2022 SIGN-ON LETTER
Let your voice be heard.
Tell our local elected officials to prioritize peace + healing in the city's budget.
MARCH 2, 2022
Dear Mayor Bowser, DC Councilmembers, and candidates running for local elected office, agency Directors and staff,
This letter and appendix serve to amplify the voices of survivors, peacemakers, advocates, and everyone who wants to live in a city where they do not have to fear gun violence. Addressing gun violence is a key step to building racial & economic justice. The goal of this letter is to provide specific recommendations that are critical to DC reducing the rate of violence and making progress toward safe and peaceful communities. We ask that our elected officials keep these recommendations in mind when drafting the city’s FY23 budget and when thinking about the landscape and ecosystem of gun violence reduction in the District.
We find ourselves once again reflecting back on a year where the homicide rate in DC has increased and hundreds of DC families are mourning the loss of a loved one due to gun violence. The steep toll of violence can be told through both numbers and stories.
Nyiah Courtney was only six years old when she was killed in July in a shooting that also injured her mother and four other adults.(1) Eight-year-old Rufus Hayes was in the car earlier this month when his mother, Pamela Thomas, was shot and killed.(2) Parents are burying their children and children are burying their parents. That level of grief and trauma sticks with you for the rest of your life. And those intense emotions ripple out into the community to everyone who knew and loved these victims.
Twenty-nine year old Alex Fleming was meeting her friend for dinner in Columbia Heights when two stray bullets shot her on the right side of her chest, puncturing her lung and grazing her liver.(3) She spent 11 days in the hospital with a chest tube aiding her wounds. While she begins to mend physically, emotional healing from her trauma will take time.
All of the 27 children who attend activities at the TraRon Center have lost a friend or relative to gun violence, or know someone who was shot, in the past year. These innocent children continue to balance the mental trauma of two public health crises, both seemingly with no end in sight.
Karen Lee, a Social Studies Teacher, Department Chair, and Pathways 2 Power advisor at Thurgood Marshall Academy reflected on how normalized and casual it has become to talk with her students about hearing gunshots and even bullets coming through a window into a student's home. Reflecting on hearing shots fired near her home recently, Ms. Lee reflected, "in the past I have hit the floor. I am alarmed at my own reactions when I work really hard to try to not normalize this, but my brain just can't cope...It isn't just about losing people, it is also about living with the fear".
These stories detail some of the deeply damaging ways that gun violence impacts Washingtonians, including individuals who have themselves been injured, those who have had a loved one injured or taken by gun violence, as well as people who hear gunshots or witness gun violence in their neighborhoods.
The human toll should be enough to urgently drive us all to care and act. The financial toll is secondary, but still staggering as well. The economic cost of gun violence in DC is estimated to be as much as $3 billion, using 2021 figures, including costs to survivors and families directly affected, employers, government, and the broader community.(4) The cost borne by taxpayers, including the government portion of medical and mental health care, first responders, ambulances, police response and investigations, and criminal justice services, are estimated to be roughly $300 million.(5) Imagine if we invested this amount proactively in our communities instead.
We all want the same thing: To feel safe. To be safe. We call on all our elected officials to listen to our recommendations, and to work with us to build peace. The Council on Criminal Justice’s Violent Crime Working Group recently released its final report.(6) The Ten Essential Actions in the report hold true for DC, as for so many other cities. This report, as well as countless conversations with individuals working in gun violence reduction in DC and other cities, have greatly informed the following specific recommendations.
ESSENTIAL FUNDING FOR ESSENTIAL WORK: Sustained, focused funding for violence prevention and intervention programs.
A GOAL WITHOUT A PLAN IS JUST A WISH: We need one plan, with clearly defined goals, open to transparency and adaptation.
COMMITMENT & EMPOWERMENT: Commitment from city leadership and empowerment of communities.
PREVENTION, INTERVENTION & TRANSFORMATION: Investment in short- and long-term violence reduction efforts, with an emphasis on strengthening our system of community-powered public health strategies.
One murder is one too many, and every homicide victim and gunshot survivor story is tragic. But it is the stories of the innocent children- who are killed, who are injured and confined to a wheelchair, whose siblings are killed, whose parents are killed- that really break our hearts. Every summer violence in DC reaches a fever pitch and another precious child’s life is taken- Makiyah Wilson, Karon Brown, Davon McNeil, Carmelo Duncan, Nyiah Courtney. We have a few short months until it is again summer in DC. What are we all doing to ensure this will not happen again? And to prevent the next shooting that will inevitably happen tomorrow or the next day? Business as usual is not enough. We must go beyond our typical efforts, focus our energies and funds, start the conversations and connections that will grow into collaborations. We must start now. Today. It’s on all of us.
DC has the highest rate of gun homicides in the US compared to all states, and ranks in the top 10 among all cities.(7,8) In 2021, 226 lives were taken by homicide, 82% of which involved a gun.(9) A total of 904 individuals were shot in the District in 2021 and a higher proportion of those injuries sustained were fatal than in 2020.(10) But the toll of gun violence is uneven throughout the city, and is concentrated in the same neighborhoods that for decades have suffered from disinvestment, injustice, and economic inequity. We cannot stand by and watch this continue. There can be no racial or economic justice until we eliminate gun violence. There can be no equity in education, access to mental health, housing, or closing the wealth gap until we make the communities under constant threat of gunfire safe enough for investment and opportunity.
Gun violence reduction requires a multi-pronged approach.(11,12,13) We can work to stem the flow of illegal guns in the District, but this will not stop the bloodshed if we do not also address the root causes of what drives a person to use a gun. We can hold shooters accountable, but we will not reduce recidivism if we do not provide deep, long-term support and opportunities. We can tow abandoned cars and renovate rec centers, but we will not build thriving communities if we do not address the widespread levels of trauma and empower communities.
DC has multiple programs that address gun violence in different ways, such as: a Director of Gun Violence Prevention, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE), the Office of the Attorney General’s Cure the Streets program (OAG CTS), the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services’ Credible Messenger program (DYRS CM), the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Roving Leaders program (DPR RV), and the programs funded through the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants (OVSJG) including the Hospital-based Violence Intervention program (HVIP), the Trauma Response and Community Engagement program (TRCEP). These programs are doing great work, but in many ways- for instance: efforts are not coordinated, there is no overall plan, there is not enough focus on the small number of people driving the majority of gun violence- these brave efforts are being hindered.(14) The recommendations in this letter serve to identify the key elements that are vital for success.
ESSENTIAL FUNDING FOR ESSENTIAL WORK
We are grateful that the Executive and the Council have invested more funding towards violence reduction efforts. While progress is slow, we have made strides in the past year, and we can’t stop now. We must continue to build toward peace.(15) Violence reduction work requires consistent sustained funding.(16) We must stay the course on proposed budgets and projected Federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds for violence reduction programs in all applicable agencies (OGVR, ONSE, OAG CTS, DYRS CM, DPR RV, OVSJG).(17,18) Moreover, ARP funds will eventually run out, and research and our city’s own history show that sustained funding is essential. We must start to ensure locked-in budget line items to create steady local funding. This work is not discretionary. It is essential.
A GOAL WITHOUT A PLAN IS JUST A WISH
DC is fortunate to have dedicated, talented workers and plentiful, diverse resources. However, we are failing. We lack a clear plan: one that uplifts and fosters the amazing capacity that already exists in our community; one that is proactive, comprehensive, and focused. We are grateful that funding has been allocated for a problem analysis and a strategic plan for gun violence reduction. We are heartened that the city is working with the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform on this and look forward to hearing more details. It is critical that we stop the finger pointing, eliminate silos, and put politics aside. Lives are at stake. It is essential that this plan bring together local and federal partners, as well as the voices of the communities most impacted by gun violence. If we are truly taking a public health approach to reducing violence, the community voice must be as strong as any other driver of change.
A plan is not stagnant. We must be willing to be transparent, accept constructive criticism, adapt and grow. It is imperative that we openly measure how violence reduction efforts- as well as law enforcement efforts- are working. What is more, let’s really evaluate what success looks like, verify that we are tracking meaningful metrics- quality over quantity- and give CBOs the power to be a part of the data analysis process in a manner that is transformative rather than transactional.
COMMITMENT & EMPOWERMENT
Violence reduction must include both a commitment from city leadership at the top- including ensuring the Director of Gun Violence Reduction has sufficient authority and autonomy to act swiftly and effectively, as well as community empowerment from the bottom-up to build peace. We know all too well that “the red tape leads to the yellow tape”. The government needs to act urgently to empower community partnership and leadership. This means moving away from a fee-for-service model, with one-year contracts, cost reimbursement, and transactional relationships with community-based providers. We can work more efficiently and seamlessly with multi-year contracts, and a better procurement vehicle that allows for continual improvement, partnership, and growth.
The more that the government can do to efficiently and expeditiously get grants out into the hands of the CBOs that are most deeply invested in their neighborhoods and most trusted by their communities, the better. We know that investing in community-powered solutions to violence are effective. Research shows that community-based organizations (CBOs) reduce crime: every 10 nonprofits focusing on addressing violence and rebuilding communities per 100,000 residents leads to 12% reduction in murders, 10% reduction in violent crimes, and 7% decline in property crime.(19) We urge the government to make the details of grants more flexible, so that more innovation and creativity from the community can shine through, and ease the administrative burden put upon CBOs in the grant application and administration process. The government should consider a public-private partnership to ease the grantmaking and oversight burden on the DC government, and allow a private foundation with a history of working in and with impacted communities to manage equitable distribution of multi-year grants to community organizations, with stipulations that grantees follow evidence-based practices and grants focus exclusively on programs that we know will have the biggest impact.
PREVENTION, INTERVENTION & TRANSFORMATION
Prevention involves addressing the root causes of violence. This includes funding for education, youth enrichment and out of school time activities, year-round youth employment, and wellness; supporting our reentry community; emergency, short term and long term housing; social workers and therapists; food and housing security; vocational training, job readiness, job training, and career development programs- everything a family, and a neighborhood, needs to be healthy and thrive. Prevention also means breaking the cycle of trauma.(20) There is widespread community-level trauma in the District. But there are incredible people in DC dedicated to creating safe spaces for processing the grief, stress, and trauma associated with gun violence. These healers are adept at reaching people in pain in a manner that is welcoming and accessible. This differs from the traditional approach of therapy that is often inaccessible, intimidating, and delayed. This proposed model is community-based, culturally-skilled, mobile or neighborhood-based care.(21) The city should fully embrace this model.
DC’s violence interrupters and street outreach workers are serving an essential, life-saving role. They have the ability to stop shootings before they happen. Not everyone has the skills and credibility to make this happen. These brave individuals are risking their own lives, putting themselves into dangerous, traumatic situations on a daily basis. They deserve to be treated as essential workers, with a living wage and benefits similar to those provided to teachers, firefighters, and police officers, and readily available opportunities to heal their own trauma and pursue their own professional development.(22,23,24) We can build a strong, fully-scaled system of public health and safety by training and supporting our peacemaking workforce, developing a pathway- for new skilled workers into this workforce and for experienced workers to advance on their own career paths-, and creating dialogue to define the parameters and build communication and trust between the peacemakers, the community at-large, and law enforcement.
This year DC has added several more violence interruption sites - both under the ONSE
and the OAG Cure the Streets (OAG-CTS) program. This work is critically important.(25) Yet our strategy must include going deeper, not just wider. Deeper means the work that begins after a truce or ceasefire is brokered- the work to transform lives. This deeper work requires long-term commitment- sometimes it takes two years- and empowerment for community organizations to address trauma and transform individual lives. The ONSE Pathways program is doing this, but that program is not right for everybody. Once violence is interrupted, to ensure that those who have put down their guns keep their guns down, our violence interrupters and community organizations need swift delivery of resources- stable housing, tutoring, a counselor, an ID, a job- ideally in a neighborhood-based model. We desperately need this long-term care to focus on the individuals at highest risk of being perpetrators or victims of gun violence with key components like cognitive behavioral therapy, direct cash assistance, care management, other wrap-around services, and ultimately when ready: jobs. This work should be part of our violence reduction strategy, and it should be community-powered.
The Hospital-based Violence Intervention Program (HVIP) does incredible work with gun violence victims at the critical moment when they are still in the hospital. Patients who receive care from the HVIP program are less likely to get re-injured, be arrested, or have future criminal involvement, and the hospitals save money with fewer violent injuries to treat.(26) This essential program needs adequate funding to level-set salaries with the ONSE and OAG-CTS violence interruption programs and to expand to operate 24/7. This program is also a perfect example (likewise Safe Passage, TRCEP, Credible Messengers, Roving Leaders, etc) of one critical tool in our city’s gun violence reduction toolbox that should be better coordinated within an overall strategy. No one tool/program is the panacea, but multiple evidence-based community-centered programs are essential pieces to the overall puzzle to solving this tragic crisis.
Thank you to everyone who signed-on to this letter. Stay tuned for more ways to take action!
Adas Israel Congregation Social Action Committee
Always Hope DMV
Black Mothers 4 Justice, Inc.
Community Mediation DC
DC Justice Lab
Episcopal Diocese of Washington
Father Factor Inc
Global Goods Partners
Guns Down Friday
Health Alliance Network
Lets Spread the Love
Little Lights Urban Ministries
March For Our Lives, GW Chapter
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, DC Chapter
NAACP, DC Branch
Next Level Vision, Inc.
NO MURDERS DC
Not My Generation
Pathways 2 Power
Peace Fellowship Church
Peace For DC
Peace Walks DC
Samaritan Ministry of greater Washington
St. Marks Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill
Temple Sinai Gun Violence Prevention Group
The T.R.I.G.G.E.R. Project
Training Grounds Inc
Trauma Resilience and Education Center of Greater Washington, DC (TREC DC)
Uniting Our Youth
Rabbi Aaron Alexander
Susie and Brad Berenson
Bishop Mariann Budde
C. DeShola Dawkins
Selena Fleming, mother of Alex Fleming
Rev. Delonte Gholston
John Guggenmos, ANC 2F02
Alison Horn, ANC 6B09
Joseph Izzo, M.A., L.I.C.S.W.
Ambrose Lane Jr
Raisa Martinez Guzman
Brian Romanowski, ANC 2F01
Mary Kate and David Ryner
Mary Beth Tinker
Tom & Lori Brown, c/o 3 year old Love Brown
ARP funding: 193.7M over the course of 4FY (9.5M FY 21, 59.3M FY 22, 75.7M FY 23, 49.3M FY 24)
OGVR = Office of Gun Violence Reduction, ONSE = Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, OAG CTS = Office of the Attorney General’s Cure the Streets program, DYRS CM = Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services’ Credible Messenger program, DPR RV = Department of Parks and Recreation’s Roving Leaders program, OVSJG = Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants (including Hospital-based Violence Intervention program, the Trauma Response and Community Engagement program)
ADVOCACY WITH PEACE FOR DC
Throughout the year, Peace For DC joins with other community organizations and nonprofits in advocating for continuous improvement in our systems of public health and safety.
Join us and use your voice to make our city more safe and peaceful for all.