. This includes neighbors, family members, community workers, neighborhood watch, faith leaders, coaches, landlords, teachers, mail carriers, candy ladies and babysitters, all of whom have their finger on the pulse of the community and know what is occurring and, most importantly, what people need to thrive.
What makes these solutions different from others is that they empower communities closest to the pain and, through authentic community investment, build partnerships between public safety officials and communities from the inside out. The adage goes that “hurt people, hurt people.” When we invest in healing we can stop violence linked to poverty, gang activity, drug dependence and mental health crises at the source.
Imagine a world in which everyone is cared for and has the resources they need to thrive. When a person is having a mental health crisis, a trained counselor is called to de-escalate the situation and get the person the assistance they need, because we pushed our elected officials to invest our taxpayer dollars into care. Victims of gun violence are given the space, resources and counseling to heal and be productive members of the community, because we pushed our elected officials to invest our taxpayer dollars into care. Individuals who have hurt others are able to undergo an accountability process that is not solely punitive, but also rehabilitative, so that they can give back to their community and not fall back into cycles of crime.
Such a world can be possible as long as our public officials have the political will to reimagine safety to include all of us.
Pastor Mike McBride is the National Director of LIVE FREE USA and a national leader in the movement to implement public health- and community-centered gun violence prevention programs.
Shalena Cook Jones is the district attorney for Chatham County.