NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Newport News community members say now is the time for proactive, not reactive, gun violence measures as City Council meets for a work session on the topic.
They say the key lies in making funds available to grassroots organizations, which need the help of city leaders in order to do so.
Founder and President Yugonda Sample-Jones of EmPower All says conversations with community groups doing the work on the ground need to be the first step.
“We’re losing our next generation because of a lack of, just engagement, conversations,” she said. “Something as simple as a conversation that could be had that could drive the decision making of funding.”
Councilman David Jenkins motioned for funds the city received through the American Rescue Plan Act to be used on gun violence prevention.
This would free up hundreds of thousands of dollars for community and grassroots organizations that can demonstrate ways to end cycles of violence in the community.
The groups could then use the money to create programming or activities to mitigate violence in the community.
Ruth Winters from Peninsula Area Moms Demand Action said this would be a major help to groups already on the ground doing the work.
“You have people from the community, sometimes returning citizens, former street group members, who are working […] credible and they’re working to try to do street outreach,” she said.
Some community members say the problem is they’ve wanted to talk to city leaders about possible solutions for months, but haven’t heard back from some city leaders and don’t know exactly what the city plans to do with the funding.
“I think that if we want our city to be a healthy place to live, we’ve got to address this issue and we have to find out what our leaders are planning to do and we just don’t know,” said Winters.
Activists say it’s all about making their communities safer.
“Being safe and comfortable in the city that you love matters. There’s a lot of people that love Newport News, me included, but we just want to see a better city for everyone,” said Sample-Jones.
During their work session discussing gun violence issues, the meeting started off with a documentary series about gun violence issues across the country.
Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew also presented information about homicide, shootings and other crime trends the city has seen in the last few years. He also discussed some of the different divisions the department has created to work against gun violence.
City Council presented a two-phase approach at addressing gun violence but proposed using grants made available to the city through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Phase one would entail conducting a youth and gang violence community assessment using a $25,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Christopher Newport University would assist them in their study.
Phase two would distribute $125,000 from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to “qualified community-based organizations who present solutions” that reduce gun violence by stopping entry or reentry into cycles of violence.
This would also use CNU Center for Crime, Equity and Justice Research and Policy to provide technical assistance to distribute the grants to grassroots organizations.