The most challenging dimension of my responsibility as mayor is effectively dealing with—and decreasing—gang gun violence in our community. Thus far this year, seven people have been shot and killed in gang gun violence, and nothing upsets me more. Most of this violence is connected to the street distribution, trafficking and consequences of drugs. It’s a huge problem plaguing urban communities like Peoria that requires the very finest of the community’s total resources to adequately address. It is fortunate that this issue of iBi presents me the opportunity to share with you the encouraging news that “we,” the total community, will be doing something about it.
By the time you read this, “Operation Don’t Shoot” will have been launched. This program, operated under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice, has experienced success in over 70 cities. While it is a DOJ initiative, its implementation and effectiveness rest on local action and leadership. The goal is simple: we all desire a safer community. But to reach that goal requires an incredible level of collaboration among law enforcement agencies and prosecutors; regular people like you and me, who can be a clear “moral voice”; and the young people themselves, who are destroying their own lives, as well as our neighborhoods.
How many times, when tackling a large community problem, have you heard someone say, “If we could only get everyone at the same table?” Well, we are indeed blessed that this is, in fact, what’s happening; the Mayor’s Task Force on Violent Crime has helped serve as that “table.” I reached out to Peoria County States’ Attorney Jerry Brady, U.S. Attorney Jim Lewis and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tate Chambers, and together we formed a working group to address the problem that includes the FBI, ATF, IRS, Peoria Police Department and Peoria County Sheriff’s Department. Now we are implementing a focused deterrence approach that brings other critical people to the table, including “regular folks” (the “moral voice”); our media outlets, including WCBU in a critical role; and community leaders in our churches and neighborhood groups. Eventually, to make this work, we will include the young people themselves who are at the center of the violence.
You can rightly say that this is a mighty tall order, but the overriding theme—“Don’t Shoot”—is based on an outstanding book by David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and a widely recognized leader in focused deterrence. Kennedy’s Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America has become the “bible” for local citizens to launch deterrence approaches that actually produce results, and it is the centerpiece of our outreach and education efforts.
Thanks to the Peoria Public Library, Common Place and our task-force partners, the book will be read in four segments on WCBU during August—which is important not only for the reading, but for the commentary that will be generated throughout our community. The capstone to all this will take place on August 28th when David Kennedy himself will be in Peoria to assess our progress and offer his insights based on the experiences of other cities. This event will be held downtown at Riverside Church and I strongly encourage everyone to attend. It is indeed a coup that Kennedy will spend some quality time in Peoria.
Peoria’s “Don’t Shoot” program requires an immense amount of communication, planning and implementation as we reach out to citizens and keep everyone informed of our efforts, and I am grateful that the Simantel Group has taken on this challenge. This multi-faceted effort will consist of all forms of communication in order to penetrate even those sectors of our community that do not rely on traditional media for their information. One of the most critical dimensions is reaching the young people at the center of the storm, and here again, another partner in this effort, Peoria Public Schools, has stepped up to the plate. A school-based, anti-violence education program will kick off as the school year begins. It will include a reading component as well as a poster contest and other initiatives to grab students’ attention and make an impact on them.
As we launch this complex effort, I want to thank our law enforcement professionals and prosecutors for their tireless work, on top of already burdensome schedules. Others in the faith-based community and beyond have once again demonstrated their concern and dedication by putting in countless hours to help ensure this program is a success. “Don’t Shoot” will save lives and community resources, and in the end, produce a better and more secure community. iBi