Opinion

Want to prevent gun violence in hard-hit communities? Invest in peace

A replica Glock 9 mm “ghost gun,” upper left, a High Standard .22, upper right, an FN .40 caliber, lower left, and a Smith & Wesson 9 mm, were taken off Fresno streets last month by police.
A replica Glock 9 mm “ghost gun,” upper left, a High Standard .22, upper right, an FN .40 caliber, lower left, and a Smith & Wesson 9 mm, were taken off Fresno streets last month by police. Fresno Police Department

I shot a man when I was 15 years old. To this day, despite years of reflection, I can’t really explain why I pulled the trigger that day. But I think it had a lot to do with feeling like I had no one to turn to, and feeling like I couldn’t express my anger with this man who was older than me and who, at the time, I felt was always picking on me.

I had a warped sense of what it meant to be a man at the time. I thought I had to be strong and, above all else, that I had to stick up for myself and never drag my family into my problems. Now I know that my actions caused them serious pain over the years.

Today, I work as the program manager for Advance Peace here in Sacramento because I believe that an America without gun violence is possible. I also believe that a Sacramento without gun violence is attainable.

Every day, we work to break the cycle of gun violence by providing opportunities to young people who are at the center of gun violence. It’s been hard work to find these young people and to get them to work with us, but I know it’s worth it. I know it’s worth it because, not too long ago, I was just like them – but no one came along to mentor me or help me see my potential.

The man I shot came to forgive me, and so did my family. It’s this kindness that we seek to bring to the young people we mentor. We want them to understand that choosing a different path is a real possibility.

Opinion

Programs like the one I run can reduce gun violence in our communities, but the state has failed to sufficiently invest in these programs. California has strong gun laws, but we must do more to combat gun violence in our cities.

Advance Peace receives funding from California’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program, but the reality is CalVIP has been drastically underfunded and cannot keep up with requests for funding from programs that have the potential to save lives. There just isn’t enough money to go around at current funding levels. That’s because CalVIP hasn’t seen a funding increase since 2007, despite robust interest from cities across the state.

That’s why, this year, Advance Peace teamed up with gun violence prevention organizations across the state to ask Gov. Gavin Newsom to increase funding for CalVIP. When Newsom released his revised budget last Friday, it included $27 million for CalVIP, a significant increase from the $9 million allocated for the program the previous year.

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We have a moral responsibility to reduce gun violence and save lives. It’s hard to say what might have happened if I’d had mentors like Advance Peace provides, but I have a feeling that things could have turned out differently.

Instead I spent years in jail, away from my family, unable to contribute to my community.

Not only do we have a moral imperative to prevent gun violence, we also can save resources by stopping shootings in our communities. Gun violence brings high health care, law enforcement and criminal justice costs to California taxpayers. This financial burden on our state does not even begin to capture the toll of the lives lost, nor does it account for the effect on local communities, which are often torn apart as a result of gun violence. I know mine was.

Let me give you an example of the types of results we can expect from this evidence-based investment in safety. In Richmond, where I’m from, murder fell by 53 percent in the five years following the adoption of Richmond’s Peacemaker Fellowship and other violence prevention strategies in 2010. Richmond went from an average of 41 homicides in the five years before the intervention to an average of 18 homicides in the five years after.

An evaluation found that this program produced a positive economic impact of $500 million over five years. From 2015-2017, the state provided $1.5 million to Richmond to support these violence reduction programs. That initial investment of $1.5 million more than paid off. And this doesn’t even account for all the lives that were saved.

Thank you, Gov. Newsom, for recognizing that we must invest in the community-based programs like Advance Peace that are seeing results. To ensure that California is a leader in violence prevention, we must continue to work to break the cycle of gun violence in our hardest hit communities.

Julius Thibodeaux is the program manager of Advance Peace in Sacramento, an anti-gun violence program.

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