PORTSMOUTH, Va (WAVY) – Could a scientific approach to preventing gun violence – declaring it a public health crisis – be effective in curbing the deadly problem which only seems to be getting worse?
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney wants to find out. Last May, Stoney declared gun violence a public health crisis, joining cities like Washington D.C. and Columbus, Ohio, in doing the same.
While it’s too soon to measure the declaration’s success, should the holistic approach to the deadly problem be considered in parts of Hampton Roads, gun violence victims would welcome it.
Just ask Shannon Carmack.
Carmack, whose daughter Ariana took a stray bullet to the head while sitting outside her Portsmouth home last November, tells WAVY-TV 10 gun violence has permanently changed her and her family’s life for the worse.
“Her whole life’s been taken away from her. She can’t do nothing like a normal person no more,” Carmack said.
Nearly four months after the shooting, Carmack’s daughter still suffers from brain bleeds, dizziness and nausea.
“Every time you turn around, it’s always some shooting around here. It’s like no one is trying to do anything about it,” she said.
Police never caught the person who hurt Carmack’s daughter.
Declaring gun violence as a public health crisis allows for cities to apply for more grant money to put towards the problem, as well as create more opportunities for different government departments to work together.
“It allows us to break down the silos that may stand in our way in City Hall, but also get the attention of policymakers at the state and federal levels as well,” said Stoney.
One of the first steps Stoney is taking with the state grant money they’ve received is funding mentorship programs for young children deemed at high risk to become future offenders. One of the mentorship programs will work with 40 kids across two different middle schools. For participation, their families will receive a $500 stipend.
“We’ve thrown the kitchen sink at this issue, but we’ve never tried this before,” Stoney said.
“If it works, I guarantee that it will be used by other cities around the country.”
The work of disrupting the cycle is something experts say is the first step toward permanently reducing gun violence.
“When we talk about disrupting the cycle, it really is around creating, making sure our cities have a strong community violence and prevention ecosystem,” said Anthony Smith, executive director of Cities United, who works with mayors across the country – including here in Hampton Roads – to stop violence.
“How do we start dismantling the systems of inequity that create these environments? And then three, how do we have mayors and communities start looking for how to support alternative pathways to public safety?” Smith said.
Getting young kids off the streets in Portsmouth would be a great first step, Carmack told us.
“Little boys and girls want to join gangs, they do these gang initiations and they do the stupidest thing,” Carmack said.
“There’s nothing for these kids out here to do,” she said.
Carmack says she’s willing to help.
“If there’s any civic leaders out here in the City of Portsmouth, please get in contact with me. We need to come together to get this area back,” she said.