Peoria Launches ‘Don’t Shoot’ Program
The program comes close to reconciliation, a progressive technique tied to institutions and individuals ranging from the church to Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
However, it’s not a one-sided appeal to criminals, says Peoria State’s Attorney Jerry Brady.
“‘Don’t Shoot’ is distinct from retribution,” he tells the Community Word, “but it’s not a carrot/stick program; it’s not ‘please.’ It’s focused deterrence, simply saying, ‘Change the behavior or there will be consequences’.”
Nationally, the consequences of gun violence are severe and almost routine, apart from high-profile mass murders like last month’s Aurora, Colo., massacre. Each year, there are about 30,000 gun deaths and 300,000 gun-related assaults in the United States, costing the country upwards of $100 billion annually.
“Don’t Shoot” comes from the book Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and The End of Violence in Inner City America by David Kennedy, who offers a new take on what it takes to stop violence. Director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Kennedy writes that we don’t need to continue the cycle of young black men believing they will be dead by 25 and thousands of them going to prison.
The “Don’t Shoot” program has cut violence across the country and is being tried in more than 70 cities. Kennedy’s book tracks his background as a self-taught criminologist who created a program during Boston’s crack epidemic, which cut youth homicide by two-thirds, to the development of what became the “Don’t Shoot” program. Riding with police, sitting with people, and talking with gang members, he realized that each party misunderstood each other. His approach is to get everyone, from gang members to cops to local residents, to join together in one giant intervention, and it’s working: Violence drops, drug markets dry up, and relationships between police and communities are reset.
Locally, crime statistics already show differences since law enforcement started its “Don’t Shoot” Task Force and Peoria’s Most Violent Offender program, which Brady calls a prelude to “Don’t Shoot.”
Six weeks of data, from May 29 through July 9, show dramatic declines in proven shots-fired incidents, gunshot injuries and killings. Further, Peoria murders totaled 16 in 2009, 23 in 2010 and 16 in 2011, with 6 so far this year; armed robberies numbers 414 in 2009, 307 in 2010, and 289 in 2011, with 139 through June.
Victims of violence generally peaked in 2009, according to local law enforcement’s Crime Summary, totaling 534 in 2009, 500 in 2010, and 387 in 2011. However, there have been 453 this year through June.
“There are a number of people alive in Peoria today that would not be alive if it were not for the work of the ‘Don’t Shoot Team’ or Task Force officers,” Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard recently said.
The concept has been praised elsewhere.
“The subtitle for this book – ‘The End of Violence in Inner-City America’ – would be pretentious if it were not for the indisputable evidence, compelling true stories, and common sense solutions detailed therein,” said Rockfordminister Kenneth Edward Copeland of the New Zion Baptist Church there. “Bottom line: This works.”
One obstacle is the media-fueled impression that crime is up across the board.
“Crime is not running wild,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnston in the book. “The rich have gotten richer and safer, but neither can be said for the nation’s urban poor.”
Unsurprisingly, the slaughter is concentrated in “poor, desperate, black neighborhoods in big, medium, small cities,” Kennedy writes.
The key to “Don’t Shoot” is in community, he says, and there are three distinct communities interacting: the community in the neighborhoods, law enforcement, and the subculture of the street community, exemplified in gangs.
“As long as the community of the streets sees itself as righteous and justified, the killing will continue,” Kennedy writes. “As long as the community of the streets sees its own neighborhoods as approving, it will continue. As long as the streets see the police as racist and hateful, it will continue. It’s all wrong.
“The government is not conspiring to destroy the community, the police are not uncaring, oppressive, racist,” he continues. “The community does not like the drugs and violence. Gang members and drug dealers don’t want to die, don’t want to go to prison, don’t want – nearly any of them – to shoot people. It’s not true.
“They are, all of them, dealing as best they can with a world they did not make,” he adds. “Deal with them, however, and something nearly magical happens. Humanity emerges, common ground appears, common interests manifest, and common sense can finally prevail.”
Kennedy says that successfully curtailing gun violence hinges on closing drug markets. The problem is not drugs, but the drug market, he says, and discouraging outsider customers from coming and hurting neighborhoods is vital, as well as starting massive law enforcement pressure on such overt markets.
That dedication of Peoria law enforcement is possible, says Brady, who adds that it’s too early to tell about the degree of the communities’ acceptance of the idea.
“Based on the Sheriff (Mike McCoy) and the Chief’s commitment, I believe it is,” Brady says. “As far as a buy-in, it’s early.”
Citizens throughout the county have a vested interest, Brady adds.
“There’s another attraction,” he says. “We all know the state of Illinois is short on revenue and population is increasing and incarceration is increasing. Focused deterrence like this means we don’t have to house offenders.”
Meanwhile, the Peoria Public Library’s “One City, One Book” program is asking people to “Read the Book and Get Involved” starting on August 7 – the national Night Out Against Crime – when its Peoria Reads! Special Project will launch the book program the day “Don’t Shoot” officially launches.
“We once locked crazy people in stone buildings and chained them to walls,” Kennedy writes. “We look back at that now and say, ‘What were they thinking? They did that? We can get there. We can make our way to a place where we look back at 2.2 million Americans in prison and say, ‘What were they thinking? They did that?’”
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