Virginia deserves a comprehensive gun violence solution

March 10, 2022 12:02 am

Hundreds mourned 3-year-old Sharmar Hill Jr., who was killed in Hillside Court in Richmond in February of 2020. The child was playing outside when gunfire erupted. He was killed by a stray bullet. (Scott Elmquist/ Style Weekly)

By  Valerie Slater

Virginia communities deserve a comprehensive solution to the increase in violence that has come in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Richmond just suffered the highest number of homicides in 15 years, and cities around the commonwealth are similarly struggling.

This violence disproportionately impacts communities of color, whose voices must also come first in any conversation about how to respond. 

The age-old method of simply adding greater police presence in communities suffering from high incidents of violence is not working to make residents safer or lower the rate of violence. We need a better way forward. It’s time to add community innovation and community-led programs, vetted and resourced, to the range of strategies we employ, empowering communities to become a part of solving their own problems from within. Cities and states around the nation that have taken this approach have been able to reduce violence and incarceration rates at the same time. 

That’s why RISE for Youth and members of the Virginia Community Violence Coalition are urging the legislature to create and fund the Virginia Center for Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention. In line with best practices from other states with low levels of gun homicide, the center would collect critical data, hear directly from communities about how best to address their safety needs, and distribute the essential funds — at least $10 million per year for the next two years — to support communities in developing programs necessary to interrupt and stop violence. 

The $27.4 million investment to create and operate the center, called for in Sen/ Jennifer McClellan’s Senate Bill 487, is of vital importance to community safety. To anyone who says we can’t afford to make this investment, there is a simple response: We can’t afford not to. Every single year, gun violence imposes more than $340 million in direct costs on Virginians due to health care, law enforcement and other public expenses. This is an investment that will not only save lives, but actually save Virginia money, as well. In states like Massachusetts, which has one of the lowest gun homicides rates in the nation, large investments in infrastructure to address community violence are creating more than $5 in savings for every dollar invested due to reductions in both violence and overall crime recidivism rates. 

The center will empower and support those closest to the problem of community violence, who are also an essential part of the solution. As members of the legislature meet this week to make final decisions about the budget, we implore them to create and fully fund the Virginia Center for Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention. Virginia youth, families, and communities most impacted by violence deserve a better way forward, not a reflective return to failed policies.

Valerie Slater is the executive director of Rise for Youth

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