Advice To The Next President: Gun Violence In Cities


Is gun violence inevitably a pervasive fact of life in urban neighborhoods of 21st century America?

Or can the staggeringly high murder rates — and the ongoing trauma that results — be diminished or eliminated?

With over 60 years of combined experience working on city streets, Edward Powell, Jon Feinman and Edward Davis offer their surprisingly hopeful perspectives.

Ed Powell is the executive director of StreetSafe Boston.

Each year in the United States 6,000-7,000 young African-American men are murdered, most commonly by guns. That's more deaths than the U.S. Armed Forces have suffered in a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American males under 25. Over 2 million Americans are in prison today, and another 5 million are on parole or probation.

At StreetSafe Boston, we focus on the 1 percent of gang-involved young people who drive more than 50 percent of the gun violence in the city. Our team of highly-trained street workers focuses interventions on 20 of the city's most active gangs in five neighborhoods disproportionately affected by gang violence. Street workers use their street and community credibility to establish meaningful relationships with gang-involved youth to stop violence, mediate and resolve conflicts, and influence individuals to engage in pro-social programs and services.

The president should push for another "grand bargain."

Our program coordinators provide intensive case-management and wraparound support for gang-involved youth, as well as immediate access to vital community-based services and programs that lead with the young people we work with towards self-sufficiency. Our experience is that the overwhelming majority of gang-involved youth are looking for a way out of "the life” and a way up into life as responsible, productive citizens.

With growing support for alternatives to imprisonment, the time is right for the president to push for another "grand bargain"-- one that takes money and incentives away from building ever more prison cells and invests it in creating more opportunities for our young people who want to do the right thing.

There's no epidemic of drive-by shooting in Wellesley and Weston, because we as a society won't allow it. We shouldn't allow it in Dorchester and Mattapan either.

Jon Feinman is founder and executive director of Inner City Weightlifting.

At Inner City Weightlifting we work with young people at the highest risk for violence in order to reduce youth violence by getting them off the streets and into the gym, where we empower them with the confidence and positive support needed to say "no" to violence and "yes" to opportunity.

According to the Crime & Justice Institute there are four big risk factors for a life of crime: anti-social personality, peers, attitude and behavior. We leverage the gym to create a positive community where young people at the highest-risk for violence can move from anti-social to pro-social behavior. It's our job as coaches to build a new positive support system for our students to lean on — not just inside the gym but more importantly, outside the gym.

I've yet to meet a single person who wanted to go to jail. I've yet to meet a single person who didn't want a good job, or to get a GED, or to do well with life. But I've met lots of people who face significant obstacles. Our mission is to be with them through good times and bad as they rebuild their lives piece by piece, and reorient their energies and talents toward pro-social behaviors — becoming certified personal trainers and getting hired to work in gyms around Greater Boston.

We work closely with Youth Options Unlimited, Youth Connect, StreetSafe and other agencies to create a positive environment around each individual who walks through our doors. The president should encourage investment these types of programs.

Edward Davis is commissioner of the Boston Police Department, a position he has held since 2006.

In the last 10 years, law enforcement has gotten much more pragmatic about solving problems that lead to crime and disorder. Enforcing laws and making arrests is one tool at our disposal, but the real work of policing is helping to keep our communities safe.

In Boston we are analyzing data, working with academic researchers, and strengthening our relationships with the public we serve. As a result, we've seen a 25 percent drop in the number of major crimes in Boston over the past six years.

We still have a long way to go, but we're moving in the right direction.

We know where it happens — 74 percent of shootings take place in 5 percent of the city's blocks and street corners. We know who is responsible — 1 percent of Boston's youth are involved in 65-70 percent of shootings. We know that handguns are the most commonly used weapon. And we know that 70 percent of weapons are purchased out of state.

Within Boston's gangs there are approximately 250 "high impact players" — or leaders. The Boston Police Department's strategy for engaging with them is straightforward: ceasefire. If you put down the guns, we'll help you find jobs, finish your education, get treatment for substance abuse — all the resources and help you need to make a better life for yourself and the people you care about. But if you don't stop the gun violence, we will come after you with all the resources at our disposal to get you off the streets.

Right now, we are using too many of our jail and prison cells to hold drug offenders. We need to be more discerning about what crimes warrant imprisonment. We also need to extend sentences for those who engage in gun violence.

We still have a long way to go, but we're moving in the right direction. With a coordinated approach, I believe we can solve Boston’s gun violence problem.

But to address the same issues on a national level, the president must lead the way.


  • WATCH video of these lectures — plus a Q & A with Edward Powell, Jon Feinman and Edward Davis — here.

This program aired on November 21, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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